About Lombard Street
The one-block section of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth is one of the most famous streets in the world, with eight hairpin turns over a span of about 600 feet (180 meters), it has the reputation as the “crookedest” street in the world. The one-way street runs west to east, downhill at a steep 27% grade. The sharp curves have been in place since 1922, when they were installed to combat the extreme slope of the street, much like skiers carve down a mountain slower than when they fly straight down.
On its outer edges, this block of Lombard Street looks like a normal street, with beautiful houses in straight rows on either side, sloping down the hill. The street itself is paved with red bricks, its curves formed by barriers of low concrete walls lined with bushes, ivy, and colorful flower beds.
Lombard Street Location Map
Lombard Street is not the crookedest street in the world, or even in San Francisco – that honor rightfully goes to the lesser known Vermont Street, between 20th and 22nd streets in Potrero Hill. The curvy stretch of Vermont Street has seven turns, but people who care about these types of things far more than you or I have measured the crookedness of both streets (using sinuosity, that is, the actual path length divided by the shortest path length) and have found Vermont Street to be more crooked (or crookeder, if we’re going to continue the trend). And those don’t even come close to the crookedness of streets outside of San Francisco. Lombard Street is also not the steepest street in San Francisco, though just two blocks away, Filbert Street’s 31% grade is tied with a section of 22nd street for the city’s steepest slope.
So if it’s not the crookedest or the steepest street in town, why does Lombard Street get all the glory? Well, probably because it’s the best looking crooked street in the world, with its flowers and greenery and beautiful mansions. In that way, Lombard Street is one of a kind and certainly photogenic. It’s also located strategically in Russian Hill, not far from Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, with the Hyde-Powell cable car line stopping right at the top of the hill, just above the curvy block, offering direct transportation between the attractions. Coit Tower is perched atop a hill right across from Lombard Street, a valley dipping between the two attractions.
From across the way near Coit Tower, a little boy whose last family vacation was obviously to Disneyland looked over at the hill containing the curvy block of Lombard Street and declared, “That’s definitely Splash Mountain.” And he had a point. It is a bit like a roller coaster with a speed of 5 miles per hour (8 km/h). And the crowds are reminiscent of Disneyland — so is the way the cars wait in line for about an hour for excitement that’s over in about a minute.
Try to drive down Lombard Road:
A major part of the appeal for many visitors to Lombard Street is the chance to drive down the hill, maneuvering those switchbacks from top to bottom. But the swarms of tourists that flock to the street every weekend during summer may detract from the experience, especially when the cars are stopped, bumper to bumper, moving slower than the pedestrians on the sidewalk. During peak tourist season, on weekends during summer, there are often officers directing traffic at the top and bottom of the hill, assisting the flow of cars from each direction, encouraging drivers to keep moving (and to stop taking photos!), and attempting to stop the pedestrians from blocking the intersections.
During these busiest times, it might be best to approach Lombard Street from Hyde Street, since many cars come from Van Ness and the 101, and Lombard Street gets backed up. Note that Lombard Street is a one-way street for blocks below the curvy part, so those approaching from the east will need to take a parallel street up. The best bet for driving down Lombard Street is to visit on a weekday morning or late at night, when the crowds are gone and you can travel freely down the street, but of course, be respectful of the residents. You will still need to drive slowly to make the tight turns (and accidents do happen, like the time a few years ago when a tourist hit a fire hydrant and flooded the street).
When I visited, many cars traveling down the Lombard Street had passengers popping out of sunroofs to take photos or videos of the drive. I also saw several taxis making the trip, which made me wonder how often cab drivers are asked to take this route. It would be a good (though expensive) option for visitors traveling without a rental car, who feel a burning need to drive the stretch, but it doesn’t seem worth it to me.
There are other options, however, for experiencing Lombard Street without a car. And even if you do drive Lombard Street, it’s a good idea to find a parking spot and make the trip on foot – you’ll work your glutes while getting a better look at the houses and gardens and a chance to take photos without breaking the law or holding up traffic. I’ve had good luck finding parking on Larkin in the 2-hour zones, but pay close attention to restrictions posted on the signs and some nearby streets have signs warning drivers about the steep slopes. Some have perpendicular parking rather than parallel, because of those steep grades.
Reaching Lombard Street:
Getting to Lombard Street by cable car is a convenient option from the Powell Street BART station or Ghirardelli Square, since the Hyde-Powell line has a stop right at the top of the hill. The cars can sometimes be too full to pick up new passengers at that stop, so it might take longer than just walking, but at least the cable car will get you up those steep hills.
If you’re coming from Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street is about 10 blocks away, many of which are up a steep hill. It’s walkable if you’re reasonably in shape, but also tiring, and I would not recommend conquering it on the same day you climbed up to Coit Tower. Whether you begin from the bottom or the top, you’ll probably have to make the climb up at some point. If you’re only visiting once, you may as well walk down one side of the street and up the other. You can always stop “to take photos” while you catch your breath. A sign at the top of the hill prohibits skateboarding down the street, but something tells me they do little to deter the late night shenanigans. The idea hadn’t even occurred to me until I saw the sign, but it does sound fun.
The best photo spots are at the bottom of the block, on Leavenworth, where you can better see the switchbacks and most of the block. There are also great views of Coit Tower, while Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge can be seen from just down the street.
There are sidewalks along either side of the street, some parts consisting of ramps and some of stairs. About halfway down the block is a turn off for a tiny street, where there are more houses, which I don’t remember noticing the last time I visited.
The first thing I did notice, on my first visit back to Lombard Street in about 10 years, was the tremendous increase in tourists. The local news reported that the number of tourists flocking to Lombard Street, particularly in the last four years, has increased dramatically, but I haven’t figured out why, other than maybe an improving economy.
This summer, the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) stated that 2,000 cars drive down the street daily during the peak tourist season in June and July. It has grown too much for some residents. As a result, an experimental closure of the street to car traffic was implemented for four busy weekends in June and Fourth of July weekend, to test how the change could affect the street and its residents. On those days, the winding street was traveled instead by pedestrians, who made the most of the closure but were not, by some accounts, very respectful to the few cars that did drive on it – those belonging to residents of the street.
Many of the tourists are less than sympathetic to the residents, who have a difficult time getting to their homes or into their driveways and have a steady flow of people walking outside their house. I was also surprised to learn that the homeowners themselves pay for those elaborate flower gardens that take the street from winding to a world-renowned attraction – though the residents are trying to change that. Because of the street’s status as a major tourist attraction, some residents believe the city should help pay for the maintenance.
Is it another issue of wealth inequality, that those who can afford a home on one of the world’s most famous streets don’t deserve sympathy? The crowds and cars do come with the territory when you move into one of these mansions, but the novelty would surely wear off and anyone’s patience would inevitably wear thin. What other solutions are there, aside from these temporary driving bans? It’s a public street, and it’s already been decided that it can’t be closed off, though tour buses have already been banned from traveling it. Should the houses remain vacant or turned into hotels? Should the homeowners just deal with it and enjoy living on the city’s most notable street? That seems like the consensus.
San Francisco Lombard Street Video
Lombard Street Address: Lombard Street, San Francisco, CA 94133, United States
Published On: Wednesday, January 4th, 2017