Glen Park to Dolores Park: Hills and Hidden Staircases

by Katie Cook

San Francisco’s many staircases are one reason why I love this city. Stairways are exclusive bits of the city accessible to pedestrians. Each staircase is unique in its own right- the type of stairs, landscaping, and the view from the top are just a few reasons why staircases are worthy of exploration. This walk features two pedestrian paths and eight staircases.

The self-guided walk begins at the Glen Park BART station. The path wraps around Glen Park, Diamond Heights, and Noe Valley. The first half of the walk is challenging with plenty of steep hills and staircases.

View Glen Park to Dolores Park in a larger map

From the Glen Park BART station cross Bosworth and make a left. Walk along Bosworth and make a left onto Arlington. At the intersection of Arlington and Roanoke make a right onto Roanoke and look for the Arlington pedestrian path on the left.

The Arlington path is a community garden of sorts so the path can be overgrown with weeds or well kept and landscaped. The path runs along San Jose Avenue, but the tree-lined path blocks out all signs of traffic.

This mural on Miguel Street is just a short detour from the Harry Street stairs.

Make a left on Miguel Street (at the bridge) and walk up the hill. When Miguel Street runs into Bemis Street make a left onto Bemis and look for the Everson Street staircase on your right. Take the staircase as it winds through the eucalyptus trees. At the top of the stairs continue on Everson and make a right onto Beacon Street.

At the end of Beacon Street you’ll want to take the Harry Street stairs. Before taking the stairs, however, you should take a detour to see some murals on Miguel Street. From Beacon make a right onto Miguel Street and pass 4-5 houses until you reach the retaining wall on the right. The murals are created from found objects and one mural literally jumps out at you with vases and plants that grow horizontally from the wall.

The Harry Street stairs is one of the few wooden staircases in San Francisco.

Go down the Harry Street stairs and make a left onto Laidley.

The Harry Street stairs is one of the last wooden staircases in the city. These stairs are a block long and you can catch glimpses of the downtown skyline through the trees. As you enjoy the sights be glad that you’re going down and not up these stairs!

After you make a left onto Laidley walk a block and make a left onto the path that winds up Billy Goat Hill.

The Friends of Billy Goat Hill website has some historic photos and time lapse video that’s worth checking out. The landscape of Billy Goat Hill is constantly changing; most recently the path was crowded with small, lavender wildflowers. At the top of the hill you are rewarded with unobstructed views of Bernal Heights, downtown, and the bay. If you’re brave enough you can hover in the clouds as you hang on for dear life and swing off the side of the cliff on a rope swing that hangs from a eucalyptus tree.

Continue on the Billy Goat Hill path you reach Beacon Street, make a right. Make a right on Diamond and walk two blocks until you reach the Valley Street stairs. Go down the Valley Street stairs and when the road forks stay to the right. When you reach Castro Street make a left.

The Valley Street stairs aren’t particularly impressive but you should savor the break between hills because when the Castro Street hill and stairs will get your heart pumping.

When you get to the top of the Castro Street stairs walk a half block until you get to the Castro-Duncan Open Space Preserve.

The Castro-Duncan Open Space preserve is a small treasure. When you make it to the bottom of the preserve you feel like you’ve stumbled upon a hidden corner of the city. The bottom of the canyon intersects with a private dirt alleyway and a sculpture garden. After passing the sculpture garden go down the first set of stairs and then take the path to the right.

The path leads you onto 27th Street. Walk along 27th Street for half a block until it dead ends. Take the stairs to Noe Street.

The 27th Street stairs has a patio area and a tiered community garden. The neighbors obviously take pride in this patch of open space and it is home to a blue jay and two hummingbirds.

The sculpture garden at the base of the Castro-Duncan open space preserve

Make a left onto Noe Street and stay on Noe for several blocks.

Once you reach Noe Street the rest of the walk is relatively easy. The route is downhill until you reach 24th Street. I highly recommend a stop at Easy Breezy on 24th Street to refuel with some frozen yogurt. Easy Breezy has the best assortment of yogurt toppings in San Francisco. You can find all of the traditional toppings but you can also experiment with toppings like crushed potato chips, warm peanut butter sauce, and olive oil and sea salt. The mixture of sweet yogurt with salty toppings brings a smile to my face. Take the yogurt to go and enjoy it as you power up the last hill.

Continue on Noe Street until you reach the top of the hill. Take the Cumberland Street stairs and continue on Cumberland until Sanchez. Make a left onto Sanchez and take the Sanchez Street stairs to 19th Street. Make a right onto 19th Street and walk one block to Dolores Park.

There are many routes to the park from Noe Street. You can take the Liberty Street stairs or the 20th Street stairs and then pick-up the walk at Sanchez Street. I chose the Cumberland Street stairs because this winding staircase is a bit more hidden than the stairs at 20th or Liberty. Also, I’m fascinated by the house at 367 Cumberland. This shingled home doesn’t look like much, but the solarium on the top floor is very unique. If you look closely it looks like the solarium has a stained glass ceiling. Solariums were popular with Queen Anne Victorians and I’m sure that this house was stunning back in the day.

The walk ends at Dolores Park. Many assume that Dolores Park was named for Mission Dolores, but in fact the park is named for Miguel Hidalgo, the father of Mexican independence. Hidalgo was a priest in the town of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Mexico, and he is famous for starting the Mexican Revolution with the ringing of his church bell. The bell at the base of the 19th Street bridge is in honor of Hidalgo. However, before operating as a park this plot of land was originally a Jewish cemetery. All of the graves were moved to Colma and in 1905 the city bought the land from Congregation Sherith Israel and Congregation Emanu-El. From 1906-1908 more than 1600 homeless families made camp in the park after the 1906 earthquake. Dolores Park is now one of the most popular parks in San Francisco.

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