One of my favorite rules for wandering around San Francisco is, "always take the stairs." I might end up a few minutes late and maybe a bit out of breath, but this strategy has led me to some pretty spectacular places.
Russian Hill was named in the 1850's for a forgotten Russian cemetery at the summit of the hill. As the story goes, in the early 1800's a Russian merchant ship was moored in the bay when members of the crew got sick. Between 30 and 40 are thought to have perished, and were buried on Russian Hill. By 1860 the hill was beginning to be developed, and the graves were moved. Today, all that remains is a plaque at the top of Vallejo Street and a small patch of grass with breathtaking Downtown and Bay views. Follow the stairs down, through thick trees and shade gardens, and eventually you'll come out where Chinatown and North Beach run into each other.
From 1890-1930 Russian Hill was the centerpiece and clubhouse for bohemians, artists, poets, writers, architects and musicians. People gathered to discuss topics of the day, politics, art and philosophy. A short-lived magazine called "The Lark" focused on nonsensical writing, poetry and cartoons. Basically, it was one of SF's first Zines. Russian Hill may have a tony reputation today, but hermits, artists, 49ers, entrepreneurs, architects and bankers have all looked down from it's slopes on the white city below.
The slope is literally covered with hidden stairway street, gardens, alleys and cul-de-sacs. Around each corner is something new to find, an many places offer seclusion and a chance to escape the hustle of City life. Between Filbert and Union Streets, off Leavenworth, you'll find a steep set of stairs with a tropical vibe. There are palm trees, ferns, creeping vines and bright flowers. Little worn doors lead to private backyard gardens, and hand-laid stone pathways give way to benches.
These quite, personal spaces are probably my favorite thing about The City. Most worldly cities offer good food, things to do, upscale shopping and plenty of new places to visit, but not every city has San Francisco's hilly landscape, boho vibes and hidden spaces. Here, a busy retail strip can give way to a 100+-year-old cottage, or hide in the trees while spying on the skyscrapers downtown. It really feels magical. There's something in the air--and it's not just the wafting smell of fresh greens.