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By Lorraine Sanders
On April 18, 2005, I started getting out a lot more. Not that I was a recluse prior to that day, but I rarely left my apartment without a point, a destination, a specific must-do in mind. And when I wandered aimlessly, it was generally on the sunniest of weekend days.
But then I acquired a new friend, one with a fond appreciation for the great out-of-doors. There is, perhaps, nothing she enjoys more than a good walk. Of course, indiscriminate sniffing comes in a close second.
My fiancé and I adopted a rascally black and brindle mutt from Rocket Dog Rescue's 24th Street adoption fair last April and named her Dixie. As anyone with a juvenile canine companion surely knows, a tired puppy is a good puppy. Since Dixie's arrival, I've set out countless times in the name of doggie fatigue to traverse Noe Valley's hills, its stairway walks, and scenic vistas.
The next time spring fever hits you, you might want to let one of these neighborhood jaunts come to the rescue.
Short and Sweat
Craving a natural alternative to the Stairmaster at the gym? Noe Valley has several sets of stairs that combine city views with workout potential. If you'd rather stand at the top with a latte and enjoy the scenery, that's fine, too.
Diamond Between 22nd and 23rd: Five trips up and down these stairs will leave you panting. Hardcore fitness types add pushups on the flat paved area at the base, while those seeking a quiet spot to rest will find it on the bench located three quarters of the way up the stairs. From there, the view extends across the neighborhood and up to Twin Peaks.
Duncan between Sanchez and Noe: Head up the hill on Duncan past Sanchez for another fine set of neighborhood stairs. Simply reaching the short stairway's base is a feat in and of itself. Take the steps to the Noe Street summit and gaze back over the valley for views stretching out to the East Bay hills. This is a gorgeous spot to visit at dusk when the lights have started to twinkle and before the sky goes completely dark.
Douglass and Corwin: Douglass' northern end exits Noe Valley with a set of stairs that descends into the Castro neighborhood. At the top of the stairs, trees from surrounding homes frame an attractive view of Castro buildings.
Castro and Duncan: Head down the upper section of Duncan Street towards the heart of Noe Valley until you hit the tiny stretch of Castro Street that sits disconnected from the rest. At the end of a small cul-de-sac, a short but steep set of stairs descends to 28th Street. Perfect for a quick sweat-session, these shaded stairs offer a sweeping view towards the city's southern end.
During my neighborhood walks, I rarely have trouble keeping my mind busy. Each building is so different than the next. Little gardens abound in tiny front yards, while various signs in windows announce everything from political outlooks to birthday celebrations.
When I walk, I have a few favorite games I play. The first is called Guess What's in Back? I'm endlessly curious about peoples' back yards and how they maximize what is often ultra-steep and limited space. Do they plant gardens? Use terraced sections? Throw their old appliances out there? What? What? The second, which I play whenever I see a For Sale sign, is Guess How Much That Place Costs? And, yes, I often go home and look places up online purely to see how close my guess came to asking price.
While any of Noe Valley's streets make scenic strolls, here are a few of my favorite routes.
The Harry Street Steps: To find this steep wooden climb, head south on Sanchez until you reach Randall. Turn right onto Randall, take your next left onto Harper and turn right onto Laidley. Harry Street ascends from between two houses at roughly 100 Laidley.
Harry Street's rickety-looking steps are flanked with greenery from banana trees, palm fronds, and winding vines. With the treetops creating a patchy canopy overhead, a trip up these stairs can make you completely forget you're in a city.
Once you reach the top, you'll be on Beacon Street. To extend this walk, you can turn right and follow the road until you hit Diamond Street. Take a left on Diamond, and the newly built Haas Park, which has a gated dog park and playground, is just up the road on Diamond Heights Boulevard.
To return to the heart of Noe Valley from the top of the Harry steps, turn left on Beacon and follow the road down to Miguel. Turn left where Miguel dips back to Laidley. Take a left on Laidley and enjoy the striking architecture of the street's homes as you stroll back to Harper.
The Complete Douglass: Ideally, one would begin this walk at the very top of Douglass Street, just past its intersection with Duncan. Begin walking downhill. To your right, there are lovely Bay views.
You will pass Douglass Park on your left. If you have a dog in tow, stop at the park's upper field for some off-leash fun. If you're with children, the playground in the lower park area is always a hit.
Continue heading down Douglass. You will pass Noe Courts on your left. Again, a great place to stop with either dogs or children for a quick water/jungle gym/ grass-eating break.
After you pass Noe Courts, the rest of your walk will be fairly flat. Continue on until you've passed 21st Street and the road narrows. The Douglass/Corwin stairway will be in front of you. Stop for the view.
Head left on Corwin until you've reached the Corwin Community Garden. This small plot of land features 60 varieties of plants and counts 30 bird species as frequent visitors. Benches placed along the mulch pathways offer quiet resting spots.
Return the way you came. Time: Both walks take about 30 minutes roundtrip.
The Long Haul
Sometimes, your mood (and perhaps your bouncing four-legged companion's robust energy level) calls for a longer adventure. Both of the following walks offer all the rewards of heading out of town for a hike, without, of course, the heading-out-of-town part. Instead, you just have to venture a little outside of the neighborhood.
Glen Canyon Park: To reach Glen Canyon from Noe Valley, make your way down Diamond Heights Boulevard towards the Safeway (and new Walgreen's) Shopping Center. Just before the entrance to the shopping center parking lot, there is a path to Christopher Playground. Follow this path. When you reach the main field, walk right on the paved loop. Towards the back of the field--which could also be described as the top of the loop--there are two ways to enter Glen Canyon. If you're standing at the top of the loop and facing the canyon, a paved path descends to your right. To your left, you will find a small dirt trail.
Once you've entered the canyon, trails wind around the perimeter. The main route descends toward the canyon's floor. Dogs and children love bounding down the narrow trails and scrambling at the base of the large boulders, where rock climbers occasionally come to practice. If you follow the main trail down into the canyon, you'll reach a wooden bridge that goes over a small stream. Cross the bridge, and you'll reach a wide unpaved road perfect for jogging or walking. That road ends at Glen Canyon's official O'Shaughnessy Boulevard entrance in the Glen Park neighborhood.
The Upper Market March: The stretch of road where Portola turns into Market Street offers sweeping, unobstructed views of the entire city. It's a busy road and can be windy and loud, but it's worth braving both traffic and the elements to see the city from this perspective.
From Noe Valley, hike up Clipper Street. Once you cross Douglass, there's only a sidewalk on one side of the road. Keep following Clipper all the way to the top. Turn right onto Portola, sticking to the sidewalk on the right side of the road.
You'll soon be walking along a stretch of Upper Market Street that overlooks all of Noe Valley and offers a 180-degree view of the cityscape.
Just as you're about to start getting annoyed with the cars whizzing by and sullying the ambiance, there's a large spiral staircase you can use to descend to Grand View. From Grand View, walk right on any side street to return to Douglass Street and Noe Valley proper.
If you're still full of beans, keep walking down Market until you reach the stoplight at Romain. Follow Romain past Grand View on to Douglass Street. When you reach Douglass, turn right and follow it back towards the heart of Noe Valley.
Both walks will take at least an hour round trip from Noe Valley. Have fun!