Climbing the Filbert Steps to Coit Tower

After a long day of exploring San Francisco on foot, we began the trek back to our hotel for some much needed rest. Along the way, a random flight of stairs which scaled the side of a cliff caught my eye and curiosity. The staircase - which seemed to go on forever, and at a steeper angle than most - might have gone unnoticed, were it not for the lady slowly climbing with grocery bags in hand.

Filbert Steps to Coit Tower

"Wow...I'm glad we don't have to climb those stairs." Apparently this innocent comment to MJ was also an invitation for the Travel Gods to have a little fun at my expense.

Later that evening, I laid in bed pretending to be awake while MJ researched the next day's activities. At the top of our relatively short sightseeing list was a visit to Coit Tower, who's setting on Telegraph Hill offers perhaps the best view in San Francisco. She said something about wanting to climb the Filbert Steps to get there, and I grunted an approval while on the edge of some very sweet dreams.
Coit Tower
The Goal...

"Wait...Remember that staircase? Those are the Filbert Steps!"

Only the hotel fire alarm could have been more successful at jolting me awake. Did I really just agree to climb a ridiculously long set of rickety steps up the side of a cliff? MJ laughed at the irony of my earlier comment, while I began to worry about my own physical condition, and that of the paramedics that would have to climb the same steps to rescue me. 
Filbert Steps to Coit Tower

The next morning, I ordered an extra shot of espresso in my iced coffee, hoping that the additional jolt would carry me up the 600 steps which awaited. We made our way back to that random staircase from the night before, and all that was left was to climb...
Filbert Steps to Coit Tower
Are you coming or what?

The steps are divided into three sections, and about 1/3 of the way up the first group I needed to stop to catch my breath. It turned out that this section was the most difficult of the three, although for those in shape it's probably a leisurely hike.
Filbert Steps to Coit Tower
Still a long way to go...

Eventually the staircase flattened out into a concrete path, which wound its way through several beautiful gardens. There are a few houses located along the path, and I'm guessing these are the most physically fit people in America, considering their driveway is a ridiculous set of steps. 
Filbert Steps to Coit Tower
Looking down on the Bay..

The cool San Francisco air did little to relieve my skyrocketing pulse rate, so MJ and I took a break in a mini-sculpture garden - complete with an oddly placed parking meter - before taking on round two of our climb.
Filbert Steps Parking Meter
I really wished I had a quarter...

The second set of steps was far less intimidating than the vertigo inducing first group. Plus I earned a pat on the back from MJ for making it to the top without needing a rest. 
Filbert Steps to Coit Tower

Reaching the top of section two, we found ourselves standing on Montgomery Street where the scenery began to change. Our solo climb up the steps was invaded by a gaggle of tourists, but this mild annoyance was offset by the tremendous views of the bay and more lush greenery from the surrounding houses. 
Filbert Steps to Coit Tower

The third section of the climb was by far the easiest of the bunch, although at that moment my legs were arguing otherwise. Instead of one long staircase, this section is broken up into several smaller groups, with a short path between each one. This made the climb a bit easier, but knowing our goal was just a few steps away probably helped more. 
Filbert Steps to Coit Tower
Getting closer...

Of course, just when you think you've reached the end, there's more steps.... These inscribed with the names of donors, who have probably been cursed by countless out of shape tourists like myself. 
Filbert Steps to Coit Tower

Finally, with my legs shaking up the final few steps, we earned the payoff. Coit Tower, in addition to being a beautiful piece of architecture, is home to perhaps the best view of San Francisco. The nearly 360 degree panorama was just as breathtaking as the hike which lead us there.
View From Coit Tower

It was a Saturday morning, and as expected, Coit Tower was mobbed with visitors. We popped inside for a moment to see the famous Depression-era murals, but passed on the hour wait for the $7 elevator ride to the top. The view from the grounds was free, and far more satisfying.
Coit Tower Murals

We found an empty bench on the relatively quieter back side of the tower, and soaked up the scenery and view. A fog rolled in over the Golden Gate, obscuring all but the top of one tower from view, and was an eerie contrast to the otherwise clear blue sky. 
View From Coit Tower

For all of our hard work getting there, our stay at Coit Tower was relatively short. We walked down the main road leading to Telegraph Hill, and as my feet pounded the boring sidewalk, I couldn't help but feel a sense of accomplishment and privilege. Accomplished for conquering the climb up the Filbert Steps. Privileged because the scores of people we passed on the way down, likely had no idea what they were missing. 

If you go...
  • Steps begin off Sansome Street on west side of Coit Tower.
  • Stop and turn around, or you'll miss the view.
  • Take water...Not coffee. 

Enjoy Your Stay