To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, we decided to head back to San Francisco for another weekend of exploring. The past year or so we’ve been on a kick to explore all of the non-touristy, atypical things to do and we’re slowly checking things off my massive list.
On our last two weekend getaways to San Francisco, we climbed the Moraga Steps, also called the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, and the Lyon Street Steps, and we had so much fun that I wanted to climb more of San Francisco’s hidden staircases and secret steps!
On this trip, we climbed the Filbert Steps and the Greenwich Steps, as well as three more mosaic tiled staircases: the Lincoln Park Steps, the Flights of Fancy Steps, and the Hidden Garden Steps. I also wanted to go to the top of Coit Tower, so…
We kicked off Saturday with the climb up the Filbert Steps to reach Coit Tower and Pioneer Park by our ticketed time. There’s a fee lot across the street from the Exploratorium that’s super close so we parked there and walked over to the base of the staircase on Sansome Street.
Climbing The Filbert Street Steps
The Filbert Steps is one of two hidden staircases that lead up Telegraph Hill from the Embarcadero to Coit Tower. The steep, narrow stairs take you through gorgeous gardens and a beautifully landscaped neighborhood of cottages dating back to the early 1900s.
Filbert Street is one of many streets in the city that turns into stairs for a stretch to climb a steep hill, then turns back into regular street. What’s surprising is that many people, including many San Francisco residents, don’t even know the Filbert Street Steps exist! They are just one of San Francisco’s infamous secret staircases — and we were finally going to climb them.
Our adventure exploring the Filbert Street Steps began at the intersection of Filbert Street and Sansome Street just behind Levi’s Plaza. The intersection is flanked by apartment and business buildings, but between them is a very steep concrete and steel staircase that extends over the former rock quarry and a wall of lush green plants.
Take a quick moment at the top of this flight of stairs to catch your breath and turn around — the views of the San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge are amazing!
Here the concrete steps turn into wooden steps and lush, green gardens take over the landscape, practically engulfing the stairs. the gardens from here to Napier Lane are the Grace Marchant Gardens. Grace Marchant, a former Hollywood stuntwoman, RKO wardrobe mistress, and dockworker, was responsible for transforming this area of Telegraph Hill from informal garbage dump to stunning garden. In 1949, at age 63, she moved to Telegraph Hill, which was at the time covered in trash. With permission form the city, she burned the trash and began planting the stairway gardens you see today. Today the lush greenery and gardens are paid for an maintained by the residents who live along the steps.
What we marveled at as we hiked the stairs is that many of the houses that line the Filbert Steps are only accessible from the steps! It’s mind boggling! I can’t imagine having to carry a huge grocery load, Target run, new furniture, or anything heavy down/up the steps just to reach my house! It’s definitely a different way of living.
The wooden steps soon end at Montgomery Street, then resume again after crossing the street an climbing a couple flights of concrete steps. Here you’ll find a colorful rose garden, a shady tree canopy, and beautiful entrance gates to the colorful cottages. This section of stairs ends at Telegraph Hill Boulevard, where you’ll need to cross the street to climb the last step of concrete steps to Coit Tower and Pioneer Park.
If you every worry about getting lost or losing your way along the steps, don’t worry! Once you’re in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood, there are signs all over the place directing you toward Coit Tower, and most of those point to the stairs.
Once we reached the top of the Filbert Steps and Telegraph Hill, toured historic Coit Tower, rode the elevator to the top for stunning 360 degree views of San Francisco, and checked out the beautiful lobby wall murals, we made our way back down the hill, this time taking the Greenwhich Steps. Once back at the bottom, we walked over to Chinatown to visit the Golden Gate Fortunate Cookie Factory, walked over to the Ferry Building for a snack, and then headed back to our car to head to the next secret San Francisco staircase!
Know Before You Go
- The Filbert Street Steps are located in the Telegraph Hill/North Beach District of San Francisco, California 94133.
- The Filbert Street Steps traverse the eastern slope of Telegraph Hill from Sansome Street to Coit Tower at the top of the hill, crossing Montgomery Street and Telegraph Hill Boulevard along the way.
- Parking is available for a fee at Levi’s Plaza Garage, right next to the steps. There are also a few public parking lots along the Embarcadero and metered street parking can also be found if you arrive early enough.
- Many sources say that the Filbert Street Stairs have 600 steps, but we only counted around 400. When you climb the staircases, count the actual stair steps and see what number you come up with!
- As you climb the stairs, stop periodically to rest and turn around to check out the view of the San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge behind you.
- Making the round trip up and down Telegraph Hill to visit Coit Tower? Consider making it a loop and take the Filbert Steps one way and the Greenwhich Steps the other. The two sets of stairs parallel each other, but the Greenwich Steps aren’t as steep or long.
- Remember that you’re climbing a staircase through a neighborhood. Be respectful of residents’ homes and gates, stay out of their yards, be quiet, don’t pick their flowers, and pick up your trash.
- At the bottom of the Filbert Steps at Sansome Street, you can head right to reach the Embarcadero, trolley line, Exploratorium, and Ferry Building, or left to reach Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, and Ghiradelli Square.
- Filbert Street begins at Lyon Street on the east edge of The Presidio and runs east across the city, ending on Telegraph Hill at Kearny Street below Coit Tower before it resumes as a pedestrian stairway known as the Filbert Street Steps.
- As you climb, listen for the cries of the wild parrots. Years ago parrots were released in this area and now a flock of wild parrots call Telegraph Hill their home.