You Deserve a Medallion

Walk San Francisco's Barbary Coast Trail for murals and secret tunnel

Art by Banksy, a secret tunnel, colorful murals, and literary lore galore … the North Beach segment of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail is a fascinating walk through time. All in, the Barbary Coast Trail comprises 170 medallions set in pavement, leading you into the the city’s interesting and tumultuous past.

This 1.5-mile section starts in North Beach and ends at an iconic viewpoint. Start in Washington Square Park and walk south down Columbus on the east side of the street. On the corner of Broadway and Columbus you’ll see the giant jazz mural by famed Bay Area artist Bill Weber. It’s impossible to miss because it takes up an entire side of a building. Look up!  It’s the “Language of the Birds” installation: Books lit with LED lights dangle above the street, casting various words on the sidewalk below. The words are in Chinese, English, and Italian, representing the neighborhood’s diversity. Now look across the street and spy a spray painting and quote on a wall above buildings: A young person wearing a gas mask and carrying a book bag is standing next to the words “If at first you don’t succeed – call an airstrike.”

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Yep, that’s from the ever elusive Banksy! Continue south on Columbus half a block to Jack Kerouac Alley. The small alley honors the Beat Generation, with noteworthy quotes from famous folks lining the ground and detailed wall murals telling their own stories. Head east down Pacific Avenue. On the south side of the street, you’ll find the Artist & Craftsman Supply Shop, where an underground tunnel on the lower level was once used to transport alcohol during Prohibition. The full tunnel is blocked, but you can walk about 30 feet into it. Walk back up Columbus and make a right on Vallejo Street to Caffe Trieste, the coffee shop where Francis Ford Coppola brought The Godfather to life (their espressos are pretty good too!). Now’s the final leg of your walk. Follow the street down the Vallejo Street Stairs. A garden of tropical flowers, cacti, and wildflowers bisects the length of the staircase, and striking views of the Bay Bridge meet your gaze. Turn left when you reach Battery Street and walk two and a half blocks to Filbert Street, where you can conquer the Filbert Street Steps, a massive wooden staircase that takes you to the base of Coit Tower and the panoramic views of San Francisco Bay that all the tourists flock to. You should, too!

Dog-friendly, except inside Caffe Trieste.

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