Twin Peaks: San Francisco’s Best View
Twin Peaks is a must-see stop on your tour of San Francisco. Why? The view, the view, the view. This set of high peaks is located near the geographical center of the city, offering stunning 360-degree panoramic views of this beautiful city and the bay and ocean beyond. And you might be surprised to find that it offers a few other things to you as well.
History of Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks was so-named in the 19th Century but of course it’s a natural attraction that was present long before it got that name. It is believed that the native Ohlone people used the area as a lookout point, which makes sense since you can see everything from up here! In the 18th Century the Spanish conquistadores came to the area and named the peaks the Breasts of the Indian Maiden, reflecting their natural shape. The two peaks actually also have their own names: the North Peak is Eureka Peak and the South Peak is Noe Peak.
Twin Peaks is a natural area that rises to a high point of more than 920 feet, the second tallest peak in the city after Mount Davidson. This makes it an obvious choice for a scenic viewpoint. But it actually makes it an obvious choice for some more practical things as well, which is why you will find a handful of transmission towers up there. After all, it’s tough to get transmission signals in the lower hills of the area but those signals are nice and clear up there on the tall peak. You do notice them as you’re heading up to the peaks and you’ll see them up close while you’re up there but you’re honestly so distracted by the stunning views that they don’t take anything away from the aesthetics of the experience.
All Twin Peaks Photography by Michael Lax Photography, San Francisco
In 1954 the city built the Summit Reservoir on top of Twin Peaks. This 14 million gallon water hold is hugely important since this is what provides the water for San Francisco’s fire departments. The idea for this reservoir developed in the wake of the 1906 earthquake and fire when it became obvious that firefighters needed a huge reservoir of water to keep the city safe. The reservoir also provides the city’s residents and the city’s bird life with drinking water.
Aside from the transmission towers and the reservoir, the top of Twin Peaks has remained undeveloped. This undeveloped portion of Twin Peaks has been slated as a Natural Area, and is preserved by the Natural Areas Program (NAP), a 31-acre division of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks department. This Natural Area acts as a preserve for native vegetation, allowing indigenous plant life to grow virtually untouched.
Enjoying the View from Twin Peaks
You will be able to see a terrific view of the city from any spot that you are at on top of Twin Peaks. However, if you want to get the full experience of the peaks then you should take the time to journey around the entire area. It’s about a half mile around with some relatively steep ascents and descents.
At the summit parking lot, there is a sidewalk that curves around a portion of the hill, where most people stop to lean against the railing and admire the city. This area also provides telescopic viewers that, for 50 cents, will get you a close-up look at various San Francisco landmarks.
From there, you can hike the trails over the North and South peaks. From the parking lot, you will walk around the transmission towers to the peaks where the trail is pretty clearly marked. If you travel across to the south peak you will get a 360º view of the city and it’s surrounding areas. There is the Mission District and Mount Davidson to the South then going clockwise you’ll look over the Sunset district and the Pacific Ocean, then over Haight Ashbury to the Presidio and the mouth of the bay with the always-spectacular Golden Gate Bridge. Keep scanning over the city to Telegraph Hill, on to downtown to check out the Transamerica Building and the SOMA area.
One of the things that make San Francisco magical for many people is the fog that blankets the city. Watching the fog make it’s way from the Pacific is quite a sight to see from the top of the peaks. The fog will sometimes climb up the western side of the hill and slowly cascade down the east side. On rare occasions, when the fog is low lying, you’ll be in the sun at the summit, with the fog actually below you. It is an amazing experience that you may get to enjoy during your trek.
What Else You’ll Find at Twin Peaks
The primary reason to visit Twin Peaks is to see this amazing view of the city. But while you’re taking the time to go to Twin Peaks, you should be aware that there are some other things that you can enjoy at this attraction:
- Lovely architecture. As you make your way up the winding road that takes you to the top of Twin Peaks, you will see that the bottom portion of the hill has been developed into a residential neighborhood of beautiful, colorful houses. Take the time to pay attention to the lovely architecture of these homes.
- Wildlife. The area also acts as home to an array of natural wildlife, including raccoons, skunks, opossums, white crowned sparrows and Red Tail Hawks. Most importantly, Twin Peaks is only one of three areas that provide a home to the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly.
- Plant life. There is an abundance of beautiful plant life atop Twin Peaks. Some of these plants can’t be seen anywhere else in the city so take a good look while you’re here.
- Event views. Twin Peaks is a popular place for people to go when they want to see major events that are happening in the city. For example, it’s a popular place on Fourth of July because you can see the fireworks clearly. Of course, this means it’s crowded at this time so you’ll want to get there very early if you’re planning to watch a special event from this great vantage point.
Some Twin Peaks Tips
The following tips will assist you in maximizing your enjoyment of this great San Francisco attraction:
- Be aware of the fact that it is always very windy on top of Twin Peaks. This typically means that it is cold. Be prepared by bringing a windbreaker with you! The east-facing slopes tend to get more sun than the west-facing slopes due to unique geographical features of the hills so keep that in mind if you’re getting too chilly up there!
- Twin Peaks is pet-friendly. However, dogs are required to be on leash here.
- Parking spots are limited on top of Twin Peaks. This is one of the drawbacks of taking a rental car up to the top of the peaks. If you are visiting during a peak travel time (a nice day in the summer, for example) then you may have to wait in your car for a bit before you can pull into a parking space. Be aware of this.
- The main parking lot does have a public restroom, which is always nice to know!
- It’s best to wear hiking shoes to this attraction.
How to Get To Twin Peaks
The most common way for people to get to Twin Peaks is to take a car so if you have got a rental car then you’re one step ahead of the game. In fact, Twin Peaks is one of the stops on the 49-mile scenic drive that many people do when they get a rental car in San Francisco.
You will want to consult your map for exact direction to Twin Peaks from your starting point but here are the two most common options:
- The easiest way to get to the base of the mountain is by Market Street. From downtown, take Market southwest until it turns into Portola. From Portola you will take a right on Twin Peaks Blvd. and follow the road up to the top.
- Another route is to take Market to 17th, then go left on Clayton, then right on Twin Peaks Blvd. After you take the right, you have to take another left to stay on Twin Peaks, but then you can wind up to the parking lot on the summit.
A rental car is not the only way to get to Twin Peaks, though, so if you’re not driving in the city, don’t fret. Some of your other options include:
- Bike rental: Renting bicycles is a popular thing to do in San Francisco because a bike allows you to get an amazing workout while seeing all of the sights up close and personal. You can rent a bike and take the same route to Twin Peaks as you would with a car. One very important thing to note is that there are no bike lanes on this winding road so you have to be very cautious as you ride.
- Hiking. You can combine your tour of this attraction with some urban exercise by doing a hike up Twin Peaks. Again, you would follow the same path that you would take in a car or bike. However, once you are at the base of the peaks you can choose to climb straight up the hillside rather than take the roadway if you would like. You’ll get some great exercise either way!
- Public transportation. There are currently no San Francisco buses that actually go to the top of Twin Peaks but you can take a bus close to the base of the peak and then hike up to the top to see those great views. The 37 Corbett MUNI is the bus that will get you closest to the peaks.
- Tour bus: There are many different tour bus operators in San Francisco and most of them do include Twin Peaks in their trip.
Hotels Near Twin Peaks
Are you interested in staying in a hotel that is located close to Twin Peaks so that you can jut on up there and enjoy the view a few times during your stay? Some great nearby hotels include:
- Casa Luna SF. If you are going to be in San Francisco for an extended stay then consider renting out of these vacation rental apartments that are eco-friendly and within short driving distance from Twin Peaks.
- Inn on Castro. This gay bed and breakfast housed in a 1912 Edwardian home offers you a great chance to enjoy the Castro neighborhood while staying close to Twin Peaks.
- Carl Hotel. This Inner Sunset hotel is one of the best options if you’re seeking a budget hotel near Twin Peaks.
- Metro Hotel. This boutique hotel is located very close to the famous Painted Ladies so you’ll be near two great attractions for the price of one!
- Twin Peaks Hotel. This Castro neighborhood hotel is another budget hotel option that places you close to Twin Peaks.