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Forget Lombard, This is San Francisco’s Real Crookedest Street

By Tim Jue / Beat Staff Writer

The real “crookedest” street in San Francisco won’t be on any postcards anytime soon. Nor will you see it on any AAA touristy guides to the sights and sounds of the city.

If you’re planning to take a trip down Vermont Street between 20th and 22nd Streets in the city’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, hold on to the steering wheel and get ready for a series of hairpin turns on a stretch of roadway that few travelers and locals know about.

This is San Francisco’s crookedest street.

Vermont St. holds the dubious and relatively unknown distinction of being the city’s (and perhaps the nation’s) crookedest street because of its steeper grade and tighter turning radius between each switchback than its famed-sister to the north, Lombard Street.

Sure, there are more switchbacks (curves) on Lombard St. (eight) than on Vermont St. (seven), but if you’re using “crooked” in its literal sense, the latter is the one to go with.

The only warning you’ll get before you go over the  crest of the hill is a yellow sign with the squiggly-arrow on it. After that, you’re on your own as you rumble down uneven cement, broken pavement, and if you’re driving a large sized vehicle, avoiding nicking your bumper on the sides of the concrete walls. There are already enough scratches and coats of auto paint on them.

Compared to Lombard St. on the other (nicer) part of town, the Vermont St. curves have no colorful gardens or a red-brick paved roadbed to admire and photograph for relatives back home. And there is no need to wait for a Cable Car operating at the top of the hill to get into the lens before that snap-shot.

And it’s relatively isolated in the eastern part of town. The closest MUNI bus stop is two blocks away.

It is not without contention between the travel guides about which street is the swerviest, but for locals in the Potrero Hill District and the taxi drivers in the city, Vermont Street is the crookedest, bar none.

If you’re making a visit, be forewarned that this is not the flowery tourist-friendly destination that is Lombard Street – get ready for a grimy taste of the Potrero Hill District. America’s real crookedest street is located beside busy U.S. Highway 101 and a dense wooded area that appears to double as a make-shift homeless encampment.

Take the hill slowly if you’re driving – compared to Lombard Street’s curvature, the tighter turning radius makes gives this street its distinction, but also makes it tougher on the driver. It’s a one-way street too, so the only way to go is down.

If you’re on foot, watch out. The cement staircase on the west side of the street (closest to the freeway) disappears mid-way down, and you’ll have to navigate a very steep unpaved “trail” that looks pretty precarious.

Other downsides: the isolated location of this street. It’s located in a pretty out-of-reach place for most tourists, and transportation to the area (unless you have a car) is sparse.

Some of the other pluses: plenty of free parking at the top of the hill, a beautiful shot of the San Francisco skyline a block away near the McKinley Square Playground, and a chance to tell your friends at home that you got the chance to go down and see the real crookedest street in America!

Tips & Resources

Google Map: Vermont Street and 20th Street

5 Comments »

  • nousha.com said:

    INteresting I will check that out!

  • Roy said:

    I lived in Potrero Hill for 7 years. That seedy neighborhood’s shacks cost 700K up. Don’t remember a homeless camp, not to say a homeless person may not camp out, it’s a nice place, but there is no camp. The six figure income would be on the phone to the cops the second night. The houses are built on the front property lines and the gardens are in the back. Not a fair comparison to the city maintained gardens on Lombard to other Facades on Vermont. I have driven down Vermont in an Infiniti QX4 and a Porsche at 40 MPH, please the street is wide and if you make a tight turn, there is no risk of hitting anything. I assume, you are a visitor, but please check your facts. Why would a taxi driver go down Lombard, they could go another block and go down Florida. The freeway is way below the top of the street and is protected by a sound wall. Not saying it’s quiet as the middle of the forest, but it ain’t what you described. When taking out of town guest around, I take them though Lombard and then up to the Potrero Theater, site of the Mitchell Brothers early flicks. Good read, but very inaccurate.

  • Curly said:

    Roy, Kansas St. is the next block from Vermont, not Florida; Florida St. is on the other side of 101. And, going down at 40 MPH is not only dangerous, it is utterly reckless and stupid. I suspect it is your car’s paint that adorn the concrete walls down Vermont.

  • Wayne Bengston said:

    Thanks for this. Went down Vermont St today in my ’96 Impala SS. It took full-lock turns to make the turns on Vermont, but not on Lombard. Vermont is certainly the tighter turning street.

  • Michael L. said:

    See my videos for what it looks like going down Vermont St. and Lombard St. in a Mini Cooper S. It takes about 30 seconds for both, but if Lombard is a corner longer then that would make Vermont Tighter. I count 7 turns for Vermont and 8 for Lombard. Vermont St. has grippy concrete but it is broken up and the car bounces. Lombard is smooth but has bricks which are not as grippy. I didn’t check my average speed but it is more like 20 than 40 and the Mini is as fast as any car on these streets.

    Vermont St: http://bit.ly/bT7G5C

    Lombard St: http://bit.ly/bvRpnj