See the Delights Atop Pacific Heights
Marvelous views of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island and the Marin Headlands attracted 19th century millionaires to have extravagant homes built here. Some 200 residences make up a collection of architectural jewels attracting a steady stream of visitors all year-round to Pacific Avenue to ogle at the mansions of Billionaire’s Row.
The Events of 1906 Changed Everything
To begin with, Pacific Heights homes were not so grand. With the 1870s introduction of cable cars to handle steep hills, easy access allowed for simple Victorian cottages. As fate would have it, survivors fleeing the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 sought safety atop the parks of Pacific Heights, watching as Nob Hill mansions burned to the ground. Wealthy folks rebuilt in Pacific Heights.
Pick a Park
Both of Pacific Heights’ 12-acre hilltop public parks provide panoramic views. At Alta Plaza Park, a grand staircase rises toward the summit for admiring city views below and sailboats in the bay beyond. Four blocks east in Lafayette Park, mothers with strollers, sunbathers and their dogs enjoy grassy slopes offering still more stunning city and sparkling bay views that can reach all the way south to San Bruno Mountain on a clear day.
Take a Peek
Discovering splendid views from intersections at the crest of streets throughout Pacific Heights and peering through gates at immaculate landscaped gardens is part of the fun. There’s a potpourri of styles to delight passersby. See distinctive Victorian Italianates with porch porticos, painted Queen Annes with fancy turrets and gables, handsome Edwardians, Arts & Crafts covered in shingles, English Tudor Revivals, French Beaux-Arts and Mission Revivals. Mixed in are private schools and the consulates of Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, and Vietnam.
Highlights of Pac Heights
Spreckels Mansion is a 1913 French Baroque château at 2080 Washington Street, built by a sugar tycoon for his young wife, Alma, who later donated the Legion of Honor Fine Art Museum to hold her prized collection. Due to the 30-foot privacy hedges surrounding it, the home which currently belongs to bestselling romance novelist Danielle Steel is best viewed from Lafayette Park.
The 1886 Haas-Lilienthal House at 2007 Franklin Street is a restored Queen Anne Victorian complete with authentically furnished interiors, the only one in San Francisco open for tours (Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons).
The “Mrs. Doubtfire” House at 2640 Steiner Street, where the comedy movie starring Robin Williams was filmed in 1993, is now a private residence.
Another private home is 2601 Lyon Street at the corner of Green Street, used as a 2001 filming location for “The Princess Diaries.”
The Lyon Street Steps take your breath away and provide breathtaking views. The exceedingly steep 288 steps cover two blocks between Green Street at the bottom and Broadway at the top. This is Pacific Heights’ own outdoor gym, a stairmaster only for the most energetic souls. Walkers can take it slow, pausing at a tiny, formal landscaped garden halfway up. Be sure to bring a camera because this is one of San Francisco’s best neighborhood gems.
Did You Know?
- Standing six feet tall, Alma Spreckels was the model for the statue of Victoria, goddess of victory in the middle of Union Square.
- A group of local volunteers meets the first Saturday of every month over coffee and bagels before cleaning and greening Lafayette Park.
- Pacific Heights houses listed for sale in 2014 were priced up to $30 million.