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Walk Back in Time on the Barbary Coast Trail to the Gold Rush Era

Take a self-guided walking tour of the Barbary Coast Trail in San Francisco, California. Discover why the Barbary Coast trail is a fantastic SF walk.
Ever since we moved to San Francisco, I've been intrigued by the Barbary Coast Trail.  There are shiny plaques in the sidewalk through Chinatown, North Beach, and the Union Square area pointing out the route.  

Connecting the city's most important sites from the days of the Gold Rush, the tour features a wealth of historic sites and a good excuse for some fresh air and exercise -- we covered more than six miles.  

As it turns out, this will be my last post from San Francisco for a while.  As you'll soon see, we've moved on to another part of the world...for now.  Stay tuned!  

We embarked on this last hurrah in San Francisco with friends.  Ekibo deserves credit for a number of the snaps in this post -- he has a much fancier camera than I do :-) 

Join us on a Barbary Coast Trail self-guided walking tour, a walk that has quickly become one of my favorite things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Barbary Coast Trail - North Beach Shop Window Display

What is the Barbary Coast Trail?

The Barbary Coast Trail is a San Francisco walking route that winds it's way neighborhoods representing the city's colorful past. 

The trail was inaugurated in 1998 and runs 3.8 miles end-to-end. The Barbary Coast Trail will take you past more than 20 historic sites in some of San Francisco's oldest and most iconic neighborhoods. 

You'll walk through North Beach, Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, and the Financial District as you relive San Francisco's rich history stemming from the Gold Rush era. 

The moniker "Barbary Coast" is a reference to the notorious red-light district that occupied the area in the mid-19th century. Here you'd find raucous saloons, gambling dens, and brothels frequented by shady characters like pirates, smugglers, thieves, and rogues. 

Barbary Coast Trail Map

Plan your route with this handy map of the Barbary Coast Trail in San Francisco. Click on the image of the map below to open up an interactive version in Google Maps.
Barbary Coast Trail Map in San Francisco

Getting to the Barbary Coast Trail Terminus Via Cable Car

We started at the Fisherman's Wharf terminus of the Hyde Street Cable Car line and watched mesmerized as the operator turned the vehicle around by hand.  

We quickly boarded and were on our way!
Barbary Coast Trail - Cable Car Terminus
The Hyde Street Cable Car line is particularly touristy. Photographers stood at the top and documented our approach up the hill.
Barbary Coast Trail - Friendly Cable Car Driver
Our cable car driver was hilarious and fun but I have to say he wasn't smiling quite so much when the cable car broke down en route to the far terminus and we were forced to debark ahead of schedule near the top of Nob Hill and this sign for the Tonga Room -- "Paradise is Just Around the Corner" we were promised.
Barbary Coast Trail - Tonga Room Advertisement

Barbary Coast Trail Starting Point at San Francisco's Old Mint

With a little extra foot power, we made our way to the start of the Barbary Coast Trail in front of the Old Mint.  I had a book, Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail that contained detailed descriptions of all the important places along the route.  

While it would also make for good armchair reading, we were regaled on the spot with tales of how heroic workers protected the Old Mint and the gold inside against the fire that erupted after the 1906 earthquake.  

The Barbary Coast trail is easy to follow. Just keep an eye out for the bronze medallions on the sidewalk.
Barbary Coast Trail San Francisco - The Old MintSan Francisco's Barbary Coast Trail - Signage

The Barbary Coast Trail Around Union Square

We continued into Union Square...There were some interesting sidewalk plaques unrelated to the Barbary Coast Trail in the park.  We saw both a menorah and a director's chair.
Barbary Coast Trail - Menorrah and Director's Chair
Nearby Maiden Lane features a building (Now the Xanadu Gallery) designed and signed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Barbary Coast Trail - Frank Lloyd Wright Cornerstone and Xanadu Gallery

Follow the Barbary Coast Trail Through San Francisco's Chinatown

We continued into Chinatown and were greeted by a rather friendly looking Godzill, a hapless robot...
Barbary Coast Trail - Godzilla and Robot in San Francisco Chinatown
...and fortune cookies!  We were able to watch the production process at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie factory hidden away on Ross Lane.
Barbary Coast Trail - Chinatown Fortune Cookies
The rest of the crowd seemed immune to the art on display along the network of alleys in Chinatown.
Barbary Coast Trail - Chinatown Street Art
We encountered an idyllic statue of Sun Yat Sen in the hidden park behind St. Mary's Church.
Barbary Coast Trail - Sun Yat Sen Statue
We continued following the trail through Portsmouth Square Park which features a variety of striking sculptures.
Barbary Coast Trail - Statue with PigeonBarbary Coast Trail - Portsmouth Square Park in San Francisco
I loved this composition with pigeon perched upon a statue with a backdrop of the Transamerica Pyramid.

The Barbary Coast Trail Through North Beach

We had already walked quite a distance so when we passed Francis Ford Coppola's Cafe Zoetrope we knew it was the perfect place for lunch.  There were four of us at lunch so we opted to share a pitcher of Coppola's fine vino with our meal.
Barbary Coast Trail - Cafe Zoetrope, Pitcher of Coppola Wine
Refueled, we continued on and saw this Chinese street band performing near the North Beach border.
Barbary Coast Trail - Chinese Street Band
We encountered an unexpected 360 degree rainbow as a halo around the sun on our walk through North Beach -- it was a gorgeous afternoon! We saw odds and ends in a curious window display in a North Beach storefront.
Barbary Coast Trail - North Beach Shop Window Display
The trail took an uphill turn toward Coit Tower where we chanced upon "Poet's Corner".
Barbary Coast Trail - North Beach Poet's Corner
We could see Coit Tower in the distance but decided not to take the uphill detour to the majestic fire hose itself.
Barbary Coast Trail - North Beach Coit Tower 
There are some gorgeous houses in this part of the city including this nicely decorated estate.
We wandered up a nearby staircase into San Francisco's smallest "park"...
Barbary Coast Trail - North Beach Estate and Staircase
The views were lovely but the "park" was little more than a small balcony at the top of the staircase.
Barbary Coast Trail - San Francisco Bay Views

The Barbary Coast Trail Descent from Telegraph Hill

We descended Telegraph Hill and emerged onto the Embarcadero and wound our way through Fisherman's Wharf back to our starting point by the cable car stop.  

The Barbary Coast Trail gave us a fantastic excuse to explore some of San Francisco's nooks and crannies before our onward journey.
Barbary Coast Trail - Sidewalk Trail Marker

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Walking the Barbary Coast Trail in San FranciscoWalking the Barbary Coast Trail in San Francisco

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Walk Back in Time on the Barbary Coast Trail to the Gold Rush Era
Walk Back in Time on the Barbary Coast Trail to the Gold Rush Era
Take a self-guided walking tour of the Barbary Coast Trail in San Francisco, California. Discover why the Barbary Coast trail is a fantastic SF walk.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog