One of the best ways to explore San Francisco's killer hills is by venturing through the many, often hidden, stairways in the city. Most are lined with picturesque gardens, many offer benches along the way (phew!), and all offer stunning views of the city or the Bay. The better-known steps are adjacent to the winding Lombard Street, but some secret stairways traverse parks and wind through residential areas, affording you a glimpse that only locals usually get. Here are our five favorites.
Telegraph Hill: The popular Filbert and Greenwich Street staircases leading up to Coit Tower.
Highlights: Gardens of roses and irises, a picnic table overlooking the Bay, and trees filled with the famous wild parrots.
Start at Telegraph Hill Blvd and either Filbert or Greenwich streets.
Inner Sunset: The 16th Avenue steps, covered in mosaic tiles, were a neighborhood project inspired by the Santa Teresa Steps in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After you've done the 16th avenue steps, continue down 15th Avenue to the Aerial stairway (one of the longest in the city) or head up the hill to the Grand View Park staircase, whose benches are one of the best spots to watch a San Francisco sunset.
Highlights: Native plants like Bush lupine and the endangered yellow Franciscan wallflowers, as well as views of various angles of the Golden Gate bridge and the ocean.
Start at 16th Avenue and Moraga Avenue.
Presidio: The Lyon Street steps lead from Pacific Heights through the Presidio park down to the Palace of Fine Arts (where you can check out the Exploratorium science museum) and the Marina neighborhood.
Highlights: Tiered gardens and breathtaking views of the ocean. This is a favorite running spot for hard-core athletes.
Start at Lyon and Broadway.
Upper Market: The Saturn and Vulcan stairways lead through the residential neighborhood above the Castro district.
Highlights: Lush gardens of rhododendrons, hydrangeas, azaleas, and fuchsias; quirky cottages whose residents have only stairway, not road, access; and views of the city streets below.
Start at Levant Street near Lower Terrace.
Pacific Heights: The Baker Street and Fillmore Street stairways pass through the Queen Ann Victorian houses and decadent Italian Renaissance mansions, near the Alta Plaza Park.
Highlights: Some of the city's most breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and Palace of Fine arts.
Start at Broadway and Baker.
For more information, check out Adah Bakalinsky's guidebook, Stairway Walks in San Francisco.