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San Francisco Stairway Walks

Coit Tower, San Francisco
Coit Tower, San Francisco

What’s cheaper than a fitness center, better than the view from the Golden Gate Bridge and just as historic as a cable car?
With more than 300 stairways scattered throughout The City, visitors only have to don walking shoes and grab a camera to find out – the answer is stairway walks, one of The City’s oldest and most scenic, albeit hidden, attractions.

San Francisco’s myriad stairways range from the local flights of steps hidden by trees and small gardens, to the dramatic, carefully landscaped stairs found in more widely-traveled places such as the famous “crooked” Lombard Street. Read more: The steepest roads — San Francisco Hills

Their vast number stems from the fact that San Francisco is built on more than 40 hills. Stairways are also more frequently used than one might think. Since stairways allow direct vertical access from one street to another, and since most streets wind around hills, people frequently use them as a shortcut.

Pick almost any stairway in The City to visit, and one shouldn’t be disappointed.

At Broadway and Lyon streets, one can take a stroll down more than 10 flights of majestic stone steps, surrounded by well-kept greenery and regal views of the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco Bay and the Marin Headlands. This is one of The City’s most beautiful districts, with trees from the historic Presidio of San Francisco rising up on one side and rows of ornate mansions stretching away on the other.

Farther east you find the Greenwich Street Steps at the base of Coit Tower (Read more: The steepest roads — San Francisco Hills), a climb of more than three separate flights of stairs. Despite its length, this stairway is worth every inch of the climb – it winds its way through tall trees, hillside gardens and past some of the best local-area views of San Francisco Bay. Benches and wide stone railings are available at different parts on the hill for those who need to rest or just want to enjoy the view.

On the other side of The City, high above San Francisco Bay and overlooking Alcatraz, the small clearing at the top of the Fort Mason /Aquatic Park Steps features a refreshing air of peace. Look around at the grassy hills, smattering of picnic tables and trees waving in the strong wind, and one would never know that this area was built on military battery platforms dating back to the Civil War. This battery, named Black Point Lookout, was one of several others created to defend the bay from hostile ships and later, aircraft.

Web: Fort Mason – Golden Gate National Recreation Area (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Fort Mason / Aquatic Park (Map: top left Fort Mason, top right: Aquatic Park)

If the thought of gasping up a flight of stairs in full view of the public makes one nervous, consider this: It’s great exercise (only the excess fat suffers), and it’s free – with a payoff of some spectacular views. And it’s educational. Each stairway walk offers a trek through a neighborhood with a solid ground in San Francisco history: Russian Hill, once home to artists and writers, still features houses designed in the early 1900s Forest Hill was originally part of the 4,000-acre Rancho San Miguel, granted in 1843 to Jose de Jesus Noe (the last Mexican mayor of San Francisco). These are only a few of the eclectic neighborhoods that make up San Francisco.

San Francisco Sightseeing & Attractions Overview

Learn about the top S.F. sightseeing and attractions in our article: San Francisco — sightseeing & attractions

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