Hidden Garden Steps: Tips to Discover this Colorful Staircase in San Francisco's Inner Sunset

Jill at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

You will find the Hidden Garden Steps on the western end of San Francisco's Inner Sunset district. These mosaic stairs feature beautiful designs of flowers, plants and local insects.

The stairs climb up 16th Avenue between Kirkham and Lawton. There are 9 sections with a total of 148 stairs. The bottom four sections have more stairs per section than the upper 5 sections.

Each section has its own design, but the sections blend together in a way to create a constant flow for the design.

This community project started with fund-raising and the design projects in 2010. The artists started work on the stairs in 2012. It officially opened to the public on December 7, 2013.

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More About the Hidden Garden Steps

There are so many reasons to love the Hidden Garden Stairs. The organizers and artists did an amazing job in so many ways and I find something new every single time I visit them.

The stairs themselves feature vibrant and lovely colors and blend in well with the surroundings. The gardens on each side are well maintained and offer additional beauty to the area.

The best way to experience these steps is to start at the bottom and slowly climb to the top. These stairs are also a bit different from many others in San Francisco. You can only see the first half of the Hidden Garden Steps when you start. You will see the second half of the stairs once you start climbing.

Your journey will begin on 16th Avenue at Kirkham Street. This is what you will see when you approach the stairs.

Hidden Garden Steps starting at Kirkham

This first section of the steps has 23 steps. It features several mushrooms and a fun swirl design. Alongside these designs, you will find smaller flowers and insects.

Here is a close up look at a portion of this section.

Bottom Section of the Hidden Garden Steps

What I love about the Hidden Garden Steps (and other mosaic stairs around San Francisco) is their level of detail. You could spend hours here just looking at the cute additions and special artistic work.

Here are a couple of examples just in the first section.

Ant on the Mosaic Steps

You will see several of these small insects and bugs. In addition, you will see some cute animals poking their heads out throughout the piece. Here is just one. You see this little guy in the first section also.

Animal in the Mosaic Stairs

As you take a close look at the detail in each piece of art, you will notice names of individuals and local businesses. These are the names of some of the donors and others are memorials to special people in the donor's lives. All of these tiles and the stories behind them helped fund the building of the Hidden Garden Stairs.

Here are a couple of close-ups.

Donors to the Stairs in the Sunset
Yancy's Saloon, one of the donors to the project.

The second section is covered with a beautiful butterfly and several larger flowers. This section has 23 steps.

Second Section of Mosaic Stairs in San Francisco

As you climb up this section, take a closer look at the lovely pink and blue flowers toward the top. The detail in these is gorgeous and they are worth some time to admire.

The third section also has 23 stairs. It features flowers and bees.

Section three of the SF Hidden Garden Stairs

Section four is the final section of the bottom half. It also has the same number of steps, 23, as the other three sections near the bottom. I love the huge orange flower in this section as well as the details around it.

Orange flower on section four stairs

At the top of this section, you will take a quick left. You will be greeted by five smaller sections. Four of the five have 10 steps in their sections. The middle section has more with 16 steps.

More Hidden Gems: Are you looking for some additional hidden gems around San Francisco? Check out my list of some of my favorites. A few are just right around the corner!

Here is a look at the fifth section.

Fifth Section with a Sunflower

As you continue to the 6th section, you will see additional colors, flowers and lovely artwork. The bottom steps in the picture below show part of the 5th section. The middle stairs are the 6th section and the few stairs at the top are the 7th section.

It's a great view of how the artwork on this entire set of stairs flows together.

Section 6 of the Hidden Garden Stairs

You can also see how moving to a new angle gives you an entirely different view of the stairs.

This is a closer look at the 7th section. This is the largest section in the upper half. It has 16 steps so there is a little more room for additional art.

Colorful stairs

The final two sections lead you to the top. They are a group of 10 each so 20 in total. Here is a look at them together. It's a wonderful design to end the journey.

Top of the mosaic stairs

The street at the top is where Lawton Street and 16th Avenue meet.

Top San Francisco Tours & Activities

Are you looking for some other fun things to do during your visit? Here are a few of the most popular tours and activities.

When is the Best Time to Visit the Hidden Garden Steps?

Even though the Hidden Garden Steps have been around for a few years, you will find that they are not as popular as some of our other famous stairs. This means, they are much less busy and welcoming to visitors anytime during the day.

I like to head out to visit around noon if possible. This is when you will see some great sunshine lighting up parts of the stairs. If it's overcast or foggy during your stay, you will still find them gorgeous and worth a visit since they are so beautiful.

There are trees and gardens on both sides, so no matter what time you visit (as you can see from my photos), there will always be some parts of it in the shade.

What is the Weather Like in this District?

This area of town is slightly cooler as you are closer to the ocean. You will find it under fog during part of the year, so you will want to bring along a jacket or an extra layer to stay warm.

You can also learn more about the weather by month by clicking on the links below.













Other Interesting and Colorful Staircases Around San Francisco

The Hidden Gardens Steps are not as well known as some of our other staircases. Here are just few others to check out during your visit.

16th Avenue & Moraga Stairs: Just a few blocks away is one of the most famous and photographed stairs in San Francisco, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps. You will find the bottom of the stairs at 16th and Moraga. They run a full block long up Moraga street. They feature a combination of flowers, some sea creatures, a sun, a moon, and so much more.

Filbert Street Stairs: Another set of famous stairs is the Filbert Street Steps. These take you from the Embarcadero to Coit Tower. This two-block long set includes around 500 steps in total. You will love the views from the top. You will find these in the Telegraph Hill district near North Beach.

Lyon Street Stairs: The Lyon Street Steps are in the Pacific Height District. They are two blocks long and run from Broadway Street down to Green Street in the Marina. The first set offers beautifully maintained gardens and one of the hearts of San Francisco. You will also get some great views of the Palace of Fine Arts and the SF Bay from the top.

Other Staircases: There are also several others that I think you will enjoy. Click here to discover my 8 favorites.

How to Get to the Hidden Garden Steps

You will find the Hidden Garden Steps in the Inner Sunset District. The best way to get here it to take the N Judah to the stop at Judah and 16th Avenue. Walk south on 16th Avenue (up the hill) and you will run right into this staircase.

This is the best route to take if you are coming from anywhere along Market Street including Union Square, the Financial District, downtown SF, or South of Market. If you plan to visit from Fisherman's Wharf, take the F Streetcar to the Embarcadero Station stop on Market and then transfer over to the N Judah.

You can also get here on the 28. This runs along Lombard Street in the Marina District, up to the Golden Gate Bridge, and south along 19th Avenue. Get off at the stop at 19th Avenue and Kirkham and head east toward 16th Avenue. You will find them on the right-hand side of the street.

What to See & Do Nearby

This area of town is full of fun things to do. Here are just a few of my top picks.

California Academy of Sciences: The California Academy of Sciences is one of our most visited museums. It's really four museums in one with an aquarium, a natural history museum, a planetarium and a four-story tall rainforest.

Japanese Tea Garden: Also close by the steps is the Japanese Tea Garden. This small SF attraction offers a close up look at some historic Japanese structures, traditional plants, and a lovely zen garden. You can also stop for a drink or a little bit to eat at their tea house.

Golden Gate Park: Both of the attractions above and others are located within Golden Gate Park. Other fun things to do here include the Conservatory of Flowers, the de Young Museum, and the Botanical Gardens.

Hidden Gardens Steps in the Inner Sunset: Tips to Visit

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?

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