Scout Field Notes are travel and adventure stories by Scout users and our team. Luda is a San Francisco scout and lover of anything and everything SF related. Find her cuddling cats at the KitTea Cafe, or slurping ramen in Japantown.
Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, on the edge of a hill, is one of my favorite hidden gems of San Francisco. Many tourists haven’t heard of them, much less people who live in the city, but the 16th Ave Tiled Steps are worth the trek to the Sunset.
When I first saw the steps, it was on Instagram. They seemed endless, reaching towards the sky and sparkling with the colors of a thousand rainbows: bits of gold, blue, silver, and red outlined each flower, animal, and star that made up the mosaic. It doesn’t matter if you go during sunrise, during the day, or even sunset – the steps have a unique shimmer in any light, which is why it’s my favorite hidden spot in San Francisco!
The mosaic was started in 2003, and each of the tiles represents a person who volunteered their time or money to make the steps possible. The inspiration behind the Moraga Steps actually came from the famous Escadaria Selarón (Selaron Steps) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and took about 2 years to complete.
The first time I visited the steps was on my 18th birthday. It was my third month of living in San Francisco, and I had already done all the “touristy” things: Alcatraz, check. Golden Gate Bridge, check. Even the beach had seen me too many times! I kept thinking back to the photo I saw on Instagram, and convinced my boyfriend to take a mini trip to the Sunset as part of my birthday celebration.
Granted, we got lost a few times (this was our first “trip” to the Sunset) but when we finally arrived, I was in awe. I couldn’t believe it — how could such gorgeous steps exist?! It was around twilight, but the tiles were still sparkling with the intensity of beautiful little pieces of jewelry. As we climbed up, step by step, I couldn’t help but constantly pause to marvel in the beauty of the little butterfly or flower tiles that followed us during our ascent.
Now whenever I visit the stairs, I like to pay close attention to the tiles’ little details. Starting from the bottom, the steps show the ocean and sea life — fish, starfish, and turtles swim through the mosaic shards, and as you climb, the mosaic slowly turns to land. Then you’ll transport through the seasons, and finally end up where day (a shining sun) turns into night (a luminescent moon). Congratulations, this is the top! :) The first time I reached this point, I took one last look below, and knew that I would be back at least a thousand times. This was my hidden gem.
From the top of the steps, you can walk across the street and walk a few more steps to get to the Grand View Park. The name doesn’t lie – it’s a gorgeous view of the western part of San Francisco! I love to bring a picnic lunch, sit on the bench at the very top, and bask in the glory of climbing all those steps.
To get to the steps, take the outbound N-Judah metro from any downtown station and get off at 16th Avenue. Make your way down 16th Ave until you reach Moraga St, and then look east — voila! If you get lost, text your Scout at 415-915-2421 for directions.
After your hike…
Head back to Judah and check out some of my favorite places to grab a bite. The first is Kitchen Kura, a small and cozy Japanese restaurant. My favorite dishes are the Nanban Chicken (dip it in the special sauce!) and the Curry Udon.
Also, if you’re super inspired and want to start your own tile project, check out the Institute of Mosaic Art in Berkeley!