San Francisco Urban Hike: Glen Park to Dolores Park
San Francisco’s many staircases make this city especially suited for urban hiking. The hidden stairways are exclusive bits of the city accessible only to pedestrians. The unique features of each staircase—the type of stairs, landscaping, and the view from the top—make these hidden bits of San Francisco worthy of exploration. This 3-mile San Francisco urban hike rewards walkers with two pedestrian paths and eight staircases.
Beginning at the Glen Park BART station, the three-mile route wraps around Glen Park, Diamond Heights, and Noe Valley. Between the steep hills and staircases you’ll climb 525 feet and work up an appetite for a post-hike picnic in Dolores Park.
San Francisco Urban Hiking Route
From the Glen Park BART station cross Bosworth and make a right. 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 your 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.
Make a left on Miguel Street (at the bridge) and walk up the hill. When Miguel Street dead-ends 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.
From 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.
Go down the Harry Street stairs and make a left onto Laidley Street.
The Harry Street stairs is one of the last wooden staircases in the city. These stairs run the length of the block and treat walkers to glimpses of the downtown skyline through the trees. As you enjoy the sights be glad that you’re going down and not up these steep stairs!
Walk one block on Laidley and make a left onto the path that winds up Billy Goat Hill.
The landscape of Billy Goat Hill changes with the seasons; the hill is prettiest in the Spring when small, lavender wildflowers bloom in abundance. 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 the large eucalyptus tree.
If you’re a history buff, the Friends of Billy Goat Hill blog has some historic photos of when Billy Goat Hill was a quarry. The photos are definitely worth checking out, it’s mind-blowing to see the changes that have happened in the last 90 years!
Continue on the Billy Goat Hill path until you reach Beacon Street, and make a right. When Beacon meets Diamond Street make a right 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 hiking up 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 to the Castro-Duncan Open Space Preserve. Follow the dirt path and check out the secret sculpture garden.
The Castro-Duncan Open Space preserve is a hidden treasure! 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 many birds.
Make a left onto Noe Street and stay on Noe for one-mile.
Once you reach Noe Street the rest of the walk is relatively easy. The route is downhill until you reach 24th Street. Enjoy the colorful Victorians until you reach the last set of stairs before the park.
After cresting Noe Street, 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 mix of architecture and on this single block of Cumberland. My favorite home on this block is the brown shingled home with a stained glass solarium at 367 Cumberland.
Use the pedestrian bridge at 19th Street to cross into Dolores Park.
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. Dolores Park is now one of the most popular parks in San Francisco. 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 statue at the base of the 19th Street bridge honors Hidalgo.
This walk begins at the Glen Park BART station in San Francisco.
The route uses public staircases and cuts through parks as it winds through San Francisco. Follow the step-by-step directions above or download my GPS tracks from Caltopo.
You can easily make this walk into a loop by walking along Church Street to Chenery Street to get back to BART. You can also take the 16th Street BART Station (less than a half-mile from Dolores Park) to return to the start.
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