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San Francisco’s Lombard Street

San Francisco’s Lombard Street

Snake down mind-bending switchbacks on one of the curviest—and most photographed—streets in the world

Lombard Street in San Francisco is one of the most well-known streets on the entire West Coast, but basic name recognition can be as far as many visitors’ knowledge goes. Often, questions such as “Why is Lombard Street so famous?” and even “Can you still drive down Lombard Street?” (yes you can) and “How much does it cost to do down Lombard Street?” (it’s free) are asked. Before going to see this iconic zig-zag for yourself, here’s what you need to know.

Where Is Lombard Street, and Why Is It Famous?

Lombard Street spans the northern end of San Francisco east to west, extending three miles from The Presidio all the way to the Embarcadero waterfront. It’s a beautiful street—much of it passes through the charming Russian Hill neighborhood—but there’s not much to distinguish it from others in this picturesque city. Until suddenly there is. Between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street, you’ll find one tiny section, just a block long, that has earned it the moniker “The Crookedest Street in the World,” and with it, worldwide fame. (It should be noted, though, that Vermont Street in the Potrero Hill neighborhood, about five miles away, is actually the crookedest street in San Francisco.) And yes, you can still drive down Lombard, though only in one direction—downhill.

Why Is Lombard Street So Crooked?

The steep hill that Lombard traverses has a daunting incline of 27 degrees. Back in the 1920s, when the street was designed, that would have presented a challenge for the automobiles of the day to climb, and could have been dangerous in the downhill direction. The zig-zagging route was an effort to make it easier to climb, and safer for vehicles and pedestrians. Since then, the 600-foot-long block has featured eight hairpin-tight turns. Perfectly manicured shrubs and pastel-colored hydrangeas line the serpentine red-brick road, adding to the fantastical feel. Every day, well over a thousand visitors test their mettle (and their brake pads) with a drive down the block.

Directions to Lombard Street

Set your navigation to 1099 Lombard Street, which will take you to the top of the hill. If you feel the need to get out of your car, know that street parking is a longshot; the nearest parking garage is about six blocks away at 721 Filbert Street. If you’re taking public transit, you can access the hill by way of public bus (the 30 will take you straight from Union Square to Columbus Avenue, a few blocks from Lombard). If going by cable car, the Powell-Hyde line will drop you off right at the intersection of Hyde and Lombard (the top of the crooked block), or the Powell-Mason line will drop you three blocks away at Lombard and Columbus.

How to Visit Lombard Street

You can enjoy this San Francisco windy road a few different ways. Get the full experience by heading there with your own set of wheels—just be prepared for a wait as other vehicles slither down the switchbacks. Once you reach pole position at the top of Lombard, get ready for a safe yet oddly dangerous-feeling experience—advancing forward while unable to see any of the road immediately in front of you can feel like you’re driving off a cliff. The gorgeous view of San Francisco Bay, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Golden Gate Bridge will be tempting, but keep your eyes on the road!

If you’re on foot, you can walk the street, carefully hugging the bushes (cars have been known to jump the curb); or climb up and down the public stairways on either side of the street.

While the top of the hill delivers on cityscape views, the block’s eastern terminus is the most famous photo location. Pull over to park and make sure to snap a photo of the whimsical road from below. You’ll be right next to the fictional home of Scottie from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, located at 900 Lombard Street.

When to Visit Lombard Street

The best time to visit Lombard Street is during relatively low-traffic times, so avoid rush hour and weekend afternoons. A great option is to go at night—the lights of the city stretching off into the distance are a dramatic sight, and there will be fewer people. Remember that the stunning mansions lining the road are actual homes and residents still need to access their driveways and doors. Read more about the respectful ways to visit here.

Things to Do Near Lombard Street

Make the most of your visit to the Russian Hill area by browsing the boutiques on Polk Street, enjoying views of Coit Tower from Ina Coolbrith Park, and stopping in City Lights Bookstore, a San Francisco institution since 1955. The neighborhood is also home to many foodie magnets: the original location of Swenson’s Ice Cream has been a Russian Hill mainstay since 1948; Cheese Plus is a no-nonsense to-go cheese and sandwich shop where you can get a delectable hand-held creation with such ingredients as smoked duck breast and fig chutney. For a sit-down meal, try Cocotte (French), Frascati (Italian), or Elephant Sushi. For lodging, the western part of Lombard between the Presidio and Van Ness Avenue is lined with dozens of both old-school independent and chain hotels.

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