San Francisco has forty-eight named hills, but only seven of them were named at the time of the city's founding.
Nob Hill is a tiny neighborhood perched above Union Square near the intersection of California and Powell streets. In the late 19th century Nob Hill became an exclusive enclave, and many tycoons built mansions in the area.
Although most of these houses were destroyed during the 1906 earthquake, this neighborhood remains affluent and exclusive. Anchored by luxury hotels and private clubs, Nob Hill (also called Snob Hill by locals) provides some of the best views in the city.
During the Gold Rush, settlers found a small Russian cemetery at the top of what is now called Russian Hill. The origins remained unconfirmed but experts believe that the graves probably belonged to Russian fur traders and sailors from nearby Fort Ross, an old Russian outpost north of San Francisco. The cemetery was eventually removed from the area, but the name remains today. It is now a bustling residential neighborhood dotted with eclectic shops and is home to the prestigious San Francisco Art Institute.
Originally named Loma Alta ("High Hill") by the Spaniards, Telegraph Hill's current name refers to a semaphore, a windmill-like structure built in 1849. Its original usage was for signaling to the rest of the city the nature of the ships entering the Golden Gate Bay. Today, locals and visitors alike are drawn to the stunning art deco Coit Tower, which crowns the hill, and the steep ascent along the Filbert steps, with its lovely flowering gardens.
During the Gold Rush, Rincon Hill was a fashionable residential area, but it later transitioned into an industrial and maritime district. Situated near the anchorage of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, Rincon Hill is fast becoming high-rise central, with glittering residential towers housing, and expensive pied-a-terres. The neighborhood is home to the imposing, glass-sheathed One Rincon Hill, which stretches 60 stories tall. Construction for this project, completed in 2008, generated considerable controversy concerning blocked views, pricing, and the architectural style of the complex.
Largely undeveloped, the Twin Peaks are two hills with an elevation of about 922 feet situated at the center of the city and offering sweeping views of downtown and beyond. They form the second highest point in San Francisco, after Mount Davidson, so a drive to Twin Peaks to take in the view is a must for any visitor. At the summit is preserved parkland and it is home to many natural resources and wildlife. As part of the Mission Blue Butterfly Habitat Conservation, Twin Peaks is one the few remaining habitats for this endangered species. A variety of birds, insects, and vegetation also thrive here.
Mount Sutro is named in honor of Adolph Sutro, the 24th Mayor of San Francisco. The property is part of the parcel originally granted to the university by Sutro to build a campus that later became the University of California, San Francisco. Most of Mount Sutro remains private property owned by the university. Unmarked walking trails leading up to the forested summit of the hill are open to visitors, but, unfortunately, there are no great views from the top.
Mount Davidson is the highest natural point in San Francisco, with an elevation of 928 feet. Located near the geographical center of the city, Mt. Davidson's most notable feature, aside from its height, is the 103-foot concrete cross perched at the peak of the hill. It is the site of a yearly Easter prayer service when the cross is illuminated.