San Francisco is home to a phenomenal collection of public stairs — and the 22nd Street Jungle Stairs is a must-visit.
I’m an individual who has a daily conversation with himself about trying not to be run — led, organized, guided — by his various anxieties. I also own a vehicle; “Prudence the Prius” has treated me well over the past five years of ownership; she’s seen me through many cross-country road trips (and a few car break-ins). But automobile ownership and San Francisco tenancy don’t go hand-in-hand. The two separate like oil and water inside a plastic container molded around apprehensive parking realities.
This is to also say that street parking in the TenderNob — the SF neighborhood I lovingly call home — is far from a worry-free affair. And can… well, populate my mind with what-if confabulations that tickle my limbic system in all the wrong ways.
Alas, it’s why I choose to park around three miles away from my Japanese floor futon. Along a road that only requires me to move my plug-in hybrid vehicle every other Monday morning. And I realized I’d been pulling my e-brake next to an iconic smattering of SF stairs previously unknown to me: The 22nd Street Jungle Stairs.
Like many of San Francisco’s urban staircases, this collection of steps laid between the Castro and Noe Valley is shrouded in some semblance of secrecy. It’s a slice of utilitarianism coated in an enigma, then wrapped inside a riddle.
What is clear, however, is that a dedicated group of nearby neighbors — which in 2016 was made up by locals Ken Fisher, Marc Snyder, and Barry Taylor — are determined to turn the hillside into a piece of botanical escapism. (The continued maintenance and restoration of the 22nd Street Jungle Steps is an effort organized by SF Park Alliance, and the nonprofit has sponsored various trash cleanups and a reworking of irrigation systems along the hillside over the years.)
Once perforated with weeds — some invasive, others native to the seven-by-seven — the staircase, which consists of six sections that number between six to fifteen steps each, is surrounded by a tapestry of flora. Once defined by swaths of dandelions and lifeless crabgrass, towering evergreens and pruned shrubbery have since snuffed out the rooted eyesores of yesteryears. Wandering eyes will also notice brightly colored flower beds that routinely attract number of butterflies and hummingbirds to the area. Native species of harmless bumblebees and birds also frequent the “jungle steps,” as does the occasional wandering coyote.
But it’s the objectively raw state of the staircase that I find quite prepossessing. It’s a physical, tangible example that there’s beauty in the process of ascending; a salient reminder about the secular nature of occupying measurable space on this spinning space rock; an example of how everything is in entropy — and how that’s fine, handsome, and shrouded in magnificence.
The 22nd Street Jungle Steps currently sits quite high on my favorite San Francisco staircases to find myself on a weekday morning, nursing a coffee and contemplating the cosmos, all while simultaneously testing how much longer I can ignore the previous day’s Slack notifications without recourse. The serendipity of how I found this new place of solace out of a routine born from mitigating my own anxieties isn’t lost on me, either