Central San Francisco Mosaic Loop

Bay Area Stairways: mini-vacation/route scouting

Over the last half year or so, I have been interested in visiting the stairways of the Berkeley Hills below Lake Anza, and the stairways in central and northeast areas of San Francisco. This past weekend, June 3rd through 7th, 2016, I had my chance to take a mini-vacation and walk three of four challenging routes I had planned, one in the Berkeley Hills, and then two in central San Francisco, on three consecutive days.  I set out to enjoy the high density (proximity) of stairs, much higher than in Silver Lake, obtain step counts (something the locals have apparently not done and not placed online), and have great workouts. What follows is a description of my explorations, this time, the Mosaic Loop.

Central San Francisco Mosaic Loop

Mosaic Loop Google Map

The full set of walk photos of the features on the above map, can be found on Facebook, in this publicly accessible Mosaic Loop photo album. And here is the link to the Mosaic Loop Google Map of Central San Francisco, seen in the photo above.

As you can see from the map above, The mosaic loop has a high stairway density, of approximately 6 stairways per mile, over the 7 mile route. The weather was cold, damp, cloudy and windy, when I started at 8am. I was already more than a bit sore from the long stair-walk I completed in Berkeley the day before, which is why I chose to do this relatively short, for me at any rate, 7 mile walk. I spent the first few miles of the walk, walking in a low level cloud, which condensed on the pine trees, causing the branches to rain on me as I walked under them, so I wore my windbreaker for the lion’s share of the trip. The walk started at the foot of the Hidden Garden Steps, the continuation of 16th Street south, as a stairway up hill from Kirkland St. As an aside, San Francisco does a nice job of embedding street names into the sidewalk concrete, as this photo near the start, shows:


The route begins with a gorgeous view straight up the Hidden Garden Steps, the newer and slightly smaller of the two large mosaic stairways in this area. The stairway has a kink in the middle so one cannot see all of it at the same time, so I took shots of the lower and upper flights and put them together so you can see the entirety of this wonderful art:
Hiden Garden Steps

There is a lot to view on this stairway, so take your time and ogle the artwork. If you start early in the morning you will have this stairway to yourself, later in the day it becomes very touristy and crowded, as you can see in some of my photos in the facebook album linked at the top of this blog. This comment also applies to the next stairway, the Stairway to Heaven Mosaic, just up the street on Moraga at 16th, the second stairway of the tour. Because this is such a long stairway, with 163 steps, I made another composite showing the entire stairway and the upper flights:

Stairway to Heaven Mosaic

Again, this stairway is better for viewing in the early morning, and like the Hidden Garden Steps, there is a much to see at both the large and small scales. Take your time and drink it all in with your eyes, you’ll be glad for the rest, as there is much stair-climbing ahead! As another aside, the much smaller, but also much wider mosaic ‘Ocean Steps’, at the Redondo Beach Pier, was inspired by this mosaic. Here is a photo for comparison:
Ocean Steps

From the top of the stairway to heaven, we head east on 15th and climb up and over a retaining wall on a stairway, then continuing eastward, reach the first of a pair of stairways that climb to and then descend from the top of aptly named Grand View Park, which has a 360 degree view of the City. Here is a panorama I shot from the top of the western Grand View Park stairway, facing westward, showing the western San Francisco flat-lands and clouds over the Pacific ocean:


From Grand View Park the route zig-zags up and down a series of 8 stairways on the ridge connecting to Golden Gate Heights Park at about 1.4 miles into the walk. Here is a photo of the two largest climbs, Mount Lane and West Aerial Way, on this segment. Do note that I was ascending into clouds, and the tree branches along these climbs were condensing the cloud-water into a light rain that fell on me as I climbed these stairways. You can see the darker, wet steps higher up on Aerial Way from the “tree rain”:
Mount Lane and Western Aerial Way

I wasn’t walking as fast as I usually do, both from taking a lot of photos, and because I was definitely feeling the walk I had done yesterday in the Berkeley Hills! When I reached Golden Gate Park, where Funston and 12th Streets converge into Rockridge Dr, I noticed a stairway leading into the park. It turns out there are two stairways, that conveniently connect to the a walkway that loops back to Rockridge Dr, so I added them to the route. The park also has water. Here is the first of the two stairways:


From the park the route descends via a couple of stairways to the corner of Quintara and 15th Ave., The stairway on Quintara is impressive, with a split at the bottom, climbing 136 steps up to the top of the hill at 14th Ave. Here is a photo of the stairway:


At the landing where the two lower stairways meet, I was greeted by a friendly orange tabby who just wanted some love!
Friendly Orange Tabby

After my cat petting episode, I continued on to the top of Quintara and then down the other side, passing the 2 mile mark, connecting to a walkway, and reaching a segment of residential streets with a number of small to medium sized stairways that increase pedestrian connectivity in the neighborhood. Here is a photo of the largest member of this set of stairways, the continuation of Alton Ave as 90 stair-steps:


After this neighborhood trek, the route takes you down to the Forest Hill Rail station, where street cars of yesteryear emerged out of a tunnel and traveled down Laguna Honda Blvd. This is similar to how Los Angeles Red Cars exited the Belmont Tunnel onto Glendale Blvd.  Across the street from the station is an entrance facade to the now defunct Laguna Honda Hospital, with gorgeous historical mural artwork. Here are some photos of the Twin Peaks Tunnel commemorative murals, and the stairway leading up to the Hospital:
Laguna Honda - Hospital-Stairway-Murals

The route crosses the street and heads through the arch and up the two stairways to the Hospital building. The stairway leads to a statue of Florence Nightingale, commemorated as the founder of professional nursing:
Florence Nightingale Statue.png

Turning around to look at the hospital, here is a panorama shot of the main entrance:

The building really is a beautiful example of Spanish Revival architecture, and spreads out over a large campus directly behind the main building in a series of parallel large buildings of similar design. Here is a shot from just past the far right corner of the above photo, looking leftward one of the parallel building ends, complete with circular towers:

Circular Towers at Laguna Honda Hospital

From here that walk calms down and becomes a residential stroll through tract homes, traversing one walk-street between houses, and proceeds down Portola Street past a long row of multi-story houses, passing the 4 mile mark, before climbing a stairway leading up to the one pedestrian over-crossing of the route, seen here after crossing over to the north side of Portola, where the stairway is across, and to the right, partially obscured by a tree:


After descending a pedestrian ramp-street, and some more residential walking, we come to the picturesque bookend stairways on Pacheco Street. Here is a shot looking across to the longer northern Path St stairway from the southern stairs of Pacheco, the 5 mile mark is about half way between the two large planters in the scene ahead:
Path St Stairway
After climbing the Path St stairs, we venture back into hilly neighborhoods with a mixture of smaller and larger multi-set stairways, as the route winds back toward Grand View Park. Here are two of the large single set stairways on this traverse, Oriole and East Aerial:

Oriole and East Aerial

Note the inlaid street and path name in the concrete on the left image above, and that the 6 mile mark of the route is at the top of the Oriole stairway.

Continuing onward toward Grand View Park, the route descends two large stairways, before heading west toward the park on Moraga St, on the east side. The view from here is nice in that you can see the East Moraga stairway, and the continuation up into the park that was descended early in the walk:
East Moraga 2

The inscription on the large retaining wall reads: MORAGA ST, GOLDEN GATE HEIGHTS.
From the top of the first two stairways in this set, we head to the right northward, avoiding the upper stairway we descended earlier in the day, heading back toward the start, passing the 7 mile mark before the first (short, 20 down-steps) of the final two stairways. The final stairway is on 15th street, and has a whopping 193 steps, with fantastic views of the norther parts of central San Francisco, and here are a few photos of that descent:
15th St StairwayViiew north from 15th St stairway descent

The lower composite photo is the view from about 100 steps down from the top of the 15th St stairway. That’s St Annes Roman Catholic Church to the right, with the twin towers and large circular stained glass window, which looked fantastic, architecturally speaking, in the bright afternoon sun! This view was a nice concluding visual treat to go with many others on this route. I like this walk so much, I would fly up to SF, walk it and then fly back to LA as a day trip; think of this as the Air to Stair event. The few photos I sampled for this blog do not come close to capturing the full beauty and great views on this walk, please check out the photo album at the link at the top just below the Google route map photo!

– Dan Gutierrez –










Berkeley Hills Southeast Loop

June 13th, 2016

Bay Area Stairways: mini-vacation/route scouting

Over the last half year or so, I have been interested in visiting the stairways of the Berkeley Hills below Lake Anza, and the stairways in central and northeast areas of San Francisco. This past weekend, June 3rd through 7th, 2016, I had my chance to take a mini-vacation and walk three of four challenging routes I had planned, one in the Berkeley Hills, and then two in central San Francisco, on three consecutive days.  I set out to enjoy the high density (proximity) of stairs, much higher than in Silver Lake, obtain step counts (something the locals have apparently not done and not placed online), and have great workouts. What follows is a description of my explorations, starting with Berkeley.

Berkeley Hills Southeast Loop – June 4th, 2016

Berkeley Southeast Loop downloaded from FB

The full set of walk photos of the features on the above map, can be found on Facebook, in this publicly accessible Berkeley Stair Tour photo album. And here is the link to the Berkeley Hills Southeast Stair Tour Google Map, seen in the photo above.

As you can see from the map and legend, this is not an easy walk. The route starts at Marin Fountain Circle, at lower elevation (house with flag symbol at the left side of the map), and works it way up and over the top of the ridge traversed by Grizzly Peak Blvd, to Lake Anza, and then back snaking its way in a very convoluted path, up and down a number of large stairways, with three crossing points and on up/down, and another down/up of stairways along the route. The morning I walked it, was cool, almost cold and overcast, making for relatively low water consumption. so here is how the walk progressed. The start at the circle was peaceful at shortly after 7am. Below is a photo of the circle taken the afternoon before, in better lighting conditions. Marin Avenue (which we descend at the end of the route) is behind the circle rising steeply upward, and the fountain walk is to the right.

The area is wetter and vegetation more lush than we have in southern California, so there are plenty of pines, firs and coast redwoods along the route, making it part urban hike, part forest walk, as you will see in later photos. The first 20 stairways, in the early miles had relatively low step counts, in the 10 to 50 step range, and essentially all have street signs naming them as either a walk, path or steps. A few had plaques giving the history of the route. Here is the plaque for the La Loma Steps in red brick, along with a shot of the lower flight, plaque to the left, and brown street sign to the right.

La Loma Steps with Plaque

Here is another stairway, on Virginia St, with plaque that explains the curved roads and stairways of the area near the plaque, all of which are visited on this route!
Scenic Street Improvements

After this 3.5 mile jaunt in the lower hills, we made our way to the Berkeley Rose Garden, a natural hillside formed into an amphitheater covered in rose bushes. The early morning overcast sky photo does not do it justice. Do notice that it is an ideal stair-walking location, with a long stairway with 74 steps in the background leading down to the amphitheater, with a series of shorter stairways leading up through the rose terraces, including the one I climbed in the foreground.
Beyond the amphitheater, to the left in the above photo is a nice set of restrooms, open early in the morning, and water. Here is a panorama shot of the restrooms and water, notice how nicely they blend in with the foliage, showing a stairway on the left that serves as our exit from the rose garden and back to the stair-walk route. When I run this walk as a group event, we will use the Rose Garden as our first restroom/water/snack stop.

Beyond the Rose Garden I climbed up and down a couple of smaller stair-streets to reach the first of many larger climbs for the day, on the 184 step Tamalpias stairway, which climbs through a park, but is very much a concrete stair-street like the ones we know in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, except, you cross a wooden footbridge to reach the bottom of the stairway. Note the well crafted, curved lower flight of the stairway in the photo below to the left, and the long set of upper flights on the slightly blurry right side.Tamalpais stairway - 184 steps

From the top of the stairway, the route climbs five, 100+ step stairways, for a total of 774 steps in just a few tenths of a mile, to reach to top of the ridge separating the Berkeley Hills where we started, from the parkland at Lake Anza. Then the route descends back toward Berkeley descending three stairways, and 343 down-steps, before climbing the largest single stairway on the tour, the 233 step, Norgate Path. Here are shots of typical stairways of this area, first the Covert Path stairway set (lower left, upper right), with not always so evenly spaced and sometimes tilted, wooden block steps that are common in this part of the Berkeley Hills causing more energy expenditure than smooth regular concrete steps (camera focus/shake creates blur, but is ‘good enough’):
Lower and Upper Covert Paths

Yes, those two stairways together, one right after the other is a 338 step stairway set. And the Norgate path with 233 steps is also quite a tough climb on wooden steps. This next photo sequence shows the bottom of the stairway in the lower photo, then 4 shots along the long climb up the foliage rich hillside, reaching the 6 mile mark in the walk just past the top of the stairway.
Norgate Path - 233 up steps
I was definitely feeling the effort of the last 1000+ steps of climbing as I walked along a few streets to reach the start of another 8 stair-climbs, nearly 800 up-steps, and 1.5 miles of distance, prior to the mile and a half of pathway trek to the lunch stop. However, before I reached the first of those 8 climbs, three things happened. First, I found that Glendale/La Loma Park has a functioning water fountain, helpful for any future events on this route!


Second, I walked right into an unexpected 18 step side-stair (stair-steps built into the sidewalk) on Glendale, then crossed the street to get a better look at it – see photo below:


Third, I turned around after shooting the side-stair, and immediately noticed deer walking up the street into a vegetated area. I shot video, and a few photos; this one is the best:


Then to the left of the deer, I began the 800 up steps starting with the Upper La Loma Path, which is not so much a stairway as it is a grassy hillside with some 150+ wooden blocks shoved into it, as I hope you can see in this photo below:

Along the way, we met some friendly cats; a talkative little lion on the left and a very playful gray and white purr-ball on the right.

Little Lion and Gray-White Purr-ball

I also found some gaps in the trees to take a few photos of the San Francisco Bay, this one showing the Golden Gate Bridge towers rising out of the fog, just left of center:
The last path of the eight I climbed to the the ridge-top, had an interesting entry marker, a wooden post, more like a trail marker, with “Atlas Path” written vertically, rather than the ubiquitous street poles marking the other paths, lower down the hill.13320335_10208540408939079_2160213249300219327_o

At the top of the Altas Path stairway, one has already traversed 45 stairways, which come much faster than they do in Silver lake, so you have less recovery time/distance between stairways, making for a more difficult kind of walk, and the uneven nature of the wooden steps adds an extra dimension of difficulty to the route.  After crossing the ridge, I walked for over a mile on the Selby Trail, that first paralleled a golf course, then crossed a road to head toward Lake Anza. It was amazingly beautiful, like being in an isolated coastal forest of mixed deciduous/coniferous trees, as can be seen in the series of 4 photos below:

Selby Path 1

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And then after about 3/4 of a mile on the Selby Trail, I happened upon a small stairway with 6 large steps connecting the trial down from a parking lot to the continuation toward Lake Anza. Here are two photos, the first of the stairs as I approached them from above and another after I descended them, looking back at them.

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After another quarter mile or so I reached the fork between the Selby Trail and the Lake Anza Trail, a very welcome sight to my tired legs, since I knew the lunch stop was near. Here are two photos of the sign and the trail fork, the right side leading to the lake and its recreation area, with restrooms, water and a snack bar with very pricey food.
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Following the right fork to the patio area brings me to my lunch stop at 8 and 3/4 miles. Here is a tired lunchtime selfie with my sandwiches and Camelback hydration pack, which is also tired and slumped in a chair. Yes, that is a woman growing out of the back of my head; I had to have her surgically removed by Lake Anza rec center staff! 😉

13320407_10208540431139634_1046491528089523606_o[Note to self: though tired, look behind you to avoid accidentally photobombing yourself!]

After an hour of lunch and some recuperation, I continued on the Selby Trail to the point where it connects back up on a side trail up to Wildcat Canyon Road, which is to the left and above the scene in this photo:


From Wildcat Canyon Road, heading back 1/4 mile toward Lake Anza, but above it, I shot this panorama where part of the lake is visible below the red arrow in the image:


Continuing on for another few tenths of a mile, at about the 9.5 mile point in the walk, I reached the Fred Herbert Path, a triple set of stairways climbing a total of 271 wooden steps, the bottom of which is in the photo below.


In the upper reaches of both sides of the ridge traversed by Grizzly Peak Blvd, stairways are almost always wood, and the roads have no sidewalks, with concrete stairways and sidewalks being preferred on the lower slopes. I was feeling OK, but not real strong after lunch, and so I started climbing again, and for the next half mile to reach Crescent Park, a small park surrounded by residences at the 10 mile mark in the walk. Here is a panorama of the park with grassy field and playground equipment.

At the far northeastern end of the park, near the center of this panorama, was a verified functional drinking fountain, as can be seen in this pair of photos:

So this park can serve as a water stop for a future event on this route. From the park, I climbed up and down a series of mostly large stairways and noticed some figurines along the Lower El Mirador stairway, which I captured in the photo pair below. The writing on the figurine says:

“A dog makes a family a home. May angels watch over your pet.”

A dog make s a family a homeRight after descending the stairway with the figurines, I walked east on Euclid, a divided road, to the next up-stairway on Redwood Terrace and noticed that a group of walkers was climbing up the hill on the opposite side of the street. I was too far away to shot to them, so i do not know what group this is:
I continued the zig-zag of up and down large stairways, until just past the 12 mile mark, when I happened upon Remillard Park, noticing a bonus stairway, to the left in the first photo below, to add to the route, as well as two climbers who reached the top of a large rock with a vertical face, shortly before I reached them at the far western end of the park, as can be seen in the second of the two photos below.

From the park, more climbing and descending  on large stairways, 2 up, one down than another up, I descended a few blocks down Marin Ave, and turned right heading eastward on to Euclid Ave, reaching the final up-stairway of the day, and none too soon, as I was pretty tired from all the climbing on uneven steps on so many large stairways along the route. This is the Billie Jean Walk, with 143 up steps.

Billie Jean Walk

It was such a relief to reach the top, knowing that the final 4 stairways were all taken in the down direction! I was definitely feeling all the climbing I had done, and was concerned that I might be too blasted from this effort to do the Mosaic Loop in San Francisco the next day; more on that in a future blog post. As I continued toward the first of the remaining 4 stairways, I happened upon a pleasant woman gardening in the parkway in front of her home, with her feline protector surveying the area. She told me that her cat would chase away any dog that came near her.


As I approached in the street above her, so as to not walk directly at the cat, the cat took about three steps back and up the sidewalk, then proceeded to hiss at me as I walked away.  Apparently I rate somewhere near dog, in the this cat’s estimation! That silly scene put a smile on my face, and I proceeded to glide down the last 4 stairways, ending up at the base of the Lower Easter Way stairway, as can be seen in the photo below.


That’s it, no more stairways! Now all I have to do is walk a few blocks down super-steep Marin Avenue to reach the Fountain Circle where I started. The walk down Marin was uneventful, and I was soon where I started, and took a post walk selfie, with the section of Marin Avenue I just descended in the background behind the fountain.


My eyes look tired after 14.25 miles of walking, climbing 3,882 feet, on 49 up-stairways totaling 3,971 up-steps, and 24 down-stairways totaling 1,608 down-steps.  I am very happy to have scouted and mapped this route, which I will want to run as a road-trip stair-walking event in the future! If you like challenging stair-walks, then you’ll love this route.

In my next two blog posts I will cover the two San Francisco loops I completed on the following two days.

– Dan Gutierrez –