Barbary Coast Trail
The Barbary Coast Trail is a walking tour connecting 20 historic sites and local history museums. The sites tell the story of the California Gold Rush of 1849 to the Earthquake and Fire of 1906, when San Francisco grew from a small village to the busiest port on the West Coast. The 3.8 mile trail is marked by approximately 180 bronze medallions embedded in the sidewalk. If you’ve ever gone shopping in Union Square – I guarantee you’ve seen them.
We started at the southern end of the trail in front of the Old Mint, a national historic landmark, at 5th and Mission. There’s a plaque before the first medallion that reads:
On May 19, 1846 Samuel Brannan rode through the streets of San Francisco waving a bottle of gold and yelling “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” Struck with gold fever, almost every resident headed for the foothills, beginning the greatest migration in American history, the world famous Gold Rush. In 1849 settlers and immigrants from around the world descended on the shores of Yerba Buena Cove. Within a year San Francisco had been transformed from a pastoral village into a bustling port city.
The fully appreciate San Francisco’s role as a magnet of the West, it’s helpful to journey back in time when daring exploits and earthshaking events forged a city on sand dunes. The Barbary Coast Trail is a 3.8 mile walk and 20-minute cable car ride marked by a series of bronze medallions and arrows. From the Gold Rush to the Earthquake and Fire of 1906 to the present, the trail traces the city’s history and honors the individuals whose courage and creativity shaped San Francisco into a culturally rich and uniquely dynamic metropolis.
The southern end of the trail begins at the Old U.S. Mint at Fifth and Mission Streets and extends to Aquatic Park near Fisherman’s Wharf. Each end of the trail in connected by the Hyde-Powell cable car line. There is also a six-block loop on Nob Hill and a satellite site at Mission Dolores.
The Barbary Coast Trail connected twenty historic sites, including the original shoreline of Yerba Buena Cove, the birthplace of the Gold Rush, Jackson Square Historic District, the Pony Express, the oldest cathedral west of the Rockies, the first Asian neighborhood in America, the largest collection of historic ships in the U.S., and several local history museums.
Down Gold Rush-era streets and Chinatown alleys, past Romanza King mansions and Barbary Coast saloons, the trail follows the streets of the old San Francisco to a city built on golden dreams, the City by the Bay…
San Francisco Historical Society
From there we walked up 5th and were quickly thrown into the Union Square crowds. After following the Hyde-Powell cable car line a few blocks we swung a diagonal right through Union Square Park.
We narrowly escaped the tourists through Maiden Lane and were halted this amazing opera singer who was using the build’s exterior walls as amplifiers.
The singer’s voice reverberating in the distance, we entered a bustling Chinatown. Chris and I actually lost the trail a few times because there were so many people on the sidewalk blocking the markers. The trail does a few loops and zig zags through back alley’s that were pretty fun.
Ross Alley is the oldest alley in San Francisco. It was known for brothels and gambling. Today, it is home to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and murals depicting the everyday life of the Chinese American community.
We stopped for boba tea at my favorite spot, Sweetheart Cafe, and in true Linzi fashion I spilled it all over myself. (If you’re wondering why in later pictures I’m pointing out the front of my shirt or looking upset.) In fact, I don’t think I’ve gotten a boba tea from there and that I haven’t spilled on myself. Enough with the spillage talk! Continuing on our journey we walked across the Chinatown bridge, passed naked bikers, ran into Shane Berry, and stopped at Tony’s in Little Italy for lunch.
Full of pizza, we re-joined the trail at Washington Square where lots of people were enjoying the nice weather.
Technically from Washinton Square the Barbary Coast Trail takes you on a street that goes past the base of Coit Tower, but Chris and I had never successfully been to the top so we took a small detour. It was totally worth it.
The view from the top of Coit Tower.
From the top of SF we reluctantly galloped down hills and hidden stairs to Fisherman’s Wharf. We dreaded the crowds of bumbling tourists fumbling along, occasionally stopping without warning to snap a shot with their iPad. Low and behold there is a magical place on Fisherman’s Wharf that I had never been – Musée Mécanique!
Musée Mécanique is an antique coin operated arcade. They have tons of fully-functioning games, most of which you can play for just a quarter. Chris and I tested the thrill of our kiss – separately. (My ‘Wild‘ kisses were nowhere near as impressive as his ‘Passionate‘.) Fortune telling games are my favorite – whether it be dice or mechanical grandmas. A part of me has always loved hearing what the stars think my next move should be.
Behind Musée Mécanique is the historical ships the plaque had mentioned. Not willing to spend a bunch of money to tour a submarine, Chris snapped a picture as proof and we were off. On our way over to the Aquatic Park we saw the infamous Bush Man scaring tourists for the very first time.
A block over we saw a knock-off Bush Man frumpily sitting, barely covered with leaves; a sad counterfeit of the rambunctious true Bush Man we had passed moments before. We had hoped to run into Alex and Laura who had posted that they were at the Aquatic Park earlier in the day, but sadly we just missed them.
The Barbary Coast trail then looped back on itself and we ended our impressive journey at the Hyde Street turn-around.
All in all the Barbary Coast Trail was a fun walk through the city. There are tons of great views, plenty of places to grab a bite to eat, and the hills aren’t particularly challenging. Words of warning: I feel like we missed about half the things we were suppose to see because nothing is really labeled. If I were to do it again I would look up where the not-so-famous historic spots are beforehand. Definitely keep your eyes to the ground when you hit street corners, Chris and I lost the trail many times in high foot traffic areas. Last, but not least, do not attempt this trail if you don’t really jive with tourists. Although we never ran into anyone else who was walking the trail, it goes through many tourist covered landmarks that we tend to purposely avoid. If you’d like to see all of Chris’s great photos, or my horrible iPhone photos, check out them out on the brand new Flickr!