12 epic staircases that will make you fall in love with San Francisco all over again

12 epic San Francisco climbs that will make you fall in love with the city all over again

San Francisco stairs are everywhere out of necessity.

Due to the city’s unique topography, building a staircase is often the only way to climb a hill, pass between two rows of houses, or simply get from the beach to a road above. But our stairs don’t just function as a way to get from A to B or access a beautiful view, they’re now part of the show.

We’ve chosen a dozen of all-time great stairs in SF, including tourist classics, a sample of our signature mosaic stairs, stunning views, and a few hidden gems. We were inspired in equal measure by Adah Bakalinsky’s beloved 1984 book “Stairway Walks of San Francisco,” and the pandemic work of Alexandra Kenin, who has climbed over 900 stairs in the city and cataloged them. in a database with a map.

Let us know your favorite staircase on Twitter @PeterHartlaub or by email at phartlaub@sfchronicle.com.

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San Francisco‘s Mount Everest Stairs are arguably also the stairway to conquer if you only climb one. There are grand views of the San Francisco Bay and East Bay coastline, but the magic of the Greenwich Steps is in the details, from the artistic masonry to the architectural/engineering ingenuity that places eclectic houses on the sheer cliffs almost uncomfortably close to the walkway.

Within walking distance of Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf and tops near Coit Tower, this Telegraph Hill masterpiece and tourist magnet is worth all the hype.

If the Greenwich Steps are the stairs to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the Filbert Steps (just a block away) are the Bay Bridge: solidly built, filled with gorgeous views, and heavily underrated.

Filbert has a more modern look, with open-air concrete and steel stairs that seem steeper and a little more heartbreaking, contrasting with the older Greenwich steps built into the hill.

Here’s the secret: while both are stunning and full of surprises, Filbert appears in fewer guides and is less crowded. And the famous Telegraph Hill parrots love both stairs equally.

Attached to one of the best beaches in the Bay Area, this sand ladder is essentially constructed from logs tied together by wires and anchored to the ground, with the sand stairs adding to the potential for intense exercise.

Watch your step, not just because of the uneven steps, but because the fabulous view is inconvenient. Look long enough at the horizon and on a clear day you can recognize the curvature of the earth.

Step by step, this is perhaps the most impressive staircase in San Francisco.

The stairwell seems almost as wide as it is tall, with fewer stairs than anything else on our list and a limited view. But it’s a stunning piece of public art, with hand-painted beaux-arts tiles on the staircase and pews, created by local mosaic artist Aileen Barr (who makes this list often).

For nearly a century the steps of Lincoln Park were mere concrete and a very indescribable gateway from the Richmond District to the Presidio. After falling into disrepair in the early 2000s, a neighborhood group partnered with SF Parks Alliance, completing the art project in 2010.

Today it is a magical portal to the Presidio and a symbol that much about this city gets better with time.

The Vulcan Staircase (and nearby Saturn Staircase) connects the Haight and Castro neighborhoods, with a discovery-filled walk that feels like a trip through the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ wardrobe – or walk through the hobbit neighborhood “Lord of the Rings”.

The nearly century-old staircase rises near an eclectic collection of bungalows still dominated by gardens and trees that seem to surround the stairlift and squeeze the city. Hike to Vulcan, then drop down to nearby Saturn (which has less exciting landscaping, but better views of the city), then stroll for another great view at Corona Heights Park.

Alta Plaza Park Stairs

Alta Plaza Park is best known outside of the neighborhood as the park ruined by “What’s Up Doc?”

But once you get past the amazement/rage that the steps on the south side are still damaged from the 1972 film, there’s a lot to like about this hillside park, which is surrounded by wide staircases and panoramic views.

It’s also a fully equipped park, with picnic benches, tennis courts, a children’s play area and other areas to extend your stay into a fun afternoon.

The triumph of 16th Avenue Tiled Steps is the local nature of the project, which has brought together enough artists, service organizations and volunteers to become a neighborhood improvement army and create one of the underrated landmarks of the city.

Jessie Audette and Alice Yee Xavier began the step beautification effort in the early 2000s, and every small neighborhood group from the Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People to the San Francisco Succulent Society participated. Artists Aileen Barr and Collette Crutcher have created a mosaic that tells the story of the universe, complete with sea life, flowers and celestial bodies.

One of San Francisco’s great off the beaten path landmarks.

Another wonderful mosaic design by Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher, who are to San Francisco stairs what Michelangelo was to chapel ceilings.

Named after Bayview District pastor Arelious Walker, who fought against homelessness and championed the neighborhood, the staircase is a centerpiece of India Basin development that is still ongoing, with large plans for a waterfront park across the street.

The artwork can be enjoyed now, with wildlife themes, geometric shapes and other imaginative touches – as the stairs connect a former housing project to the future park. (Happy children were running up and down the stairs when we visited.)

Wilde Avenue Staircase/McLaren Park

The Campbell Street steps a few blocks from Visitacion Valley are more advertised, but the Wilde Avenue staircase is the best in McLaren Park and one of the most underrated places to relax and reflect in the city.

There is a parking lot on Ervine Street where Wilde Avenue ends at the park, then take the paved path to the left up the hill until you reach a simple concrete staircase with a balustrade in the middle, seeming random on the hill blown by the wind.

Once at the top, you will enjoy one of the most unique views in the city: you can see the Cow Palace, Hunters Point Crane and, on a clear day, Mount Diablo in the distance above the hills of Oakland. Head up the hill past the observation deck (enclosed) for a great view of downtown San Francisco.

Forest Hill is an outstanding stairway neighborhood in San Francisco – seven stairways received top marks from Alexandra Kenin – and the Grand Pacheco Stairway is its centerpiece.

Start from the bottom in front of the hot tub-sized urn, take a moment to take in the excellent view of Sutro Tower, then start climbing a staircase that looks like money at every turn. not. There are century-old trees, climbing vines, and another huge urn at the top. (Sure to make our future list of “San Francisco’s Biggest Urns.”)

There are nice benches built into the wall downstairs, perfect for your post-climb lunch or your caffeinated drink of choice.

“(The) most magnificent staircase in San Francisco of all” according to author Adah Bakalinsky, the Harry Steps are effectively their own street, starting with several flights of weathered concrete steps, then continuing along a long and narrow wooden staircase with beams that look like they were salvaged from an 1800s shipwreck.

Along the way, you’ll pass charming homes (accessible only by stairs) that seem rustic enough to be Russian River vacation homes. There are also occasional surprises, including a Stonehenge-like archway set up haphazardly in a backyard. On the way back through the treetops, you’ll see views of the city including downtown San Francisco, Bernal Heights, and Noe Valley.

If you’re up for another challenge or want a more open view, the wider wooden steps of Billy Goat Hill, a few blocks north of Noe Valley, are also gorgeous, with more places to linger.

The Lyon Street Steps are a long trip and the hardest climb on this list outside of Telegraph Hill. But oh, what a reward.

At the top of this splendid collection of stairs, public art and shrubbery is a commanding view, with the stairs overlooking the Palace of Fine Arts and then San Francisco Bay and Sausalito/Tiburon beyond.

The steps were designed in 1916 by Louis M. Upton, the architect behind many of the mansions that surround the road on three sides. (Presidio Park is the fourth frontier.) The centerpiece heart artwork was designed by Hung Lui — one of more than 100 hearts scattered around the city in the early 2000s.

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