16th Avenue Tiled Steps

San Francisco, California (CA)

Climb the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps from the sea to the stars, for a better view of San Francisco.

Looking for more places like this? Explore more secrets on a CityDays adventure!

Read more
16th Avenue Tiled Steps 2
- John Weiss

Discovering the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

San Francisco is a city renowned for its steep hills, iconic landmarks, and colourful neighbourhoods. Among its many hidden treasures lies the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps tucked away in the Inner Sunset District of the Golden Gate Heights neighbourhood. This stunning mosaic staircase is known for its intricate and colourful tiles, which depict a range of themes, from the depths of the sea to the expanses of space. With every step the mosaic narrative unfolds, revealing a new piece of the artwork and inviting further exploration.

Since its completion, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, also known as Moraga Steps, have transformed a once-overlooked corner of Golden Gate Heights into a beloved tourist attraction that can be appreciated both close up and from afar. In light of their success they have also inspired other makeovers in the area, including the nearby Hidden Garden Steps, also designed by Barr and Crutcher. Visiting the steps today is free and offers discovery, a tough work-out, and a rewarding view!

16th Avenue Tiled Steps 3
- Rob Corder

Creating the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

The Moraga Steps were born from the community efforts of two neighbourhood residents, who were inspired by Chilean painter Jorge Selarón’s world-famous ceramic tiled stairs—Escadaria Selarón—in Brazil. With Selarón’s staircase as their inspiration the residents, Jessie Audette and Alice Yee Xavier, enlisted the talents of artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher in 2003, who began designing the 163 mosaic panels.

The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps project received overwhelming support from the community. Over 220 tiles, featuring animals, fish, and shells were sponsored and named by neighbours, providing the majority of the funding necessary for the project. The effort was also bolstered by contributions from the Mayor's Neighborhood Beautification Fund and various corporate sponsors, reflecting a broader community collaboration. Additionally, three mosaic workshops were held, allowing residents to participate directly in creating the panels.

After two years of hard work, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps were officially opened to the public on 27th August 2005 with an opening ceremony that featured traditional lion dancers. Mayor for the Day, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, also declared August 27th as "16th Avenue Tiled Steps Day” a major accomplishment for Audette, Xavier, the artists, and the community who worked tirelessly on the project.

16th Avenue Tiled Steps 5
- 146109843@N05

Designing the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

There are 163 steps, 17 landings, and 16 entrances that make up the Moraga Steps. This staircase also stretches over 4 metres in width and climbs 90 ft high from 16th Avenue and Moraga up to Grandview Park. They are covered in over 2,000 tiles, made from more than 75,000 individual pieces of stained glass and ceramics, with names of sponsors carved into the panels.

The tiles not only create a stunning mosaic but also interact with sunlight and moonlight, shimmering and reflecting light throughout the day and night. Their design begins with spiral patterns and small sea creatures at the bottom, transitioning to land animals and birds, and culminating with celestial bodies like the moon and sun at the top. This progression symbolises a journey from the ocean floor to the stars, encapsulating everything we know about the world.

Either side, gardens donated by the Xavier family, line the steps. In an effort to support local biodiversity including the endangered green hairstreak butterfly, they are planted with native California plants and succulents. The community effort behind the gardens and the steps themselves involved numerous volunteers and organisations such as San Francisco Beautiful and the San Francisco Succulent Society.

16th Avenue Tiled Steps 4
- Wayne Hsieh

The Hidden Garden Steps

However, the 16th Avenue mosaic staircase does not stop here. Due to the success and popularity of the original 16th Avenue tiled staircase, residents petitioned to extend the project further down the hill. As a result, in late 2013, 148 steps on 16th Avenue between Kirkham and Lawton became a native California wildlife scene with tiles covered in flowers, plants, dragonflies, salamanders, butterflies, and snails. This project was also undertaken by Barr and Crutcher, but is not as popular as the original tiled staircase.

16th Avenue Tiled Steps
The Hidden Garden Steps - mikecarrick

The Moraga Steps Lasting Community Impact

Volunteer days held during Earth Day weekend and in the Fall encourage ongoing community involvement, encouraging neighbours, visitors, and corporate sponsors to contribute to the upkeep of the site. The project continues to be supported by organisations like San Francisco Beautiful Foundation and is recognised as a symbol of unity in the city.

16th Avenue Tiled Steps 6
- allison_b216

Visiting the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

Located in a residential area, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are easily accessible via public transportation (take the N-Judah Muni line to the 16th Avenue stop and then walk south to Moraga Street) or personal car, with ample parking nearby. Visitors are encouraged to plan their visit during daylight hours to fully appreciate the colours and intricate details of the tiles. Early morning or late afternoon visits are particularly recommended for optimal lighting and less chance of other visitors. For the climb, which culminates in a spectacular view of San Francisco, sensible (and comfortable!) footwear is advised—the steps are worth it, but very steep!

Before visiting, it’s important to note a few guidelines set forth by the local community:

  • Respect private driveways and avoid blocking them, as this disrupts local residents.
  • Maintain a low noise level and refrain from activities that may disturb the peace of the neighbourhood.
  • Take all trash with you and leave the area as you found it, respecting the efforts of local residents who maintain the surrounding gardens.
  • Avoid bringing heavy objects that could damage the mosaic tiles.
  • Vigilance is recommended concerning vehicle break-ins in the area and removing all belongings from cars before arriving is advised.
  • Tour buses, vans, and party buses are not permitted in the residential area surrounding the steps.
  • Note that the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are open to visitors during specific hours to ensure minimal disruption to the local community.
16th Avenue Tiled Steps 1
- Fabrice Florin

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our San Francisco Scavenger Hunts- untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of San Francisco and beyond!


What you need to know

16th Avenue Tiled Steps
16th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122
37.755486, -122.486794
Tips before you visit