With 43 big hills and steep streets—some established at practically a 45-diploma angle—San Francisco, California, is the hilliest metropolis in the U.S. As a end result, the metropolis also has more than 600 public stairways, some of which are embellished with beautiful mosaics. But except if you’re a single of the a lot of runners and walkers that have produced these tiled ways part of their daily exercise program, you probably won’t stumble throughout them by chance. The masterpieces are primarily tucked absent in household neighborhoods, not in the vicinity of tourist landmarks. 

“[The staircases are] an less complicated way to navigate the hills,” says Howard Pickett, main marketing officer of the San Francisco Journey Affiliation. “They’re loaded with surprises, and a excellent way to encounter our city’s exclusive charms.” 

Obtaining these mosaic staircases is a journey of discovery that will acquire you previous properties painted in smooth pastels and the palm trees, succulents, and bougainvillea that prosper in the city’s Mediterranean climate. Those who access the top rated are frequently rewarded with a jaw-dropping view of the bay or Pacific Ocean as a bonus. 

Mosaic tiled steps in swirling blues with fish elements
The 16th Avenue Tiled Ways are a kaleidoscope of sea, land, and sky in excellent shades. | Photograph: Sharon McDonnell

A collaborative work

The most renowned of the staircases is the 16th Avenue Tiled Measures, a kaleidoscope of sea, land, and sky in excellent hues. Positioned in the Golden Gate Heights neighborhood, swirls of ocean sprinkled with sea creatures and seashells spill in excess of the start of the stairway at 16th Avenue and Moraga Road. Local bouquets and hummingbirds, dragonflies, and bumblebees look in the design and style, followed by a night time sky spangled by the moon and stars. A sunburst crowns the really best. 

The staircase was inspired by a mosaic stairway in Rio de Janeiro’s Santa Teresa district. A neighbor, Jessie Audette, when lived there and elevated funds to renovate the basic concrete stairs by her new property. Designed by artists Colette Crutcher and Aileen Barr, the 163-stage stairway contains more than 75,000 tile, stained glass, and mirror parts. Neighbors questioned six artists to post style and design proposals, and requested the duo—who had never met—to collaborate, considering the fact that their tips shared prevalent aspects. 

“I experienced never completed handmade tile before and Aileen had never completed mosaic, so we acquired a lot  in the calendar year or so performing on the undertaking,” Crutcher suggests. “Tile generating is endlessly sophisticated.” San Francisco celebrated the work’s completion, the city’s first mosaic stairway, in 2005 with fireworks and a functionality by Chinese lion dancers. In attendance was the mayor of Caltagirone, a city in Sicily the 17th-century mosaic staircase in his town was also cited as a supply of inspiration.

a steep staircase with a tiled mosaic
Concealed Backyard Measures. | Image: Sharon McDonnell
mosaic tiled steps in a yellow, orange and green floral pattern
Lincoln Park Actions. | Photo: Mary Burk

Following ascending the steps—and admiring panoramas of the Pacific Ocean and the low-rise Sunset District—I stroll two blocks to the Hidden Back garden Techniques. It’s just as beautiful but lesser identified than the 16th Avenue staircase. The intricate design, finished in 2013 at Kirkham Road and 16th Avenue, functions flowers, mushrooms, and butterflies. It was Crutcher and Barr’s 2nd challenge. 

‘Earth laughs in flowers’

Crutcher and Barr are now the go-to workforce for the city’s mosaic stairways. In the Bayview, a mainly African American district, their Flight of Fancy stairway displays a multi-racial and -ethnic potpourri of design and style motifs: Adinkra symbols from Ghana textile designs from Central America, Indonesia, and Japan Native American painted pottery and paisley types from India. 

“We not only took the liberty of celebrating ornamental art traditions from all about the entire world, we tried out to involve as many tile-generating designs as we could, like sgraffito (scratching by means of a coating to expose the clay beneath), stenciling, and carving,” Crutcher suggests. “We textured the clay with stamps and rollers we made ourselves.” The 87-move stairway found concerning Innes Avenue and Northridge Street is also referred to as the Arelious Walker Stairway, named after a local pastor and community hero.

The most recent mosaic stairway, the Miraloma Stairs, opened in July, 2020. It commences with the suggestion of a dragon’s tail and finishes with two mosaic murals of a hearth-respiratory, scaly dragon and the solar program at the prime. It potential customers to a community school playground at Miraloma Elementary Faculty (which has a dragon as its mascot) from Bella Vista Way in the vicinity of Mount Davidson. 

Its tiles aspect quotations from popular men and women picked out by the principal and artists (Crutcher and Barr), in addition to words picked out by pupils at the college. I recognize “You have to have 3 things to do well in everyday living: A wishbone. A backbone. A amusing bone” as a line sung by nation singer Reba McIntyre. “Earth laughs in flowers” is from Ralph Waldo Emerson and “Pay notice. Be astonished. Tell about it” from Pulitzer-profitable poet Mary Oliver.

The Lincoln Park Measures is an artwork deco-style mosaic stairway of stylized plant layouts (a solo energy by Barr) in orange, rust, yellow, and inexperienced at California Avenue and 33rd Avenue in the Outer Richmond district. Foremost up to Lincoln Park, house to the Legion of Honor (the museum immortalized in Hitchcock’s Vertigo), the park also offers a magnificently scenic trail to Lands Close, the edge of the Pacific Ocean. 

A neighborhood team, Close friends of Lincoln Park, determined to repair the 52 damaged, graffiti-scarred concrete measures, although the personal girls’ faculty subsequent to it elevated cash, and its college students helped make the tiles. 

“I was struck by the grandeur and symmetry of the large stairway, which was created in 1916,” claims Barr. “So I selected artwork deco.”

A jewel

In the Excelsior district—also referred to as the Outer Mission—I uncover a really different design and style: The Athens-Avalon Greenspace stairway is more geometric, with horizontal stripes in vivid colors. At the intersection of Athens Street and Avalon Avenue, it was created by artist Iran Narges to enhance a hillside backyard garden planted by neighbors nearby. It’s situated amid streets named immediately after cities and countries all-around the planet, which can make for intriguing combos this kind of as the corner of Russia and Naples or Prague and Persia.

“I required to do a thing abstract with pattern and shade, presented my qualifications as a graphic designer,” claims Narges. “The range and wide range of shades give the design and style, which works by using a single form and dimension of tile, an exuberant, joyful sensation, with a gradient from darker and cooler colors at the base to lighter and warmer shades at the leading. Each of the 99 steps is unique—no pattern of color mixtures repeats.”

Pamela Axelson, a neighbor who led the task on the once trash-strewn hillside and graffiti-marked concrete steps, suggests: “Like ours, most mosaic stairways grow out of a motion in a neighborhood to improve one thing that may have been an eyesore or just could be so substantially extra stunning. The city supports group tasks like this simply because they create associations amid neighbors, safer and a lot more supportive communities, and friendships amongst folks who would not have achieved normally.” 

Also in the Excelsior, a waterfall mosaic swirls in shades of blue from cobalt to aqua, splashed throughout a stairway located in Kenny Alley. I find it on Mission Avenue amongst France and Italy avenues, a corridor packed with Mexican, Salvadoran, and Filipino eateries. Comprising glass stones, tiles, and mirrors that glint in the daylight, the stairs lead up to London Avenue. The walls of Kenny Alley are adorned with a mural featuring mountains, the ocean, and community flora and fauna (bears, fish, eagles, and poppies). 

For the staircase layout, “We supposed to participate in off the mural already in the alley,” states Summer time Koide, a member of the team Mates of Kenny Alley, who assisted change the former dumping ground.  

Muralist Matt Christensen, a large university art trainer, referred his colleague, mosaicist Kim Jensen, for the work of building the staircase. Her waterfall structure was embraced by neighborhood teams, and tiles have been made and assembled largely by her students. Community volunteers also contributed, together with Koide, who produced some from property in the course of her maternity depart.

“Before, the alley appeared pretty atrocious,” claims Koide, “Now, it is a jewel.”

If you go

Use the map below, or discover 35 self-guided walks built all over the stairways (clustered by community) in the book Stairway Walks in San Francisco.