Classic San Francisco and Coit Tower Walk
San Francisco is best explored on foot. There are 47 named hills in San Francisco, and with all of these hills come a large variety of pedestrian staircases. This two-mile San Francisco Coit Tower walk explores the scenic stairways that lead from the Ferry Building and Embarcadero waterfront to Coit Tower before ending in North Beach.
I affectionately call this route the Piers to Pasta walk. If you’re a foodie you can make this into a walking food tour by sampling the great eats in the Ferry Building and in North Beach. If you are making this into a food tour, it is best to walk this route on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday so you can take advantage of the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market.
Know Before You Go
This walk can be done all year round, but you’ll have the best views from Coit Tower on a clear day. The walk is free, but you can pay to go to the top of Coit Tower for even better views. If you want to visit Coit Tower I recommend skipping the long lines and purchasing your tickets in advance through the San Francisco parks and recreation website.
Parking in downtown San Francisco is limited. The Ferry Building and the beginning of this walk is a short distance from the Embarcadero BART and MUNI station, and you can easily walk to the Montgomery Station at the end of the walk. If you decide to drive you will be limited to parking in garages or finding metered street parking.
There are restrooms scattered along this route including restroom facilities at the Ferry Building, inside Pier 3, and at Coit Tower.
While I’ve rated this 2-mile Coit Tower walk as easy, you will be climbing lots of stairs- 453 stairs to be exact!
Detailed Walking Guide: Ferry Building to Coit Tower
The walk begins at one of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks, the San Francisco Ferry Building, located at the intersection of Market Street and The Embarcadero. The Ferry Building is home to world-class restaurants, artisan food purveyors, and local specialty vendors.
After touring the Ferry Building head north on The Embarcadero (to the left if you are facing the front of the Ferry Building). After .10 mile come to Pier 3. Enter through the wide, arched entry and make an immediate left to walk down an interior hallway and check out the historical photography exhibit before continuing down the hall to the piers outside.
The handsome San Francisco Belle, a paddleboat that was originally used as a floating casino in Missouri before making its way to San Francisco, is docked at Pier 3. The San Francisco Belle is part of the Hornblower fleet of boats and you can occasionally see it out on the water for special events.
Follow the pedestrian walkway as it leads to the next pier, Pier 7. This is a long, wooden pier with decorative metal railings and old-fashioned light posts. It is also one of the most photographed piers in the city. If you walk to the end of the pier you can often find sea lions playing in the water.
After visiting the pier walk back to The Embarcadero and continue north. As you walk along The Embarcadero you’ll pass the Exploratorium at Pier 15. Check out the exhibit on how they designed their barnacle seating area and have some fun with their free public art exhibits in front of the museum. Then, continue on to Pier 23.
When you reach Pier 23, use the crosswalk to cross The Embarcadero. After crossing make a right and walk about 50 feet to an arched entrance that leads to the Levi’s Plaza park. Enjoy the meandering stream as you follow the path to the left, taking in the waterfall fountain and staying right as the path leads you toward some stairs before crossing Battery Street. Walk through the plaza, passing another water feature and the offices for Dockers and Levis before crossing Sansome and taking the long Filbert Street staircase up the hillside.
The stairs leading to Coit Tower have inspired visitors and residents for generations. With sweeping views of Alcatraz and the Bay these stairs have inspired moviemakers and set the scene for many events in Armistead Maupin’s literary hits. The staircase starts as cement stairs with an iron railing, that follows the ivy and nasturtium-covered hillside. The stairs quickly transition to a worn wood staircase as it continues up the hill and you pass immaculately tended terraced gardens and private homes.
When you reach Darrell Street the stairs curve to the left and pass a redwood tree before continuing up. Use the cement stairs to cross Montgomery Street, but before you continue up the second set of stairs make a right at the top of Montgomery street and walk down the street until it dead-ends.
At Julius Castle take the brick stairs up. These are the Greenwich Stairs and the gardens around these stairs are immaculately tended. Near the top of the stairs the path splits, but continue up the stairs as they narrow before connecting with the Coit Tower parking lot.
From the viewpoint take in the views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, and the harbors at Tiburon and Sausalito. Then, use the walkway to walk around the right side of the tower. Enjoy views of the Bay Bridge and the downtown skyline from the viewpoint at the back of the tower.
When you’ve finished, retrace your steps and take the first set of stairs on your left. Follow the stairs down and make a right on the narrow, shaded path. Then, take the first set of stairs on your left to cross Telegraph Hill Boulevard before continuing down more stairs leading into the North Beach neighborhood.
Continue to walk down Greenwich Street for several blocks until you make a left onto Stockton. Follow Stockton for one block until you reach Washington Square Park. You can picnic in the park, continue right on Columbus Avenue and walk to Fisherman’s Wharf, or take a tour of Saints Peter and Paul Church. (Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe posed for their wedding photos in front of this church, but weren’t married here.)
If you want to make this into a foodie tour I’ve marked my favorite North Beach restaurants and bars in the map below.
The walk begins at the Ferry Building, easily found where Market Street meets The Embarcadero.
From your starting point, you'll see the San Francisco's Coit Tower looming high on the hill. Walk along The Embarcadero stopping at Pier 7 and visiting other points of interest as you make your way to Pier 23.
At Pier 23 use the crosswalk to cross The Embarcadero and make your way into Levi's Plaza park. Walk through the park and cross Battery Street before walking through Levi's Plaza and crossing Sansome Street.
Begin your stairway walk by walking up the concrete staircase at the end of Filbert Street. The concrete stairs will soon lead you to a wooden staircase surrounded by lush landscaping and private gardens. Make a right onto Montgomery Street, follow the street until it dead ends, and then take the brick Greenwich steps up to Coit Tower.
When you reach the tower follow the pedestrian path past the tower and to the right to connect with the Greenwich Street stairs that lead into North Beach. Make a left on Stockton and walk one block to Washington Square Park.
- Parking: Metered street parking is available and there are also parking garages in the area. But, taking public transportation is strongly recommended.
- Fee: No fee
- Restroom: There is a coin-operated bathroom at Coit Tower. And there are public restrooms at the Ferry Building and Pier 3.
Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.
Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.
Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature!
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