Visits to Russian Hill and Nob Hill

Visiting S.F.’s Famous Hills

On the same gorgeous March day that we climbed San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill and visited Coit Tower (see description here), we also climbed Russian Hill and Nob Hill. This sounds more formidable than it really is — these are 275′, 300′ and 325′ in elevation. Still, climbing all three requires some up and down on San Francisco’s famous hills and by the end of the day we were ready for a stop for some cool brew.

But first
We were in the city with our friends Patricia and Tom to tackle three peaks listed in the ‘Nifty Ninety Peaks’ challenge that the Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club has issued.  We started our day with a ride of BART over to San Francisco’s Embarcadero Street station, stopped at a nearby Peet’s Coffee and Tea at 1 California Street for coffee and scones, and then headed for the first peak of the day: Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill, which is in the earlier post.  

After our tour of Coit Tower and studying our maps, we set out for Greenwich Street. Greenwich took us straight for several blocks and right up the hill into the Russian Hill neighborhood. We crossed over Hyde Street to what looked like the highest point around ( the Alice Marble Tennis Courts/George Sterling Park) but when we referred back to the GPS, it indicated there was an even higher point several blocks away. So we set off and by trial and error (the tall apartments and other buildings didn’t make this easy to do visually).   

We really didn’t mind wandering around a bit — especially when we spotted the “First Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlor” on the corner of Hyde and Union Street and were able to treat ourselves to cones. It was a perfect San Francisco day — warm enough to enjoy ice cream, not hot enough for it to melt away. 

We made a few wrong turns — in large part because Russian Hill Street is tiny and not easily found even on GPS. The short street is lined by upscale homes occupied by residents who probably prefer to keep the number of visitors down. It’s likely they don’t want the tourists that visit well-known curvy part of Lombard Street, which is not that far away. 

(If you decide to look for this point, it sounds complicated but here goes: Off Vallejo Street, East of Jones Street, and opposite Russian Hill Place. Google has this site as “Russian Hill-Vallejo Street Crest Historic Place.”

On to Nob Hill 

interior Grace Cathedral, S.F.

From Russian Hill, we walked another 6-7 blocks to reach Nob Hill. We went first to the beautiful Grace Cathedral where we admired the interior with its stained glass windows, a Benny Bufano statue, and peaceful ambiance. We walked the outdoor labyrinth (there is another  inside). 




We headed uphill again passing the social club known as the Pacific-Union Club a1000 California Street. Wikipedia says, “The clubhouse was built as the home for the silver magnate James Clair Flood. The former Flood Mansion…was designed by Willis Polk. It is considered the first brownstone constructed west of the Mississippi River. Along with the Fairmont Hotel across the street, it was the only structure in the area to survive the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.”

At the next corner, we came to the highest point of Nob Hill, the intersection of California and Mason Streets, where the 4-star super-fancy Mark Hopkins and the 4-star Fairmont Hotel reign. At the Fairmont, visitors can sit at the Tiki Bar serenaded by a live band that is seemingly floating on an island in a pool. As I recall, back in the 1950s, there was a faux rainstorm/hurricane as part of the experience. Then, as now, your tasty drink is served with a tiny paper umbrella. 
Since we all had well over our 15,000 steps for the day, had walked more than 7 miles, and had climbed the three peaks, we decided to take the California Line cable car down the hill.

We had our beer and snacks at Schroeder’s (German beer hall), and then made our way back to Market Street and the Embarcadero BART station for our train ride home. 

Terrific day and terrific way to check three more peaks off our list!  
Hikes done March 8, 2018.  Our Nifty Ninety Peaks #24, 25, 26

Nifty Ninety Peaks challenge takes us to San Francisco

Loving this Nifty Ninety Peaks challenge! 

The Sierra Club’s Nifty Ninety Peaks challenge doesn’t just get us to the hills and mountains in our nearby regional, State, and Federal parks, the challenge also takes us to San Francisco. Earlier this month, we had planned to climb Monument Peak near Fremont in the East Bay, but the recent/threatened rain had made the trails muddier and slipperier than we wanted to try. 

We decided to take an urban walk. The Challenge lists 10 peaks in San Francisco:
Twin Peaks (counts as one), Tank Hill, Mount Sutro, and Mount Davidson (which we had already done);
Hayes Hill, Corona Heights Crag, and Bernal Heights (which we have scheduled for early April); and Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, and Nob Hill. This beautiful March day we did the last three.   

Our “team,” which mainly consists of my husband Ralph, our friend Patricia Schraffarczyk, and me, was joined by another friend, Tom Coroneos, for this outing. Boo, Patricia’s lively dog, who loves our hikes in the wide open spaces, stayed home because he wouldn’t have been happy staying on a short leash on this city hike. 

Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower
After a short stop at Peet’s Coffee near the BART Embarcadero station, we set out for Coit Tower,
also known as the Lillian Coit Memorial Tower, atop the highest point of Telegraph Hill. The elevation of the hill itself is given as 275-285 depending on where you search for info. The tower itself adds an impressive 210-feet, but since we took the elevator to the top, I don’t think we’ll take credit for that additional height. 

The tower was was built in 1933 using “Lillie Hitchcock Coit‘s bequest to beautify the city of San Francisco. At her death in 1929 Coit left one-third of her estate to the city for civic beautification. The tower was proposed in 1931 as an appropriate use of Coit’s gift. 

The art deco tower is popular with visitors in part because of its terrific 360 degree views. One can see downtown San Francisco, twisty Lombard Street, busy Pier 39, the trendy Ferry Building, as well as Angel Island, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. We were thrilled that we had come on a day with blue skies and puffy white clouds, but it would have been just as much fun if we’d been there to watch fog creeping in over the bay.

We also were captivated by the murals on the first floor. Most are frescoes that were created at the time of the tower’s construction and reflect the artists’ beliefs in (to varying degrees) racial equality and to leftist and Marxist political thoughts. 

It’s free to enter the tower and view the murals at ground level; $8 (adult) admission is charged to take the elevator to the top for the views or to go on the tours held periodically  to see the murals in the spiral stairway. Because none of us had visited the tower in several years, we were very happy to see that the recent restoration work had returned many murals to their former glory. 

This is San Francisco at its best! It’s often considered a tourist site, and it is, but there’s no reason for residents to miss out! 

Hike was March 8, 2018. Our Nifty Ninety Peaks #24, 25, 26.

Angel Island with Teenagers

Quality time with our granddaughters

We are on a bit of a roll with the Nifty Ninety, so we decided to take our granddaughters, Madison and Lucie, to Angel Island State Park. Once there, Ralph and I hoped we could convince the girls to climb to the peak of the island’s Mount Livermore, but we weren’t too sure how that plan would go over with a couple of teenagers!

Angel Island, in the middle of San Francisco Bay, is sometimes called the Ellis Island of the West because it served as an immigration station at one time. The island is a very short ferry ride from the small, upscale community of Tiburon. The island offers hiking and biking trails (as well as a tram for non-hikers) and has a small restaurant and other visitor amenities. The views from the ferry and the island are top-notch — the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, Marin County, and the East Bay among them.

Once we arrived and mentioned climbing the mountain as a possibility, the girls took off uphill requiring us to do the fastest pace we’ve ever done on that particular hike. It was obvious they were not just humoring us — they were chatting and taking photos the entire way. As climbs go, the trail is not terribly difficult — but its elevation of 790 feet is equivalent to climbing 79 flights of stairs and by day’s end we had covered more than seven miles.

Coming down from the peak was much faster. Rather than winding its way around the hills, it is pretty much a straight route down to the Perimeter Trail (the five-mile trail that circles the island).

A bit of a problem!
We did have a bit of problem on this return, however. We missed a turnoff that would have taken us on a much shorter route back to the ferry dock. We were further back from the ferry dock than we wanted to be and had to pick up our speed so that we would get back to before the ferry made its final return to Tiburon.

Camping is allowed on Angel Island, but not only did we not have reservations, we also didn’t have our sleeping bags! Luckily, the girls still had plenty of energy and enthusiasm, so we made the 2.4 miles in record time with no complaints and no lagging behind.

What a gorgeous way to spend time with teenagers!

Date hiked: Feb. 24, 2018 (peak #21 for us)


Olompali’s Lovely Mount Burdell

Rainbow from top of Mt. Burdell, Marin County


Doing the Nifty Ninety is even more fun now that we are “enlisting” some family and friends to go with us! Instead of having to choose between going out for a meal with people or going for a hike, we can have our cake and eat it too. 

This time we went across the bay to Novato to climb Mount  Burdell in Olompali State Park. Our friend, Patricia, who has become as serious about this challenge as we are, went with us. That meant that her lively dog, Boo, went with us too. It wasn’t just the view from the peak that was great — this hike was lovely the entire way — with green rolling hills and wildflowers starting to  open.

Bay Area hiker gives these directions to the trailhead we used. “From US 101 in Novato (Marin County) exit #463 (San Marin Drive/Atherton Avenue). Head west on San Marin Drive for about 2.5 miles. Turn north (right) unto San Andreas Drive, and continue about 0.5 mile.”  

Rainbow from atop Mt. Burdell, Marin County

We were quite pleased when we reached the peak because our timing allowed us to see rain in the distance, and a gorgeous rainbow, but we weren’t getting wet. Of course it was just luck that we didn’t get caught in a deluge, but we liked taking credit for staying warm and dry.

Walking back to our car, I loved watching Boo run full tilt through the open fields. Dogs are allowed in the park (with leash required on some trails), but on this weekday there weren’t many around. We decided that finding a brew pub  after our hikes should be part of the outings, so we stopped at Moylan’s Brewery and Restaurant in Novato for some liquid refreshment.

Hiked: Feb. 22, 2018 (peak #20 for us)  

Black Diamond Mines and Rose Hill

A lot of history at Black Diamond

 Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, which is near Antioch, can be a lovely place to hike. This early February day was just about perfect for another Nifty Ninety Peak hike — sunny, perhaps a bit on the cool and breezy side. Be forewarned it you consider doing it  mid-day in mid-July — it can easily reach into the triple-digits. 

Our goal was to climb Rose Hill (not to be confused with a much more strenuous hike on the list to attain Rose Peak near Livermore). Rose Hill is only 1,506 feet in elevation, but we found that not all of the informal trails (vs. signed, official trails) to the top were created equal. We started out on a lesser trail and I had to turn back because of a couple of steep spots. I should have known better anyway, because “social trails” cause erosion.

This was the climb.

We found a better trail a bit farther on; it had only a couple of slippery spots. I had my hiking poles, and was glad to have them because of the loose grit and occasional pebbles on the trail, but younger hikers probably wouldn’t need them. 

The views were far-reaching
We could see over to Mt. Diablo and north toward the delta. The refinery at Martinez was quite visible. And the housing developments continue to fill in any available spot.  The refinery at Martinez was quite visible. We saw that the housing developments continue to fill in any available spot —which reminded me that I like supporting Save Mount Diablo because they really work hard to “protect, preserve, and restore” land that surrounds Mt. Diablo. That often means that further development is reduced, slowed, or stopped.

From the 1850s to early 1900s, the chief activity in “Black Diamond” was coal mining  and there were several towns here — of which Nortonville, Somersville, Stewartville may be the best known. The miners, their families, and others lived here. When production costs and competition became too great and Americans found other sources of energy, the mining towns because deserted.

I’ve heard that some of the houses were moved downhill into what is now the city of Antioch and elsewhere; the wooden slats of the houses were numbered so that the houses could be more easily reconstructed in the new sites. Sand mining began in the 1920s and continued into the 1940s. Underground mine tours of the sand mines at Black Diamond are available with reservations. 

Today’s visitor/hiker is likely to see grazing sheep or cows that are used by the EBParks to help reduce fire hazard and increase plant diversity and help native plants.

On our hike, we saw sheep as well as ground squirrels and raptors. On other visits, we have seen coyotes, and mountain lions are known to frequent the area. 

The old Rose Hill Cemetery still exists. It’s only a short walk uphill from the parking area and is well worth a visit. Especially poignant are the grave markers of “children who died in epidemics, women who died in childbirth, and men who died in mining disasters.” (info from the park’s brochure).

The park is 8,349 acres. Our hike was approximately 9,500 steps and 3.5 milesincluding the false start up the hill. Most of the park’s trails are rated moderate to strenuous, but worth hiking to see not only views, wildflowers, seasonal streams, but also various mining features such as Jim’s Place and tunnels.

There is also a visitor center, a group and backpack camping area, picnic tables, and exotic vegetation to enjoy.

We hiked this on Feb. 12, 2018 and it was our 17th Nifty Ninety peak.