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16th Avenue Tiled Steps © sergejf/Flickr
16th Avenue Tiled Steps © sergejf/Flickr

Traversing San Francisco’s 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

Picture of Courtney Holcomb
Updated: 6 September 2016
Out in the Sunset District on the western edge of San Francisco sits an enchanting outdoor staircase, popular among locals as a spot to exercise and enjoy sweeping views of the city. Located at the intersection of 16th Avenue and Moraga, and comprised of 163 steps, the 16th Avenue Steps (also known as the Moraga Steps) are individually decorated with handmade tiles, resulting in a gorgeous stairway mosaic.

This giant staircase has been around since 1926, but it wasn’t until 2003 that members of the Sunset neighborhood decided to decorate its steps as part of a neighborhood beautification project. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps Project was initiated by Sunset residents Jessie Audette and Alice Yee Xavier, who chose artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher to design the mosaic. Completed in 2005, the project brought over 300 community members together, as neighbors were given the opportunity to participate through a series of tile-decorating workshops. The finished mosaic formed a fluid sea-to-sky design, with waves carrying curious little animals and shapes upward toward a sun and moon at the top of the stairway.

The steps were inspired by the Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Audette lived for five years. Similar mosaic staircases exist around the world and include the Scala Steps in Caltagirone, Italy. One of the Scala’s artists created an inscribed tile now embedded in the 16th Avenue Steps, and the two stairways have been declared sister stairs. The mayor of Caltagirone, Francesco Pignataro, came to San Francisco for the opening of the 16th Avenue Steps on August 27th, 2005. He had the honor of cutting the ribbon at the inauguration ceremony, which featured Chinese lion dancers and a performance by the Nguyen Dance Company.

This 16th Avenue Steps project was supported by a number of organizations, including the Golden Gate Heights Neighborhood Association and the San Francisco Parks Trust (now the San Francisco Parks Alliance). Over 220 community members also supported the project by sponsoring individual tiles embedded in the mosaic.

Come climb the steps and enjoy the surrounding gardens, full of California native plants and succulents. And once you’ve reached the top, wander over to Grand View Park for stunning, 360-degree views of the city and the Pacific Ocean.