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 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 — she had been there before and highly recommended that we make time to visit the steps.
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 to 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 a 163 step 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 the 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 the top of Turtle Hill and Grand View Park.
Sitting atop Turtle Hill, in San Francisco’s Sunset District, Grand View Park offers an incredible, panoramic, 360 degree view of the city. If you’re planning to finish this urban hike, after hiking the 163 step tiled staircase, know that you’re going to be climbing a lot more steps.
To reach the four acre Grand View Park, you’ll first climb one flight of plain, concrete steps and cross another street, then you’ll climb a multi-platform, wooden staircase that zig zags its way up Turtle Hill. At the top, you’ll find cypress trees and a single bench — the perfect place to relax and enjoy the view, or watch a spectacular sunset.
We’ve visited the stairs twice now, once in the morning on a gorgeous sunny day, and once on a cloudy, foggy day in the late afternoon. Turtle Hill rises above the city and at the top, it’s windy and pretty cold…
- When it’s sunny, you can see across the city and enjoy spectacular views that include the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Bay, Sutro Heights, the Marin headlands, and the Financial District.
- When it’s foggy, you can barely see 15 feet in front of you. The views are swallowed up by the thick fog and it gets freezing cold. Thank goodness we had sweatshirts in the car!
Know Before You Go
The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are one of the coolest hidden gems in San Francisco. The staircase used to be more of a secret only known to locals, but the secret is out and it’s now one of the coolest, not-so-touristy places to visit in the city.
- The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are located on Moraga St. between 15th Avenue and 16th Avenue in San Francisco, California.
- Grand View Park is located at Moraga Street and 14th Avenue in San Francisco, California.
- 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.