Insider Tips to Coit Tower in San Francisco

Coit Tower San Francisco
Coit Tower is one of San Francisco’s most recognized landmarks.

Post contributed by Lisa Crovo Dion

San Francisco’s original phallic structure is Coit Tower, the graceful art deco column atop Telegraph Hill. Sorry, Salesforce, Coit Tower was here first.

Coit Tower is one of San Francisco’s most recognized and beloved landmarks. Legend persists that the 210-ft fluted cylinder was built to resemble a fire-house nozzle, though many historians have debunked that theory. Curious to learn some of the inside tips to Coit Tower in San Francisco?

Lily Hitchcock Coit Loved Firefighters (Who Doesn’t?)

There is a connection between Coit Tower and the fire department though. It was named for Lily Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy, eccentric philanthropist and patron of the San Francisco Fire Department. Lily Coit bequeathed the funds “for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city I have always loved.” She also funded a monument to her beloved volunteer firefighters in nearby Washington Square in the center of North Beach.

Coit Tower murals
A cityscape, one of the 19 Social Realism murals at Coit Tower.

Social Realism in San Francisco

Inside, at the base of Coit Tower, prepare to get lost in the richly detailed murals that line the walls. These murals are frescoes that were painted in 1934 as part of a federal government’s WPA program. They depict everyday life scenes of Californians during the Depression and are exquisite examples of the Social Realism school. Political commentary and harsh social critique are hallmarks of this period/trend in art history. Titles of the 19 Coit Tower murals include ‘Railroad and Shipping,’ Newsgathering,’ ‘California Agriculture,’ ‘Meat Industry,’ and ‘Banking and Law.’ Look for clues that demonstrate the artists’ perceptions of the difficulty of the times —brooding, angry faces, vignettes of backbreaking toil, and headlines forecasting doom.

Controversy inside Coit Tower

The radical content in some of the panels became heated when violence broke out in 1934 during a longshoremen’s strike. As a result, some of the more controversial elements were painted over and Coit Tower was padlocked for months. The frescoes were finally opened to the public in the fall of 1934.

READ  Father's Day Travel Gift Guide

View from the Top of Coit Tower

The Coit Tower observation deck is reached via elevator. Purchase tickets in the gift shop and queue up on the ground floor along the murals. From on top, visitors are treated to breathtaking panoramic 360-degree views of the city San Francisco, the Bay, the Golden Gate and Bay bridges and beyond.

Men and women in industry depicted in Coit Tower mural
A bustling industrial scene in one of Coit Towers 19 murals.

Insider Tip

When wandering around the area listen for the cacophonous chatter of the local crew of wild parrots. The cherry-headed parakeets descended from a group of domesticates escapees and are the subject of a heartwarming documentary called, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

If You Go to Coit Tower

April – October: 10 am to 6 pm (last ticket sold at 5:30 pm)

November – March: 10 am to 5 pm (last ticket sold at 4:30 pm)

Elevator Entrance Fees $2–$9
(free for children 4 and under)

Coit Tower Café Open Daily (9:30 am to 6 pm)


Daily docent-led tours are available for groups of at least four but not more than eight people. The length of the tour is about 30 – 40 minutes. Visitors will learn about the Tower’s inception, the Public Work of Art Projects’ influence, and history of the twenty-six muralists who created the frescoes. Cost is $8 per person for a full tour, $5 fee for the second floor only. Free tours are available through City Guides.

1 Telegraph Hill Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94133
Phone: (415) 249-0995