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