On a recent trip to San Francisco, my family and I decided to step up our game, zigzagging the city to climb its most beautiful stairs. The city’s many staircases—installed to get you conveniently from point A to point B are a boon--saving one the laborious climb up its many hills. Most are quite mundane, but there are a smattering of swoon-inducing steps with incredible views. What is even more incredible is that they are volunteer-driven, community-based projects.
Every mosaic tile on these stairs in etched with the names of the person that donated to the project and as I scanned through them, I was pleasantly surprised at the many diverse names I came across. As we become more visible in the philanthropic community, eager to redistribute some of our wealth, our efforts are changing the face of giving, to a sector that has sometimes struggled with diversity.
As you journey through these steps and marvel at their beauty, pay attention to the names etched in stone and let them inspire you to make a measurable impact in your communities.
Lincoln Park Steps
Location: 32nd Avenue, between California Street and the Lincoln Park Golf Course
While these steps date to the early 1900s, the mid-aughts renovation brought this staircase back to life, care of Irish ceramist Aileen Barr. Bright green, yellow, and orange hues make for a set of stunning steps. This was the shortest and the widest of the 7 mosaic steps.
16th Avenue Tiled Steps/Moraga Steps
Location: 16th Avenue and Moraga Street
These are the most popular and a tourist magnet. Features 163 unique steps made up of mosaics that create a seascape-themed piece with panels depicting the world: starting from the ocean at the bottom, climbing all the way up to the sun, detailing animals, fish and shells along the way. Connecting Golden Gate Heights to the Inner Sunset, Aileen Barr and mosaic artist Colette Crutcher collaborated in the creation of the steps.
Hidden Garden Steps
Location: 15th Avenue and Kirkham Street
A few feet away, the second most popular stairs in the city depicts blooming flowers, cute butterflies, and even a salamander that extends up the steps. This mosaic staircase looks shorter, but it’s actually 148 steps up. The entirety of this set of stairs is hidden between several buildings, earning its name of hidden garden steps.
Location: Mission Street, between France and Italy Avenues
Literally in an alley, they are hard to find. Assembled by an art teacher, her students, and volunteers they are not very well maintained, it is yet another short flight of stairs (47 steps), the design depicts a waterfall.
Athens Avalon Greenspace
Location: Avalon Avenue and Athens Street
What was once a literal garbage dump is now a lovely stairway with rainbow-hued mosaic steps. Walk all the way to the top → there’s sweeping views of the southern border of SF.
Location: Nevada Street and Tompkins Avenue
Vibrant and fun, these are the perfect place to grab content for Instagram. The multicolored zig zag design was inspired by the Steps to Peace painted by Syrian students in Syria. Some great landscaping here, with tons of California natives and other drought-tolerant plants. Created by neighbors — for neighbors, the locals maintain and clean up the garden every few weeks.
Arelious Walker Mosaic Staircase "Flights of Fancy"
Location: Innes Ave and Arelious Walker Street
4-foot wide, 87 step mosaic tile staircase is inspired by patterns all over the world — from India and Indonesia to Japan and the Middle East. Make sure to climb all the way up — the mosaic steps wind up the hillside and each section has a different theme.
Miraloma Mosaic Steps
Location: Bella Vista Way across from Dorcas Way
In their newest addition artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher are at it again, this time with a tiled staircase in SF at an elementary school. A cool walk to school, no?
Quesada Gardens Tiled Steps
Location: Quesada Avenue between 3rd and Newhall Streets
These are HARD to find and even most of the locals have not heard of them! Neighborhood kids painted the 600 colorful ceramic tiles on the staircase.
Unity Plaza Ocean Avenue History Street
Location: within Unity Plaza at the start of the Ocean Avenue business corridor
Part of Unity Plaza, a new public space completed in 2016, besides the tiled stairs, you’ll find benches to relax on, an artistic pavement, and photography depicting the history of the area. From far away the porcelain tiles don’t look like much (they’re just black and white), but once you get closer you’ll see the real meaning behind them. Scenes of the neighborhood are represented in the steps — and yes, they’re actual historic photos.
I hope you will have as much fun as we did.