Most people know about San Francisco's hilly geography and the city's famous Lombard Street that twists and turns and is reputed as "The Crookedest Street in the World" because of its eight tight hairpin turns over the course of one neighborhood block.
These hills can also be explored through the unique experience of an urban hike on the city's Stairway Walks. I discovered one of the routes up Telegraph Hill during a visit to the port via my cruise on Crystal Serenity. A friend of mine who lived several years in San Francisco knows that I am always looking for something active to try and asked whether I had heard of the Stairway Walks.
I told her that I had not, but that I was also intrigued. Erica pointed out that one of the routes was pretty close to our ship's location near Pier 23. The Greenwich Steps take you through a quaint neighborhood and lead you up to the looming Coit Tower. At the top, you get an amazing panoramic view of San Francisco Bay, the bridges and even Lombard Street, which is close by.
Let me take you along on my hike from the San Francisco cruise port up to Coit Tower so you can give it a try when you visit. I love finding free activities as a way to explore a city, and this is a nice heart-pumping outing that takes no more than 90 minutes to get to the top and back. Plus, Coit Tower offers a neat little museum and gift shop to explore as well. (More on Coit Tower follows once we reach the top.)
Ready? Let's go.
As you cross The Embarcadero, the great wide sidewalk that leads to all things San Francisco along the Bay, you are heading straight toward Telegraph Hill and the Greenwich Steps stairway walk that goes up to Coit Tower.
This spot along the pier is a wonderful launching point for several popular activities you can enjoy while on your cruise stop in San Francisco. To the southeast is the Exploratorium science museum, the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco Giants home field, AT&T Park. To the west is the Golden Gate Bridge. In that direction, you'll pass Pier 39 and all the sea lions, Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square and the Aquatic Park Cove.
Read more: Why You Should Spend Time in San Francisco Before Your Cruise
To get to the start of the Greenwich Steps, I followed Battery Street to Greenwich Street and the start of the hike.
I noticed other tourists huffing and puffing their way up (or down), and I also saw fit residents using the steps as part of their running workouts (that's impressive).
I start up the second half of the hike and notice the steps getting a little bit more crowded with tourists who joined the route at the midpoint or who parked at the top and are wandering down.
There are 209 steps in the lower section and 178 in the top half that reaches Coit Tower. This second section has a more natural feel under a forest-like canopy and with pretty red brick steps and landing. It also has more switch-backs along the top half.
It takes about 20 minutes to make my way from bottom to top, moving at a moderate but fairly steady pace. The hike will definitely get your heart pumping.
Coit Tower features an observation deck reached by elevator. You can buy tickets to get to the deck and have 360-degree views over the city ($9 adults, $2.25 kids, $6 seniors, $6.50 city residents). The structure is named for Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy resident of the city and a well-known patron of San Francisco's volunteer firefighters. She died in 1929 and left money that was used to build a monument to the firefighters (in Washington Square) and the tower, which opened in 1933. An impressive gallery of mural frescoes depicting daily scenes of life in the area is located on the ground floor, and it's free and open to the public.
Thanks for reading,