Insider Tips: Filbert Steps, San Francisco

The Filbert Steps — My  Personal Favorite San Francisco Staircase

Orienting yourself at the top of the Filbert Steps
Look for the intersection of Telegraph Hill and Filbert Street to start your journey.

Of all of the spectacular urban hikes in San Francisco, my absolute favorite is the Filbert Steps in Telegraph Hill.

It’s easy to combine this with a trip to Coit Tower. Also, it’s a great workout that showcases some of the best views in San Francisco.

First you need to find them though. Coit Tower is at the top of Telegraph Hill which rises up above North Beach. Right behind the tower, the steps plunge down the eastern slope of the hill, facing the glittering Bay.

A small path leads to the intersection of Telegraph Hill and Filbert Street. Here you turn left onto Filbert and continue following the path. Filbert Street, which stretches all the way to Pacific Heights on the west end, morphs into a set of rambling pedestrian stairways at this point. The Filbert Steps as they are known cling to the hillside as they descend through gardens lush with fuchsia, fennel, lemon trees, bougainvillea, and giant aloe. Charming wooden cottages built into the hill by 19th century sea captains line the paths.

Art Deco masterpiece and film location
This apartment building was  a film location for Dark Passage, a San Francisco noir film.

An Art Deco Film Location

Pause at the apartment building at 1360 Montgomery Street and gaze up. The bas-relief exterior of this Art Deco masterpiece depicts the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-40. This building was once the setting for lavish parties of the jet-setting social crowd and was featured in the film Dark Passage, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Before continuing down to Sansome Street, drink in the spectacular views of the Bay Bridge, Angel Island, and Alcatraz. Then detour down Darrell Place and Napier Lane, two tiny tucked away blocks with quirky bungalows and verdant gardens. Once you reach Sansome, lounge by the fountain at Levi’s Plaza, home to the headquarters of Levi Strauss, the jeans company that was established here in 1853.

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Napier Lane on the Filbert Steps
Napier Lane is a charming blocked tucked away on the Filbert Steps

Once rested, it’s time to embark on the uphill climb. The Greenwich Street steps parallel the Filbert Steps one block to the north. They are equally beautiful, less manicured and slightly less traveled. As you ascend Telegraph Hill, be on the lookout for mosaic sculptures tucked away in overgrown gardens. About halfway up, look for a partially obscured bench accessed by a dirt path. From the vantage point of the bench see if you can find a reclining tiger covered in colorful mosaics concealed in the dense shrubbery.

A Castle on the Hill

Continue your climb past Julius Castle, the glamorous former restaurant that has been shuttered for decades. Telegraph Hill neighbors have fought against the restaurant reopening in a classic NIMBY situation. The building, a little castle clinging to the hill, is still a marvel behold even though you can’t enter. From Julius Castle, the steps wend back up through lush gardens and behind houses back to the base of Coit Tower.

More Insider Tips

The Filbert Steps are just one example of many amazing stairway walks in San Francisco. Some of the other beautiful staircases include the Lyon Street steps, 16h Avenue tiled stairs, Lincoln Park Steps and the Saturn and Vulcan Street steps near Corona Heights. Local author Adah Bakalinsky’s classic, Stairway Walks in San Francisco is a must-have guide to these unique urban hikes.

This post was contributed by Lisa Crovo Dion