These Hidden San Francisco Stairs Are a True Micro-Adventure

The small collection of steps on Havens Street is bursting with verdant green foliage, nods to Buddhism, and sits inside a vacuum of silence… worlds away from SF’s traffic soundtrack.

I have a proclivity for forward movement. I’m not sure if it’s a byproduct of my laundry list of anxieties — the notion of progression by way of kinetic motion seems to quell those what-ifs — or a result of my affinity for distance running. I don’t know if it’s all too helpful (or healthy) to dwell on this characteristic; objectively, it’s an activity that evokes a deluge of serotonin and dips in cortisol that needs no explanation.

Screenshot via Google Maps

On any given day, I collectively walk and run about ten miles around San Francisco, crisscrossing various neighborhoods and parks, ping-ponging between my apartment or art studio space or the domicile of a sexual partner. 

Rarely do I set off on my walks with a destination in mind… more so even when I run.

But that’s not to say sudden pleasures don’t inevitably find their way along these undefined routes. One such happenstance charm entered my journey recently, stumbling up Havens Street with a leasehold dog on my left.

Nestled in Russian Hill, this small stairwell sits in the shadows of its much larger, more well-known sister staircase, the Filbert Steps. What the Havens Street Steps lack in length it more than makes up for in singular uniqueness.

The steps are a tapestry of floral and cultural accents; carved stonework and nods to East Asian philosophies around life populate your climbs and comedowns. Havens Street, itself, is public, but the residences are hidden and shrouded in hanging plants. Just like the Filbert Street Steps, the neighbors clearly take great pride in maintaining the gardens that line, moat, and shroud their properties.

Tall structures cocoon the small urban oasis in shaded silence. Whatever roars produced by passing cars on Leavenworth Street dull as those wavelengths bounce off slab-sided buildings onto towering bamboo stalks. 

Details of this petite urban greenspace are few and far between. Colloquially, the steps are sometimes referred to as “Havens Place.” Interestingly enough, Armistead Maupin lived in an apartment on this lane while writing Tales of the City — a work of writing that would later become synonyms with San Francisco living and be adapted into a wildly popular Netflix series.

Just like the Filbert Steps mentioned prior, San Francisco’s now-famous parrots frequent the space, punctuating their presence with their unmistakable squawks.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for nearly a decade; I’ve dedicated almost that entire span of time to writing, researching, and publishing about the seven-by-seven. Whenever I stumble across a sliver of it I’ve yet to touch on — let alone knew existed — I’m awash with child-like whimsy and unflinching joy.

Having a 76 lb pitbull looking up at you, tail wagging and mouth pulled into a crescent shape, only accentuates those very feelings.

All images: Courtesy of the author

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