Lombard Street

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Billed by residents and officials alike as the world’s “crooked-est street,” the east-west travelling Lombard Street is a quintessential element of the San Francisco landscape. And, though it is not really the crooked-est street in the world, or even in San Francisco itself, per se, the appeal of taking a walk or drive down Lombard keeps people coming back year after year.

History and Geography

Lombard Street runs from east to west beginning at Presidio Boulevard, travelling through the city until it turns south at Telegraph Hill and becomes Telegraph Hill Boulevard. Though Lombard stretches for several miles throughout the city, even becoming U.S. Route 101 between Broderick Street and Van Ness Avenue, it is best known for the eastbound-only .25-mile stretch between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets in the Russian Hill neighborhood.

This area of Lombard Street includes eight, separate hairpin turns, also known as switch backs, which create a meandering path for drivers and walkers alike. Designed in 1922 by Carl Henry, who owned property in the area, these turns were actually made to help make Lombard Street more navigable for motor vehicle and foot traffic during that time.

The story behind Lombard’s famous turns harkens back to the early days of automotive travel along with the steep hills that are the iconic image of the City by the Bay. Lombard Street is unique amongst San Francisco hills because of its impressive 27° incline which made both vehicular and pedestrian traffic on the hill dangerous. The addition of the hairpin turns not only solved this issue, but the addition of aesthetic elements to the switchbacks enhanced the steep street’s image. Today, the flower gardens and large Victorian-style mansions that encompass the whole of the Russian Hill neighborhood only add dimension to this tourist attraction.

Because of its unique arrangement, Lombard Street can often be found as an emblem of the city in popular culture. This includes the street’s prominent role in the 1958 Hitchcock film Vertigo—the main character lived at 900 Lombard Street—as well as serving as the backdrop of the 1994 season of MTV’s Real World—the cast house was located at 949 Lombard Street.

Main Attraction

There are two main ways to see Lombard Street, on foot and by automobile. This famous .25-mile stretch is also a popular addition to city bus tours. Because it is a public roadway which is used every day by San Francisco residents, Lombard Street is always “open” and charges no admissions fees. Visitors who wish to get the full experience and drive the turns, however, are advised to do so during non-rush time hours; the street is notoriously backed up in bumper-to-bumper traffic throughout the summer. However, walking the block usually takes no more than 30 minutes.

One of the greatest appeals of Lombard Street in addition to its unique structure is the effort of the city to maintain the botanical beauty of the area. Flanked by beautiful hydrangeas and other foliage, the photo ops up and down this drag are too numerous to count. Also, its close proximity to San Francisco’s Piers and Ghirardelli Square make it easy to integrate into a day in the city.

Why It’s a Must-See

The unique set up of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth is truly special. Each day, cars line up to take the famous drive and tourists gather amongst the flowers for unique photos. When planning the agenda for a day spent in San Francisco, Lombard Street is a great addition.