One of the best things about San Francisco is its passion for the unique. So it’s not surprising how much the City loves Lombard Street, one
of the most crooked, extraordinary roads in the United States.
Lombard Street reaches from the Presidio to the Embarcadero. But the short stretch of red-bricked road between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets,
which has eight sharp switchbacks, has made Lombard famous. In1922, a past resident and forward-thinker thought up the switchbacks to help pedestrians and
drivers deal with the 27-degree slope.
There are many ways to enjoy Lombard Street. Cable car fans can hop aboard the Powell-Hyde line and look down the road when the conductor
pauses at the top for a few moments. Brave drivers can test their brakes, as long as they’re careful to obey the five mile-per-hour speed limit. Even timid
drivers can get a thrill by cutting in halfway at Montclair Street.
But tourists who want to act like true, nonconformist San Franciscans walk instead. Instead of starting at the top, they begin at the base of
the two sets of stairs that sandwich the winding road. Walking uphill gives tourists many chances to see and hear things they might have missed otherwise.
No matter the season, Lombard’s landscaping is beautiful. Perfectly-trimmed shrubs line the street. Colors explode from chocolate-dark
flowerbeds. Even when some of the trees are pruned in the winter, their resemblance to the ginger root found in Chinatown’s produce markets gives them character.
Walkers who aren’t huffing and puffing too loudly can hear a variety of sounds. The famous Telegraph Hill parrots squawk overhead. The Cable
Car line rumbles. Tourists chatter excitedly in a variety of languages. Brakes squeal and protest.
It seems like no one – even the residents – can get enough of the street. People peep out from beautiful homes and apartment windows.
Magenta-flowered bushes climb up the front of houses for a better view. As joggers and dog-walkers pass by, they steal glances down the road. And in the shade
of one home’s garden, six dogs sculpted into a metal fence watch the flow of foot traffic.
At the top of the hill, walkers can catch their breath and enjoy the view and the people-watching. Timid drivers creep up to the twisting
street like first-time skiers on a black diamond run. Passengers hang out the windows with cameras. Residents glide down the turns like experts and rest their
elbows on door windows to show just how relaxed they are. And tourists grab cameras out of backpacks and stand proudly in front of the street like they’ve
climbed Mount Everest.
Down the road, the crooked street straightens and moves past rounded canopies of Ficus trees and up to
Coit Tower. It’s time to walk back down the steps and experience San Francisco’s uniqueness again. And maybe enjoy a little Italian food in North Beach as a
reward for the workout.