Like in Berkeley, you can also find in San Francisco a lot a secret pathways and stairways, that give privileged access to private gardens, hideaways and views of the city.
While strolling in the Russian Hill district, I found by chance one of this hidden stairway. At the end of Vallejo Street, and the corner of Jones Street, I discover a stunning panoramic viewpoint of San Francisco, with Alcatraz island and the bay in the horizon. There stand the Vallejo steps.
The Vallejo Steps
The sheltered steps dive straight to Taylor, a street lined with colored houses typical of the city. Just two blocks away, there is another pathway even more charming, the Macondray Lane that can be reached through a raised wooden staircase.
Macondray Lane, typically SF
You’ll feel a world away in this peaceful and lush cobbled lane. It looks like a true haven in the heart of the city, where the dwellers look after their flowery gardens and orchards embellished with little zen fountain and lazy cats lying in the sun. It will give you an insight, almost voyeuristic, into the inner life of the San Franciscan.
By the way, this location was made famous by Armistead Maupin in his “Tales of the City”, who modeled his fictive Barbaric Lane after Macondray Lane . We now easily understand why.
I then kept on walking till Leavenworth street, climbed the Greenwich stairs and took the notorious Lombard Street down.
Famous Lombard Street
Called “San Francisco’s crookedest Street”, this winding descent has eight sharp twists adorned with lovely hydrangea bushes, that were first planted by a french man (so said my french guide book). Here you’ll meet large numbers of foreign visitors on foot and by car, as Lombard Street is a well-known tourist attraction.
For a break, head toward Fay Park, a romantic square, located at the corner of Leavenworth & Chestnut streets. With its lovely grading terraces and wooden kiosque, it reminds me of the Bagatelle garden in Paris… only a lot smaller !
The lush Filbert Steps
San Francisco’ most famous secret stairs are however the Filbert Steps, situated on the east slope of Telegraph Hill.
From Fay Park it takes 20 mn walking to get there, following Chestnut street and Colombus avenue. You will have to climb up Filbert street till the top of Telegraph Hill. It is an amazing ascent : the slope is tough and steep, but the view from the summit is staggering. And for a 360 degree view of the city, you can also reached the top of Coit Tower (400 steps!), and discover at the same time its particular history.
To walk down the hill to Embarcadero, I took the Filbert steps, but if you feel like taking a different route, you can also climb down the Greenwich steps (located on the left side of Coit Tower).
Through a series of wooden staircases and narrow private lanes, you’ll encounter lush greenery and enjoy the scent of the residents’ gorgeous gardens – filled with rose, hydrangea, honeysuckle and jasmine bushes – in the hushed atmosphere of the Filbert Steps. You may also have the opportunity to sight some wild parrots, which call this place home for decades now, cf. “The wild parrots of Telegraph Hill“, a documentary filmed in 2003.
I was lucky enough to saw a flock of them in Vallejo and Filbert steps during the summer, when they literally invade the city.
To the Levi’s Plaza
Whatever option you choose, Greenwich stairs or Filberts Steps, both paths lead to Levi’s Plaza, the headquarter of the firm Levi Strauss & Co. Indeed the famous jeans are genuinely local as the brand was founded in San Francisco in 1853.
From there, you can explore the Embarcadero or North Beach neighborhoods, or just come back home.
To remember all the distance covered and locate in details the hidden stairways, you can refer to the Google map below.
From Powell station to Embarcadero, the stroll takes 2 to 3 hours walking, without stops or wandering around.