By Pamela Roth, Guest Contributor
“Are you okay dad?” I asked as we walked around a residential street corner and discovered another steep hill to climb during our trek up San Francisco’s highest point.
He didn’t say anything. If looks could kill I would have been dead in an instant. But it didn’t take long before a smile appeared on my 63-year-old weary father’s face as he lugged his tired legs up the steep sidewalk along Hopkins Street in the Castro neighbourhood. The views of the city became more impressive with each heavy step.
“I’m just fighting for survival,” he finally said as his face lit up with laughter, his light jacket hanging off his shoulders. My mother and I stopped to wait for him.
Local residents recommended making the trek up the two hills known as Twin Peaks to get the best views of the picturesque city and the sparkling bay. With the exception of Mount Davidson, the towering hills are the highest points in San Francisco at an elevation of about 922 feet.
You can drive to the summit or take a bus that stops near a path that runs up the hill on Crestline Drive, but San Francisco is a walking city, so I was determined to do it with my own two feet — and take my parents in their sixties with me.
It’s a long route to follow the roads, so I printed off a short cut (3 km long one way) with specific directions about which streets and stairs to climb, along with information about some of the buildings and homes along the way.
It was like being on a treasure hunt.
The walk begins in the historic Castro neighborhood — one of the United States’ first and best-known gay neighborhoods, and also the largest. The characters living in the neighborhood, marked with a giant rainbow flag, are more colorful than the homes. Just when I thought it was odd to see a young man on the street only wearing sheer black underwear, I noticed an elderly man sitting at a table on a busy street corner reading a book. He was wearing nothing but a pair of white runners with socks, a watch and a baseball cap.
“Oh my! He must be cold,” said my mother.
At the end of Castro Street, we turned right onto 18th Street and climbed the hills lined with beautiful, large Victorian homes that looked like the doll houses I used to play with as a child.
No two homes in San Francisco are the same. The colorful, narrow homes rise high above the streets and come in all colors of the rainbow. The intricate details on the elegant homes are incredible, making them look more like a palace fit for a queen.
The walk to Twin Peaks involves a mixture of hidden staircases that suddenly pop out of nowhere, along with steep and flat residential streets lined with well-kept homes and colorful flowers. One of the homes at the bottom of the hill on Corbett Street has twice been smashed into by runaway cars coming down Hopkins Street. In one instance, the car went clear through the house with its hood protruding through the wall on the back side.
“Are you okay dad? We’re almost there. These are the last stairs,” I said to my father as he walked slowly behind us up the third flight of stairs through a series of apartment buildings constructed into a hillside.
“That’s what you said last time,” he responded with a smile on his face as he trudged along. By this time, we were all breathing heavily from the steep climb.
We had been walking since 10 a.m. that day and had already completed Lands End Trail — a moderate hike along cliffs and forest on San Francisco’s west coast that offers several picturesque views of the Golden Gate Bridge. A pod of dolphins casually swam along the shoreline down below the path we walked through the woods.
Hiking to the top of Twin Peaks was the last thing to do on our itinerary during our four-day visit to San Francisco — the first for my parents, the third for me.
We reached the relatively undeveloped summit in about 45 minutes, stopping several times along the way to catch our breath and snap a few photos. The 360-degree views of the city and bay were stunning. It felt like were were standing on top of the world.
We soaked in the views of downtown and the bay amongst a handful of visitors excitedly snapping photos at a vista point on the north peak known locally as Christmas Tree Point.
“Holy mackerel!” said my father as his fine hair danced wildly in the gusty wind. He couldn’t stop smiling.
“Well. Isn’t that something. This truly is a magical city.”
Pamela Roth is a crime reporter and travel writer for the Edmonton Sun in Alberta, Canada.