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San Francisco: Embarcadero and Coit Tower

February 19, 2010

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Ferry Building

San Francisco: Embarcadero and Coit Tower

Start: Ferry Building; Embarcadero and Market St.

Access:  Embarcadero Station; Any Muni Line

Distance: 3.4 miles

Water Fountains: 3

Restrooms: 3

Terrain: Flat with one Large Hill

Starting in front of the Ferry Building you will run north along the water.


Pedestrian Traffic: Medium

Terrain: Flat

Starting in front of the Ferry Building you will run north along the water.

Once one of the busiest transit terminals in the U.S., the Ferry Building still serves San Francisco as a ferry terminal for access to the East Bay as well as a marketplace housing specialty food shops ranging from artisan cheeses to fresh seafood.

Built in 1898, the Ferry Building was designed by A. Page Brown who modeled the clock tower after the Giralda bell tower in Seville, Spain.  At its peak the Ferry Building saw 50,000 visitors per day.  However, with the construction of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge as alternate routes into the city, the building saw a drastic downturn in traffic.  Over the years it fell into disrepair.  Finally, after the Embarcadero freeway was torn down because of damage from the 1989 earthquake, the Ferry building restoration was undertaken returning it to the splendor of its peak.

Today you will find tours of the Ferry Building everyday at noon, hosted by CityGuides.  The tours are free, however they do ask for a small donation at the end to pay for the continuation of the program.

If you are in the city Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays be sure to check out the Farmers’ Market that takes place in front of the building from 10-2 during the week, and 8-2 on Saturdays.  At the market you will find a variety of produce, flowers, baked goods and cheeses from local farms many of which are certified organic.

**Water Fountain and Restrooms are available here, as well as inside the Ferry Building**

The next buildings on your right are Piers 1 ½ , 3, and 5.  Originally built in the Beaux-Arts Fashion after the 1906 earthquake, as part of the City Beautiful initiative, the piers opened in 1918 and remained in popular use until after World War II when much of the shipping traffic shifted to piers in the east bay.  The piers gradually fell into disrepair and in 2001 renovation began.  Today the piers house mainly offices, but also include 17,000 sq. ft. of cafes and restaurants, as well as 40,000 sq. ft. of public access space.

As you continue running north, you’ll find TCHO Chocolate Factory on your right at pier 17.  If you are looking for a

Pier 17 & TCHO Chocolate

high tech approach to chocolate making this is the place to go.  Founded by team of people with experience from setting up chocolate factories to developing Silicon Valley startups, they approach chocolate making from a variety of aspects.  They development of new flavors include Beta testing and creating varietal and origin chocolate and using their flavor wheel to thoroughly describe their creations.  Check out their tasting room for a free sample and to learn more about their chocolate making process.

You’ll see Alcatraz Island off the shore to your right as you run along the Embarcadero.  Alcatraz Island was originally used as a fortress to guard the San Francisco Bay from 1859 – 1933. Named by the Spanish explorer Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala  as “Isla de los Alcatraces” meaning the Island of the Pelicans because of the large population of sea birds inhabiting the island when he first sailed into the San Francisco Bay in 1775.  In 1853 construction began on Fortress Alcatraz one of two forts built to protect the San Francisco Bay and its resources (the other fortress being Fort Point along Lands End).  Ultimately 111 cannons surrounded the island with high walls built on all sides, making the only access point onto the island the dock.  The fort was finally completed in 1859.

Throughout the Civil War Alcatraz served as the west coast defense for the Union State of California. It successfully thwarted a confederate plan to blockade the harbor when the confederate captain bragged of the plan in a San Francisco tavern.

Almost as soon as it opened Alcatraz was being used as a prison with eleven of the original men incarcerated in the guardhouse basement.  Because of its location and topography Alcatraz was a convenient, secure place for prisoners and in 1861 was officially designated the military prison for the Department of the Pacific and during the civil war imprisoned many locals arrested for treason.

Alcatraz Island

In the late 1800s Alcatraz also housed many Native American prisoners as a result of the US westward expansion.  The prisoners included an Apache Chief, Indian leaders Broncho and Sladec of the Modoc Wars taking place in northeast California.  In the early 1900s with the Spanish American war and the 1906 earthquake the prison population was quickly rising.  In 1907 the prisons wooden barracks were replaces with concrete barracks using the prisoners as laborers for the projects.  In 1907 the island was officially named as a military prison rather than a defense site for the west.

The cost of operation was quite high, as everything had to be imported to the island.  In 1933 the cost of maintaining the prison had grown too high for the military and they ceased operations.  In 1934 Alcatraz was converted into a high security federal penitentiary housing such famous criminals as Al Capone and the Birdman of Alcatraz.  It finally closed in 1963, again because the cost of operation was too high because of its isolation.

Pier 39

Pedestrian Traffic: Heavy

Terrain: Flat

**There are public restrooms and a water fountain here**

Pier 39 is a prime tourist location in San Francisco.  Home to many novelty shops and restaurants there is an array of activities here.  You will find daily shows by street performers.  There is also a beautiful carousel handcrafted in Italy with paintings of San Francisco’s famous landmarks.  Check it out for $3/ride.  The Aquarium by the Bay is located here as well.  It is the only one in the area that primarily focuses on the marine life of the San Francisco Bay.

One of the most popular inhabitants of Pier 39 are the sea lions of K-Dock.  The sea lions have called K-Dock home for nearly 20 years. The group reaches its peak numbers, upward of 1000, during the winter months, but at least a few can be spotted year round.

Many people speculate that the sea lions began hauling out on K-dock due to the 1989 earthquake, but this has never been proven.  Around that time the sea lions began abandoning their previous haul out point of Seal Rock near the Cliff House on the east side of San Francisco.  The dock provides a safe haven from many predators, as great whites and orcas do not enter the bay.  The bay also offers an abundant food supply for the sea lions.  Both of these could be used to explain the move to K-dock.

The Marine Mammal Center has worked with Pier 39 since 1990 and has established a docent program here to educate the public about the sea lions.  Check out K-dock at the end of the pier for more information and to see the captivating guests of Pier 39.

North Beach

Pedestrian Traffic: Medium

Terrain: Slight Uphill

Just past Pier 39 take a left at Powell Ave. and run south into the neighborhood of North Beach.

North Beach neighborhood is known as the “little Italy” of San Francisco.  Named originally in the 1850s when a portion of the bay extended inward between Russian and Telegraph Hills.

Over the years North Beach has been the home of a diverse culture.  In 1904 Amadeo Peter Giannini opened the first branch of Bank of America, known then as Bank of Italy at the corner of Columbus and Washington.  Grant St. became the home of the Beats who often gathered at City Lights book store.  In 1964 America’s first topless bar, the Condor Club, opened on the corner of Columbus and Broadway.

If you get the chance to check out City Lights book store at Columbus and Broadway.  City Lights  still has an entire room dedicated to poetry on the second level. You may also want to take the opportunity to check out the oldest bar in San Francisco, the Saloon.  The Saloon is located at Grant and Columbus and features live jazz Fridays and Sundays.  During the summer you will find movies in Washington Sq.  Almost every Sunday you will also find an art show in park.  If you are here in July you will definitely want to check out the North Beach Jazz Festival.

St. Peter and Paul's from Washington Square

You will run about 8 blocks South to Washington Sq. Take a right here on Filbert St.

**There are restrooms and a drinking fountain across the street in Washington Sq. Park**

You will be running past St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral. This beautiful Italian-style Cathedral was the site of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe’s wedding photos, actually married at City Hall because Joe never received and annulment from the church for his first marriage.

Completed in 1924 after the original church burned to the ground during the 1906 earthquake and fire, this is actually the third building that has been on this site.  The Church has been featured in movies such as Dirty Harry, The Dead Pool, and the Wedding Planner.

You will run two blocks on Filbert until you reach Grant Ave.  Here you will turn right.  Run one block up the hill and take a right on Greenwich St.  At the end of the street take the staircase up the hill, cross the street and continue up the hill to Coit Tower.

Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower

Pedestrian Traffic: Low

Terrain: Large Hill/Stairs

Originally named Loma-Alta, meaning ‘high hill’, Telegraph Hill got its name form a marine telegraph that was built here in 1849.  The telegraph used two raised arms to signal the type of ship entering the bay. Locals used this information to predict the lowering of prices on the goods and commodities carried by the ships.  The telegraph was so prominent that it was the means by which San Franciscans first learned of California’s statehood, when a ship entering the bay signaled to Telegraph Hill.  Unfortunately with the invention of the electric telegraph in 1862 the marine

Coit Tower

telegraph became obsolete and was soon disassembled.  The hill however has kept the name.

At the top of the hill you will find Coit Tower and some of the best views of the city.  Coit Tower was built in 1933 with the money bequeathed to the city by Lillie Hitchcock for the beautification of San Francisco. The building was designed by Arthur Brown, Jr. and Henry Howard who deny the urban legend that the building was designed to resemble a fire hose nozzle because of Lillie’s support for the local fireman.

Inside you will find nineteen murals painted by the WPA artists in Diego-Rivera’s social-realism style depicting working class Californians.  The opening of the tower was actually delayed by seven months because some people believed that the paintings depicted Communist themes.  The Murals are free to view, but the Tower costs $5 to go to ascend to the top.  The views from the top are worth the money, but the views from the plaza are beautiful as well; be sure to take a minute to check them out.

**You will find public restrooms and water fountains near Coit Tower**

You will come up the hill on the west side.  On the east side of the hill, near the parking lot entrance you will find a path down the east side.  Take this down to Montgomery St.  run to your right about 30 feet where you will see a sign for more stairs down the hill.  Continue down these stairs until you get to the bottom and Greenwich St.

In the 1800s the west side of the hill was used as a stone quarry to provide ballast for empty cargo ships exiting the

Look for this sign on Montgomery St. to find the stairs down to Greenwich St.

harbor. Ballast is used to weigh down the ship and control buoyancy and stability.  Today Telegraph Hill is primarily residential.  The east side of the hill has become known for its population of the feral parrots.  Descended from released or escaped parrots they were originally from South America and were brought here when they were popular pets.  However, the importation of these pets has been prohibited since 1993.  If you are patient you will often see them in the trees here, but this is only one of the places in the city where you will see them.  An easier place to see them is actually near Fort Mason on the north coast of San Francisco.

Levi Plaza & Embarcadero

Pedestrian Traffic: Medium

Terrain: Flat

Once you get to the bottom of the hill, run straight east on Greenwich St. until you hit Levi Plaza. You can cut through this small urban park to the Embarcadero.  You will see a lot of people from the neighboring office buildings lingering here during lunch hour.  Once you hit the Embarcadero take a right and run south.

As you are running on the Embarcadero you will likely see at least one F-Line train going by you.  This muni-line runs from Pier 39 and down Market St. all the way to the Castro neighborhood.  This line consists of historic streetcars and is a unique alternative from the regular bus service to travel to the Fisherman’s Wharf area.  The PCC street cars were mostly acquired from Philadelphia with a few from San Francisco.  Most of these are painted to look like the PCC from cities around the country.  Antique cars also operate on this line, acquired from around the world including several from Milan, Italy, Russia, Germany, etc.

Running along the west side of the Embarcadero you will see Justin Herman Plaza and the Vaillancourt Fountain.  During the winter months you will find a skating rink here.  During the summer there are concerts almost every day at noon from a variety of local artists.  The Vaillancourt Fountain is named Québec libre! and was designed by Quebecois artist Armand Vaillancourt who at the inauguration of the statue inscribed the word’s Quebec Libre multiple times on it in support of Quebec’s sovereignty movement.

You are now back in front of the Ferry Building which you will recognize as your starting position.  Hope you enjoyed

your run!

View from Coit Tower

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 20, 2010 6:09 AM

    Wow, sounds like a great run! Wish I’d had time to try it out while I was in SF last time…

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