Those steep staircases carved in the hillsides throughout San Francisco may seem somewhat daunting, but wonders await the courageous who huff it to the top. In addition to many a stairway to heaven, San Francisco’s 49 square miles are also home to hidden eucalyptus groves, spiraling lanes (that aren’t named Lombard), and moving artwork (that isn’t those hearts in Union Square). A great opportunity to get away without ever leaving the city, Urban Hiker leads excursions to vistas, forests, and other Francisco treasures.
Originally from the East Coast, founder Alexandra Kenin moved to San Francisco seven years ago, armed with curiosity and a copy of Adah Bakalinsky’s Stairway Walks in San Francisco. She has been exploring ever since, and now she shares these hidden trails with the public through Urban Hiker. oM caught up with Alexandra to talk about Urban Hiker, her favorite San Francisco activities, and magic moments.
What can one expect in an Urban Hiker hike?
Our hikes are focused on exploring the stairways, hills, and hiking trails of San Francisco, with some fun stories about the city’s history thrown in. The idea is to explore San Francisco through exercise, thus discovering new areas, like hidden forests, lesser known parks, and incredible vistas. In keeping with the book that inspired the company, there are a lot of stairways included too!
The tours are all between three and five miles and last two to three hours, with 10 sights per hike. We want people to be seeing something new every five or 10 minutes.
Our hikes are great for both locals and tourists. We like to say, “Whether you’ve been here for 10 minutes, 10 days, or 10 years, we’re guaranteed to show you something new.”
Do you head out rain or shine?
Rain or shine, we are happy to accommodate guest wishes. Just recently, there was a storm, but we took out a family visiting from Korea who wanted to go as planned, and just as we reached the top of Twin Peaks the clouds cleared and we were treated to a gorgeous double rainbow.
Do you have a favorite hike yourself?
So a little secret about San Francisco is the large offering of eucalyptus forests to be found with the city limits. The scenery changes on a dime: One minute you’re in a dry city landscape, and the next you find yourself surrounded by lush eucalyptus trees. Andrew Goldsworthy, a nature artist, has done a couple of natural landscaping pieces in these forests, and these are some of my favorite spots to visit. One of my favorites, “Wood Line,” we visit on the Presidio hike. The installation consisted of 500-plus feet of snaking tree trunks that spiral through a quiet section near Lover’s Lane.
What are your favorite San Francisco activities (beyond hiking)?
San Francisco, has one of the most vibrant and exciting food and beverage scenes around. I live near the Mission, so I’m always walking around and trying out new eateries. I also love the San Francisco Film Festival, which is a lot of fun and so easily accessible.
What about outside of the city? Where to you like to “get out of town?”
I love Pinnacles National Park, a newly-appointed (2013) national park just two-and-a-half hours away from the city. I also love riding bikes and wine tasting in Healdsburg. My preferred biking route is about 22 miles round trip, with stops at great wineries along the way.
Do you have any plans to expand Urban Hiker to other areas?
Ideally I would love to expand up the coast line to cities like Portland or Seattle Both cities offer great scenery and weather with a fun outdoor culture and people looking for alternative ways of getting out and about.
Photos: Alexandra Kenin