I clearly remember my first trip to San Francisco as a kid. As a family, we were checking off all the major attractions and it was time to visit the “crookedest street in the world,” better known as Lombard Street. My dad navigated our car to the top of the street and slowly wound his way down, always cognizant of the many cars both in front and behind us. As an adult, I’ve made several return trips to Lombard Street and I always love it.
Lombard Street is actually 3 miles long stretching from The Presidio to the Embarcadero. But the famous one-block stretch often seen in photos is between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets. Thanks to its incredibly steep 27-degree incline, the street was designed with eight turns so that cars in the 1920s could safely navigate it. It’s estimated that 2 million visitors a year drive this one famous block.
If it’s your first visit to San Francisco, I definitely recommend a visit to Lombard Street, but you’ll want to be prepared before you go. After all, this famous attraction is just one long block, attracts serious crowds, and involves eight hairpin turns. Here are my tips for exploring and enjoying this crazy, crooked street.
1. Start At The Top
When originally built, Lombard Street was two-way. However, this turned out to be problematic, so today, you’ll find that it’s one-way. To drive it, you’ll need to start at the top where it intersects Hyde Street. Fortunately, Google Maps will direct you to exactly the right spot. Once you begin the drive down, the only way out is on Leavenworth Street, located 600 feet below. Don’t pull over or stop for photos along the way because there’s an excellent chance there are dozens of cars lined up behind you.
If you’re fortunate to have the street to yourself, do watch your speed. Taking one of the curves too quickly can result in damage to your car and private property.
2. Be Patient If You’re Driving
If you’re coming on a weekend — or any busy time of the year — expect a line of cars waiting to drive down Lombard Street. Traffic can back up several blocks while drivers wait their turn to descend. Additionally, most people drive very slowly down the street, both to enjoy the views and to navigate the eight turns. If you’re in a rush, this isn’t for you. Be patient and enjoy the lovely homes and gardens you’ll see along the way, along with views of the city in the distance.
3. Go Early To Avoid The Crowds
I have been able to see Lombard Street with few other cars by arriving early in the morning. Since this is a public street, it’s always open. If you have a long list of sites to see, make this the first stop of the day. Typically, a weekday will be better than a weekend, but that can vary depending on other events going on in the city. My single best recommendation for avoiding crowds is to go early.
4. Go In The Evening To See The City Lights
You may experience more traffic in the evening, but Lombard Street is a terrific spot to see the lights of the city. You can always see Coit Towers and the bay from here, but to see them as the lights of the city come on in the evening is magical. Just keep in mind that the driver will need to be extra careful while navigating this stretch of road at night.
5. Try Walking Instead Of Driving
I stopped driving Lombard Street a long time ago. Now, I only walk it. Instead of the stressful wait combined with maneuvering a motor vehicle through the curves, I leisurely stroll down the steps lining the street, thoroughly enjoying the gorgeous views.
But walking has its own challenges. First, you’ll need to decide how to get there. During my last trip to San Francisco, we stayed near Fisherman’s Wharf. I walked from my hotel to the top of Lombard Street, strolled down, and then returned to my hotel. The round-trip walk was 2 miles and took around 45 minutes. Total elevation gain was just under 300 feet. It was a great workout to start my day and an amazing way to see the city streets.
Another option is to take the Powell/Hyde cable car starting at Fisherman’s Wharf and hop off at Hyde Street. This is a fun way to combine two iconic San Francisco attractions.
If you’re planning to purchase a ticket for the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour of the city, you’ll be happy to know that one of its stops is on Lombard Street, just about half a mile from the top of the famous one-block portion.
6. Respect Private Property
While this may feel like an attraction out of Disney, it is indeed a street lined with private homes. Whether you’re walking or driving, keep your eyes peeled for residents that may be exiting or entering their driveways. And be sure to stay off private property if you’re walking. Along the way, you’ll see staircases leading to front doors. Please don’t sit on these as if it’s a public park; just keep walking.
7. Check Out Russian Hill
If you’re tight on time, you may just need to head to Lombard Street and take off for your next destination. However, I’d recommend allowing a bit of time before or after Lombard Street to experience the charming and historic Russian Hill neighborhood that surrounds it. If you want more views of the city, head to Russian Hill Park. Or shop, dine, and just stroll through the streets. But since this neighborhood is literally on a hill, be prepared for some occasionally steep inclines.