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July 15, 2022
Why pay for a gym when you live in a city with over 650 public staircases?
Seattle isn’t the only major American city known for its staircases, but we have hundreds more than our cousin San Francisco down the street. Although several Seattle nabes are known to have a proliferation of staircases—First Hill and the eastern end of Leschi and Judkins Park are close competitors—Queen Anne Hill’s easily takes the cake, and its stairs are generally the oldest and tallest. And since we’re competing with SF, Queen Anne has almost as many Victorian houses too (or at least pound for pound) and is packed with stories from early Seattle.
It’s an outdoor workout and a historical tour, all wrapped up in one!
Queen Anne Ave N & W Galer St
Possibly the best-known Queen Anne Staircase, this 68-step staircase is right up in the mix, at the unofficial southern entrance to the QA hilltop. It seems to be one of the most photographed staircases in town, perhaps after the Harbor Steps. Climb it to find John Hay Elementary and stately old Queen Anne High School, built in 1909 and since converted into condos. Descend it to find yourself on busy Queen Anne Avenue North, right at the doorway of the iconic and freshly reopened 5 Spot restaurant, nearby Molly Moon’s Ice Cream just a few blocks down Galer, and spectacular views of Elliott Bay.
NOTE: If you need even more steps in your life, from Galer and Queen Anne Avenue, you can head two blocks south to Queen Anne Avenue and Comstock, take a slight left on Comstock toward First Avenue North. Then see if you can conquer the Comstock Kissing Steps, a steep, mossy, 86-step grande dame with three landings and as many turns. Then step back and kiss yourself.
1222 8th Pl W
This is less of a staircase and more a series of them. You also get free walls.
So in 1903, the Olmstead Firm, of Central Park fame, arrived in Seattle to develop a park and boulevard system for the city, but their plan for Queen Anne Hill was ultimately dropped. Disappointed but not defeated, the community adopted the plan themselves. Part of this plan involved engineering these highly decorated, heavy-duty retaining walls on Queen Anne Boulevard between 7th and 8th Avenues, built between 1913 and 1916 and designed by architect and educator Walter Ross Baumes Wilcox.
Featuring fabulous horseshoe arches, crisscrossing staircases, spherical green light fixtures, and herringbone patterns in the brick, the Wilcox Walls shore up roadway cuts to support the hillside, while the staircases provide access between the avenues, despite the steep incline. The Wilcox Walls were named a Seattle Landmark in 1976, and the entire system of Queen Anne Boulevard—offering killer vistas as it circles the crown of the hill—received the honor soon after in 1979.
@ the Southwest Corner of Bhy Kracke Park
This one’s kinda hard to find, but it pays off in spades.
Just east of where Bigelow Avenue North meets Highland Drive, there’s an alley that is not an alley. It’s a spur of Highland Drive that looks like a driveway, takes a hard right, and leads you to an 18-step staircase all shrouded in green, which in turn takes you up to Bhy Kracke Park.
Look, Kerry Park is pretty good, but this is where the best fireworks views in the city are found, no contest, and possibly the best city views period. Perched on the steep slope of east Queen Anne and named for Werner “Bhy” Kracke, who donated the land, this park makes brilliant use of a difficult parcel. The park’s stellar view includes the Frasier condo’s view of downtown Seattle as well as the eastern expanse toward Lake Union and the Cascades, and there’s also a small playground up here and some walking paths. You’ll be so glad you made the hike.
11th Avenue West and West Boston Street
Boston doesn’t actually go through to this block—the street is implied by the stairs, which also no longer go through to 12th Avenue West, only halfway down into the greenbelt from 11th. But they come with a ghost story!
Supposedly, in 1921, when these stairs were made of wood, they collapsed as a young lady climbed them. She fell to her demise. The rickety steps were later replaced with stone ones, and one day, a decade after the incident, another young woman had almost reached the top of the steps when she was commanded by an unseen voice to “Turn back! Now!” She didn’t do it, the stone steps crumbled beneath her, and she slid down. That lady lived to tell the tale, though, and the bottom half of the steps were never rebuilt. You can still go down and then climb back up again, but you may wanna heed any ghostly voices you encounter.
West Mercer Place and Mercer Street
This one isn’t on Queen Anne Hill proper—it’s on Lower Queen Anne—but it’s still a goodie. Starting in the armpit of where Mercer Place turns into Mercer Street and leading west, down to West Mercer and 6th Avenue West in Interbay, these steps spit you out just a block from Elliott Avenue West and the Interbay neighborhood. You can think of it as a border crossing. Compared to other Seattle staircases, these steps are fairly new in construction and in good condition, and the path is festooned with ivy and morning glories. It’s also not very long, and there are almost always bunnies halfway down the steps. All of the way down the steps, there’s pastel-toned Sisters and Brothers, home of the city’s best Nashville hot chicken, among other Southern classics, and a charmingly kitschy bar.
The daughter of a King County Metro driver and a Space Needle waitress. Meg was born on the Hill, grew up on Queen Anne, went to school in the CD, and presently haunts the U District. Her writing has appeared in Seattle Weekly, The Stranger, Eater Seattle, Curbed Seattle, Atlas Obscura, Mental Floss, and many other publications. She sometimes backs up drag queens on the accordion and hosts drunken spelling bees.