The eight switchbacks on Lombard Street have become a destination for drivers.
Virtually every visitor to San Francisco has heard of Lombard Street—but not necessarily by name. This thoroughfare is better known as the Crookedest Street in the World, a moniker stemming from the fact that, in 1922, city engineers crammed eight cobblestone switchbacks into a single steep block of Lombard. The goal was to provide relief from the hair-raising slope; the inadvertent result was a tourist site.
Hairpin turns are only part of the attraction. Lombard's crazy-curve block is lined with handsome houses and adorned with copious hydrangeas. The high point, atop Russian Hill, offers stupendous views of the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, and the city. Add to this the fact that the Hyde Street cable car deposits camera-toting visitors at the top of the picturesque incline and the Crookedest Street could hardly have escaped notice.
Lombard traverses North Beach and, on its way west, serves as a portion of Highway 101, but more important, Lombard provides the only vehicular access to Telegraph Hill and landmark Coit Tower. Which means that in summer, high season for travelers, cars back up along Lombard for blocks. So here's the straight dope on the Crookedest Street: See it on foot.
Where it is: Cuts a three-mile swath across northeast San Francisco from the Bay (in the east) right through the stone walls of the Presidio (in the west).
Who will like it: Kids love Lombard's curvy block; history buffs appreciate Coit Tower and the Presidio's historic buildings; everyone can appreciate the views.
What's there: The Crookedest Street in the World; the main entrance to the Presidio; Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower; some notable private residences: Herb Caen lived at No. 101 Lombard; No. 900 served as the exterior of Jimmy Stewart's home in Vertigo; No. 953 was the house used for the 1994 season of MTV's The Real World.
What to miss: The 1960s-style commercial strip from Van Ness to the Presidio (unless you're staying in one of its many motels).
When to go: Late afternoon casts magical light over Telegraph Hill and the Bay. Spring through fall, pink and blue hydrangeas bloom along the curvy block. Summer, with the city's cold and view-blocking fog, is not great. This past summer, the city redirected traffic heading to Lombard in an effort to discourage drivers and this is apt to be the case again next summer.
Photography courtesy of Jon Sullivan/pdphoto.org
This article was first published in September 2001. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.