Stroll through the vibrant urban landscape of North Beach
(otherwise known as San Francisco's Italian Quarter) and Russian
Hill, and follow the steep curves of Lombard Street, with its lush
gardens and breathtaking views. Take your time enjoying these neigh-
b orhoods like a local: indulging in simple luxuries like sitting and peo-
ple-watching at sidewalk cafes. Take 2 to 3 hours in a morning or an
afternoon for this tour. START: Bus 19; Cable car: Powell-Hyde lines.
1 Polk Street. This is the main
drag on Russian Hill, so named for
the Russian seamen who sailed
south from Alaska to hunt sea otters
for their skins. Those who died on
the expeditions are reputedly buried
on the top of this hill at Vallejo Street
but no trace of the graves exists
today. Polk Street's young, urban,
and European feel helps define the
hill today, though it's less trendy
than Pacific Heights (p 42) or the
Marina (p 46). Polk St. (between Cal-
ifornia & Chestnut sts.). Bus: 19.
Cable car: Powell-Hyde lines.
The interior of Coit Tower contains murals
painted by local artists—the scenes reflect
the mood of CA in the early 1930's.
2 Boulange de Polk. This excel-
lent cafe serves croissants as good as
any in Paris, plus a fine café au lait.
2310 Polk St. y 415/345-1107. $.
4 Telegraph Hill & Coit Tower.
Named for a semaphore that was
installed here in 1850 to alert resi-
dents of ships' arrivals, the hill was
home to various immigrant groups,
from Chileans and Peruvians to Irish,
and later to Italians. When the fire of
1906 came to Telegraph Hill, its Ital-
ian residents saved many homes by
dousing the flames with 500 barrels
of red-wine-soaked blankets and
burlap bags. The crown of the hill is
the landmark Coit Tower (for
details see p 9, bullet
5 ). If your feet tire,
catch the 39 bus at
Union and Union St.
& Columbus Ave.,
which heads up to
3 Lombard Street. Although
locals don't get why tourists will wait
in 3-block-long car lines (on summer
weekends) to drive here, the windy
curves and stately homes of Lom-
bard Street do have their charm.
Take my advice: Walk this street,
don't drive it. Vibrant
hydrangeas are in
bloom each spring,
you'll take in a
brilliant view of
Coit Tower and
the Bay Bridge.
(between Hyde &
Street on foot, and
you'll have more time to
enjoy all its details, like this
ornate house number.