The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are a stunningly beautiful and artistic surprise located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Heights Neighborhood. The 163 step staircase, originally built in 1926, was transformed by residents of the quiet, residential neighborhood into an impressive mosaic tile display of beauty.
We first heard about these mosaic steps from my mother-in-law when we were planning a weekend trip to San Francisco. Instead of hitting all of the same, crowded, San Francisco tourist hot spots, we were looking for some different, more obscure sights to see in the city — we wanted to find some secret San Francisco surprises — and she and highly recommended we visit the secret staircase. Since then, we’ve been back three times! In the summer it’s foggy and visibility isn’t that great, but in the winter, it’s clear and gorgeous and the view is amazing.
Also known as The Moraga Steps, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps consist of 163 separate mosaic tile panels that are surrounded by well-kept gardens. As you climb the staircase, the mosaics take you on a colorful, visual journey from sea to land to sky to space, and provide ample opportunities to take that perfect photo.
As you climb the staircase, be sure you take time to stop an enjoy an expansive view of the San Francisco Sunset District. Just understand that during the day, especially on the weekends, the stairs get crowded and everyone, just like you, wants to stop and take photos and enjoy the view. If you stop for them, they’ll stop for you.
The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps Project
The coolest part of these tiled steps is the story behind how they were made.
The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps project was a neighborhood collaboration to create a sea to stars themed mosaic flowing up the stairway. Two residents, Jessie Audette and Alice Yee Xavier, started the community project in 2003 to being community members together and to beautify their Golden Gate Heights neighborhood.
- They selected artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher to design all 163 mosaic tile panels.
- Tile sponsorship in the form of named tiles shaped as animals, fish, and shells, provided the funding for the majority of the project.
- Three mosaic workshops were held in the community so that everyone could participate in the making of the mosaic panels.
- The panels were laid out on mesh backing, then applied to the risers by a professional tilesetter. The tilesetter then grouted the mosaic and paved the treads with ADA-compliant tile.
- The steps celebrated their “Opening Day” on August 27, 2005.
Grand View Park And Turtle Hill
Once you reach the top of the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, you have two choices:
- You can immediately head back down the stairs, or
- You can turn right on 15th Avenue to another set of stairs, that will take you to 14th Street to another zig-zagging set of stairs leading to the top of Turtle Hill and Grand View Park.
Grand View Park sits at the top of Turtle Hill and has spectacular views that include the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Bay, Sutro Heights, the Marin headlands, Point Reyes, and the Financial District.
Know Before You Go
The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are one of the coolest hidden gems in San Francisco. The secret staircase used to be more of a secret only known to locals, but now the secret is out. And, while it’s now often crowded with visitors and Instagrammers, it’s still relatively unknown and a very cool spot to visit for an urban hike.
- The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are located on Moraga St. between 15th Avenue and 16th Avenue in San Francisco, California 94122.
- Grand View Park is located at Moraga Street and 14th Avenue in San Francisco, California 94122.
- The steps are in a quiet residential neighborhood, so be respectful. Don’t block any driveways, don’t stand in the middle of the street and block traffic, don’t be too loud and bother the neighbors, and don’t leave any trash.
- Hours are 9:00 am to 7:00 pm only. Do not visit the tiled steps outside these hours.
- There are no public restrooms.
- The neighborhood pays for and maintains the plants and garden surrounding the staircase. Leave them for everyone to enjoy and keep your dogs on a leash and out of the plants.
- There are signs posted warning visitors about vehicle break-ins, so don’t leave anything valuable or visible in your cars.
- Muni Line 66 is the only bus line that gets you close to the Tiled Steps and Grand View Park (within a few blocks).
- Dogs are allowed, but they must be kept on a leash and on a path.