Exploring the San Francisco Hills – California

categories: Northern California

San Francisco is built on a series of hills and if you are going to explore San Francisco then you need to tackle some of these hills. As part of my test drive of the Ford Escape we took on some of those hills. My personal escape route to San Francisco starts at Ghirardelli Square near San Francisco’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf. But before you get in the car, spend some time exploring the area around Ghirardelli Square.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s wharf is along the northern edge of San Francisco’s waterfront. Here you can find a walk-away shrimp cocktail or a clam chowder bowl. You can also find lots of places where you can buy a t-shirt or that sweatshirt you forgot to bring because you thought California was a warm place. You can find very touristy museums like Ripley s Believe It or Not! (get a Ripley’s admission and Big Bus combo ticket), The San Francisco Dungeon, and Madame Tussauds San Francisco.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

In addition to the touristy museums, there is also a great National Park resource where you can find historic ships including sailing ships and a WWII submarine the USS Pampanito. Right in front of Ghirardelli Square and the cable car turn around is the historic Hyde Street Pier.

Ghirardelli Square

When Domingo Ghirardelli came to California it was to strike it rich in the 1849 goldfields. A failure at mining Ghirardelli instead is known for rich chocolate. Ghirardelli not only bears his name but still produces enough chocolate (and ice cream) to make a stop there nearly mandatory. Now that you have been fortified with ice cream, it’s time to get in the car.

Cable Car – Nob Hill

San Francisco is the city where “little cable cars climb halfway to the stars” according to the song. This picture shows a cable car climbing up the slope of Nob Hill where some of the most expensive houses in San Francisco were first built. A cable car has no motor. Its sole means of propulsion is a large pair of pliers. The way a cable car works is that each of the 3 surviving cable car lines are a single loop of moving cable. The cable car grabs onto the cable to pull it up the hill or to slow it down as it goes down the other side.

Cable Car Barn – Nob Hill

Not far from the top of Nob Hill is a point where all the cable car lines meet at the Cable Car Barn and Museum. Come to the free museum to learn how cable cars work. Here you will see the enormous engines that move the cable and hence power the cable cars. Learn what the markings on the cable car track are. Learn which markings tell the operator to let go of the cable because they are crossing another cable car line. You can also try your hand at ringing a cable car bell.

Grace Cathedral – Nob Hill

At the top of Nob Hill is the Episcopal Cathedral for San Francisco – Grace Cathedral. Grace Cathedral is a Gothic-style cathedral that would easily fit in in Europe if you added a few flying buttresses.

Grace Cathedral Labyrinths – Nob Hill

Grace Cathedral holds two surprises that are popular with tourists. Both inside and outside of the cathedral you will find a labyrinth that you can walk while you meditate. Don’t worry if you get lost in thought because you cannot get lost in a labyrinth. Unlike a maze, there is only one very twisty path. Just keep going and you will come out the other side.

Coit Tower – Telegraph Hill

At the top of Telegraph Hill is a tower made to look like the nozzle of a fire hose. It was built as a monument to firefighters. The inside of the tower has murals painted during the Great Depression as part of the New Deal program: Public Works of Art Project. Coit Tower and Telegraph hill offer wonderful views of the Golden Gate Bridge but the parking lot is small and the traffic can be very heavy in the Summer so if you want to visit Coit Tower avoid the middle of the day.

Lombard Street – Russian Hill

The most famous or infamous of San Francisco’s hills is Russian Hill which is where you will find the “crookedest street in the world” Lombard Street. While not the steepest street even in San Francisco it is a fun drive and a popular destination with tourists. The following video shows the experience:

The Hills of San Francisco, California #sanfrancisco #california #travel #trip #vacation #hills #what-to-do #what-to-do-in

Ford Sponsored me to write this post and also let me drive the new Ford Escape… how cool is that?

Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won numerous awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine. He move to California in 1964.

2 Responses to “Exploring the San Francisco Hills – California”

Fredric Ciner


I cannot wait to go there again. Don’t forget a stop at that restaurant that claims to have invented sourdough!

Patrick Moriarty


I’m really looking forward to my trip. Thanks for the insights and excellent photos

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