The Stairs of San Francisco

There are over 300 stairways in hilly San Francisco, most of which are quiet places known only to locals and maybe travel bloggers with lots of extra time on their hands. Since we have a whole month here, we set out to find and scramble up some of the city’s most interesting and artistic sets of steps.

Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights Neighborhood

Some of the steepest hills (and real estate prices) in San Francisco are in the sky-high Pacific Heights neighborhood. Here, with panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay, the streets are so tilted that cars park perpendicular to the curb and stairs are cut right into the sidewalk.

Lyon Street Steps

Also in Pacific Heights, along Billionaire’s Row, we scaled the swanky Lyon Street Steps. This fashionable stairway is surrounded by manicured hedges and well-tended gardens, and includes more than 300 steep steps separated by formal landings and elegant balustrades.

Filbert Street Steps to Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill

Not as posh, but equally fun to climb are the Filbert Street Steps. Beginning at the Levi Strauss & Company world headquarters, we ascended the old concrete and wooden steps past century-old cottages, flowering gardens, and a pandemonium of wild parrots to the Art Deco Coit Tower at the top of Telegraph Hill.

Farnsworth Steps in Cole Valley Neighborhood

Notwithstanding the previous examples, most of San Francisco’s stairways are used almost exclusively by the local citizens. In our own neighborhood of Cole Valley, we utilized the unassuming Farnsworth Steps, named for former resident Philo Farnsworth, inventor of the first all-electric television.

Athens-Avalon Steps (see coyote to right of stairway)

We found another quiet neighborhood stairway at the intersection of Athens Street and Avalon Avenue in the Excelsior District. Here, community members raised funds to replace a rickety stairway on a trash-strewn hillside with a brand-new set of steps decorated with brightly colored tile risers.

16th Avenue Tiled Steps

Another grassroots community effort led to the installation of the ambitious 16th Avenue Tiled Steps in the Golden Gate Heights neighborhood. With 75,000 fragments of tile, mirror, and stained glass, Irish ceramicist Aileen Barr created a magnificent sea-to-stars themed mosaic gracefully running up the 163-step stairway.

Hidden Garden Steps

Another tile mosaic stairway project by Aileen Barr, the Hidden Garden Steps in the Inner Sunset District, features native plants, flowers, animals, and insects in a naturally flowing motif. With living gardens on both sides of the stairway, the vibrant steps blend organically and biologically into the environment of the surrounding neighborhood.

Sliding the banister at the Lincoln Park Steps

One final imaginative Barr creation, the Lincoln Park Steps are located in the Inner Richmond District just off the 18th fairway of the Lincoln Park golf course. Unlike her other mosaic step projects, this 30-foot wide tiled stairway was completed in a symmetric and balanced Beaux Arts style.

Esther taking the fun and easy way down on the Esmerelda Slides

After climbing some of the city’s most fascinating and beautiful steps, we appreciated a gleeful descent on the 40-foot long Esmerelda Slides. With a nod to the old board game of Chutes and Ladders, a thrilling ride on a slippery and speedy slide was a welcomed substitute for traipsing back down the stairs of San Francisco.

California Golden Poppy Mosaic, Hidden Garden Steps

Feature Photo: Tiered Staircase at Alta Plaza Park, Pacific Heights Neighborhood

12 thoughts on “The Stairs of San Francisco

  1. I remember when “millionaire’s row” sounded like the ultimate in wealth! But I loved this post…so many beautiful stairs. My guess is you really did appreciate that slide by the time you’d climbed so many steps. Finally, are coyotes common in San Francisco? I wouldn’t have noticed it if you hadn’t mentioned it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • These days, a million wouldn’t even get you a pup tent in Pacific Heights, Ann. The average home price is now over $10 million! We came across a few slides on our walks in San Francisco, but the Esmerelda Slides were the longest, fastest, and most fun. Surprisingly, coyotes are very common in San Francisco. I was parking our car on a neighborhood street late one night, and three coyotes ran right by me up the middle of the road. Signs have been posted all around the city’s open spaces warning pet owners of the prevalence and danger of these wild canines.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow! No wonder there are so many homeless people in San Francisco…those are crazy high prices! I have relatives there, and they told me that house prices are a problem, but I had no idea the expensive areas were quite that expensive.

        Liked by 1 person

    • San Francisco’s tiled stairs are magnificent, Janis. The 16th Avenue Steps and Hidden Garden Steps are the most elaborate and are only a short distance apart. At the top of the 16th Avenue Steps is the aptly named Grand View Park, where the sweeping views are some of the city’s finest. We actually just missed the “atmospheric river” event. The day we left to drive home to Arizona, San Francisco received over 4 inches of rain, the most for a single day in October in the city’s history!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There can’t be many cities in the world where you can conduct a physical field study of artistic staircases. One, probably. I get the feeling this is a real “Joe & Esther” type of thing..don’t I remember you setting out to cross all of the bridges in a Spanish city? Either Seville or Valencia, I think? I like this idea of using a theme as a way if seeing different parts of a city.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, Phil & Michaela. The stairs theme was a perfect Joe & Esther type of thing. Not only was it a good way to explore the lesser known parts of the city, but it led us to some great views, and burned off some of our overindulgence on sourdough bread. I think you may be remembering one of our similar posts from October 2018 on “The Bridges of Bilbao”. That effort also involved a lot of walking, which is our favorite way to sightsee.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Neil. The stairs of San Francisco were a walk in the park after hiking on Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens in the Washington Cascades. In San Francisco, we observed many fitness enthusiasts running the steps for a cardio workout. Maybe they are in training to hike a volcano?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s never occurred to me that the stair venues are mostly visited by primarily locals (with the possible exception of Coit Tower, I suppose). But now that you mention it, most of the ones I’ve climbed (and slid!) were shown to me by my former boss, himself a longtime SF resident. It’s been years since I’ve seen the Hidden Garden Steps — truly a gem! – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right, Marty! The Hidden Garden Steps are stunning; but, they are much less traveled than the neighboring 16th Avenue Tiled Steps and Filbert Steps to Coit Tower. You were fortunate to have a local introduce you to this unfrequented and mystifying attraction. As you will remember, the artistic detail is elaborate, intricate, and sinuous. The subjects include an extensive collection of biological organisms, like dragonflies, mushrooms, sand dollars, and many many more. It would take a couple hours to fully appreciate the artistry and inspiration hidden in those 148 garden steps!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s