San Francisco Walking Tours -- Connected by Stairways!
DM Answers Your Questions
San Francisco is known for its beauty and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. There are other hilly U.S. cities, but none with San Francisco's population density and compactness of development. While many tourists will lack the physical inclination to climb many of these hills, I believe that many will find it fun, a great challenge, and the best way to get to know the city intimately. Rolling up and down the hills allows for an ever-shifting array of views across the breathtaking (in more ways than one) urban landscape. Unfortunately, insufficient attention has been paid to servicing this segment of the tourist population. I provide that service.
The nearly 400 public stairways of San Francisco serve a number of functions. Some provide access to places too steep for streets or sidewalks to have been constructed. Other stairways ease the climb or descent on steep hills. Many of the stairways are of noteworthy design. The main point is that the stairways have been designed for pedestrians. If one is going to undertake a cross-city walk of one of the world's most beautiful and extraordinary cities, it makes sense to utilize pathways designed for pedestrians rather than automobiles. It's certainly more interesting, and, I believe, more fun.
What is the definition of a stairway?
The terms 'stairway' and 'steps' can be used interchangeably. On my tours these can consist of as few as two steps to well over two hundred on a single stairway. They come in many forms and are constructed of a number of different materials. In many cases the stairways exist independent of sidewalks or streets and serve as a means from getting from one street to another over the steep hills. In other instances, sidewalks on steep streets have steps built into them to facilitate the climb. San Francisco's many beautiful parks contain a variety of styles of steps allowing for easier and more pleasurable movement up and down the hills, as well as to provide aesthetic value. These are just some of the types of stairways and steps featured in my walks.
Besides the stairways, are there other reasons to take the tours?
Particularly with Border to Border (Walk 1) and Circle In The Square (Walk 2), my tours encompass the city as a whole. As beautiful and highly regarded as San Francisco is, few people ever experience the breadth of the entire city (including scores of longtime San Francisco residents). Most visitors tend to visit the more famous landmarks as well as the more commercially prominent parts of the city. But the city's entire forty-nine square miles, whether in parts or as a whole, are truly unique in the American urban experience. The interconnectedness and flow of the city's many interesting neighborhoods is something not to be missed. The physical geography, built environment, and social fabric of nearly all of San Francisco's neighborhoods is distinctive and unlike any place else. My tours allow people to experience this in ways that cannot be realized from within cars or tour buses.
How are the tours laid out?
The designs of my tours represent several years and countless hours of investigation and experimentation to produce optimal courses of movement. The designs of the walks are at once deliberate and creative. They are deliberate in the sense that they follow a specific design objective -- either a 'straight' path across the city or one that moves in a 'circle'. The creative aspect has involved locating the stairways, determining which ones to use, and plotting the best possible path from one to the next. Sometimes there will be a high concentration of stairways on a particular hill. In these instances, the objective of moving in a 'straight' path gives way to incorporating additional quality stairways into the walk -- to feast on the abundance. Thus, there is a meandering quality about the walks.
Regardless of whether the stairways are densely clustered among one another within a given point on the walk, or are absent for a period, careful consideration has been given to aesthetics, safety, what's interesting, and other criteria to make these routes the best they can be. On one hand, the walks have a roller coaster-like feel about them, as they continuously move up and down. And yet the walks are like a maze, as there are frequent shifts in direction as they move through the city.
What kind of shape do I have to be in?
You have to be in good shape to participate in these tours. Many walking tours that take place in San Francisco emphasize that they avoid hills. Stairways are the focal point of my walks, and there can be no stairways without hills. Indeed, one cannot truly see San Francisco without climbing hills. To participate in my walks, one must have relatively strong legs and a well conditioned respiratory system. The ankles and knees should function well. Individuals regularly involved in running, jogging, bicycling and similar activities involving leg aerobics should be able to finish the tours. One of my jobs is to make sure the walker is using correct hill- and step-climbing technique and to suggest improvements where necessary. Good posture and stepping technique goes a long way in improving stamina over the course of the entire walk. If you are reading this and feel you are not in sufficient shape to participate in the tours, I encourage you to take the time to get in shape in order to participate on your next trip to San Francisco. I firmly believe that this is the best way to see San Francisco, and it never hurts to get in shape.
What do I need to bring on the tour?
Travel light. A backpack is recommended for carrying essential items, as it will be important to have free use of your arms to more effectively climb the hills.
Bring a water bottle, which can be refilled at public drinking fountains on occasion. It's a good idea to have energy bars, trail mix, and fruit in case you get hungry, as you will burn a lot of calories. Have cash on hand in case you prefer to purchase food from restaurants or stores at the break points.
It's okay to bring a camera, but a heavy camera could impede efficient movement. The walks are designed for continuous movement, so snap those photos quickly so the rest of the group won't have their flow disrupted.
A comfortable pair of walking shoes or hiking boots is the most essential item of all. There should be good ankle support, but the shoe should have some flex in the front section.
San Francisco seldom has hot weather. It is often windy, and fog is common in the summer months. As a result, you will sweat quite a bit less. But it's a good idea to have a light jacket for these cool conditions, and sometimes the weather can change dramatically. Wear loose, comfortable clothing that is conducive to knee bends and is resistant to chafing. It generally only rains from November through about mid-April. Tours are cancelled only in the event of a severe storm, so one should be prepared with appropriate clothing for such conditions.
Are group rates available?
Group rates are available in advance for registrations of five or more. Terms and conditions vary by walk. Discounts are available to non-profit and educational groups. Call or e-mail for more specific information.
Still have questions? Feel free to contact me and I'll be happy to answer any other questions you may have.
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