What is Coit Tower?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2019
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Coit Tower is a distinctive San Francisco landmark located on Telegraph Hill to the north of the Financial District. Coit Tower can be seen from many points in the city, and is accessible via a steep road and walking path. Coit Tower stands 180 feet (55 meters) tall, and many tourists like to access the top of the tower for stunning views of San Francisco and the surrounding areas. Coit Tower also features a series of murals painted during the Works Progress Administration, depicting local occupations and neighborhoods.

Coit Tower was built with funds donated by Elizabeth Wyche “Lillie” Hitchcock Coit, who donated a third of her fortune upon her death in 1929 to beautify the city of San Francisco. Lillie Coit was a world traveler, and brought back many artifacts from her adventures, but apparently regarded San Francisco as her true home and wanted to leave a lasting legacy to the city. The funds were used to build two monuments: Coit Tower, and a sculpture in Washington Square which depicts three firemen.

It is usually believed that Coit Tower was built as a monument to the firemen of San Francisco, because Lillie Coit was a lifelong supporter of the fire department. However, despite the tower's resemblance to a fire nozzle, many historians agree that Coit Tower was simply built to enhance the beauty of the city. Coit Tower is also surrounded by steep landscaped grounds which are quite pleasant to walk through.


Visitors to Coit Tower can take an elevator to the top, admiring the stunning murals along the way. The murals have been restored and specially treated so that they will remain intact, and are considered an important part of the history of San Francisco. Among other things, the murals depict farmers in the fields, a bank robbery, a view into the harbor, a busy city street, and a variety of other scenes. Tours are offered of Coit Tower in which the murals are explained in detail.

Because of the slope of the hill, Telegraph Hill can be difficult to access. The walk is very physically demanding, and space for cars is limited. Getting to Coit Tower is well worth the effort, however, as visitors are rewarded with a peaceful setting and the stunning views of a beautiful city. At night, the tower is illuminated and stands out against the San Francisco skyline, appearing to the right of the skyscrapers in the Financial District.


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