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About On The Level






About the Author

About the Author

Marilyn Straka has lived in San Francisco for over 30 years. She is an outdoors enthusiast and has explored the neighborhoods and parks of San Francisco both for exercise and as her hobby. She has retired from her "day job" and is pursuing her seconc career of offering personalized tours to those with special needs.

Rob and Marilyn Straka     2000 Marilyn Straka
 Marilyn with her son, Rob, at Yosemite

by Marilyn Straka

Many guides have been written describing San Francisco and the variety of ways to explore this fantastic city: bicycle rides, dog walking guides, restaurant guides, history walks, Barbary Coast guide, architectural guides and the list goes on. So why are ON THE LEVEL guidebooks unique? They present easy, spacious walks in a hilly, crowded city for people of many abilities. These excursions are for people who want to get out and see the beautiful parks and neighborhoods of San Francisco but may have special needs - people using electric scooters or wheelchairs, those who are able to walk a short distance on easy terrain, or those pushing a stroller. Even beginning roller bladers, who want to avoid hills, will find that a number of these excursions are available to you. If you have special needs, you generally have to put more effort into getting places so you want to have confidence that everything will work out when you get there. This book is unique because it is for people who like to plan their excursions in advance.

Useful things I like to know when planning an excursion:

Is there parking available near the starting point?

Are there any designated accessible spaces?

Will there be places to rest? Or to use the rest rooms? 

Marina Green Boulevard Homes     2000 Marilyn Straka

Where will a hill or stairs make navigation difficult?

What is the character and history of the area?

Will there be a public telephone?

Should I bring my own water?

I documented these walks because I only like "good" surprises!

While I cannot guarantee "only good surprises," I hope by following these excursions that unexpected obstacles will be minimized. Each excursion lists exceptions to the standard features and includes helpful hints for having an enjoyable outing.

Speaking of surprises, I encourage you to enjoy each excursion over and over. Through the years, I have walked these paths multiple times and each time I discover something new. A few highlights come to mind such as spotting the elusive alligator at Mountain Lake Park - my son still doesn't believe me! (Mountain Lake Park), encountering a "parade" of people in black tie attire as they walked down Pacific Avenue to a private party (Pacific Heights East), seeing skunks at dusk on the edge of the Presidio where Broadway meets Lyon (Pacific Heights West), seeing baby swans learning to swim (Palace of Fine Arts), watching Robin Williams filming Mrs. Doubtfire (Pacific Heights East), and observing a photo shoot for Playboy as the US National Basketball team posed in their shorts with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background (Fort Point). After each shot, they would huddle under portable heaters where my son approached them and got their autographs!

As part of the introduction to each excursion, I have included a list of themes for repeating the walk (see Marina Green, for example). Teachers will find these suggestions useful for classroom excursions. If you find an excursion that works well for you, try it again (and again!) and I'm sure you will notice different things each time you repeat a walk.

You may wonder why I have included the full text from plaques and markers along the route when you will be there in person and can read it yourself. The answer is twofold. When I walk, I like to keep moving. When my son was younger, he was very active and I found that I would often have to pass by historical descriptions or markers in order to keep up with him. By having the full text available in the Points of Interest, you have the option of familiarizing yourself in advance with this information. Then, on the actual excursion, you can skim the text and recall highlights or summarize for a young person in the family or group and move on more quickly.

 2000 Marilyn Straka


Why have I documented excursions?

One of my life-long goals is to help people with physical limitations. In high school and college my career goal was to be a physical therapist. Although I ended up being a computer programmer/business analyst, I have always sought the people-oriented aspects of the job. I have never forgotten my first career goal and now hope to do something related for my second career. My booklets and walks are a natural lead-in to my second career of taking people with limited access into the out of doors to explore nature.

Having had two knee surgeries and even spending some time in a wheelchair, I know from experience that it can be very limiting to get around San Francisco when you cannot navigate hills. After one surgery, I walked the same block of level sidewalk in front of my Pacific Heights condo again and again because I was afraid to tackle an incline using crutches! My time in a wheelchair (in 1981) made me much more aware of my surroundings, such as narrow doorways, inaccessible bathrooms, difficulty in turning around, and especially my dependency on others.

By following my own walks, I hope to be able to explore San Francisco for many years to come — even with bad knees! I also hope to get my mother to San Francisco (from flat Minnesota) to see that there are level walks in San Francisco too!!



I started thinking about this project in September of 1996. I was telling my friend Bobbie Coslow about my idea for a second career which I would pursue when I got my son through college. I would have my own business where I would take elderly or physically challenged people on excursions to the Marin Headlands and other beautiful places — even as far as Yosemite — places to enjoy nature that are not easily accessible. Bobbie is a very high energy person, a breast cancer survivor and a person I greatly admire. She challenged me to start living my dream now instead of waiting 10 years. Although I was skeptical because of time constraints, about a year later I started documenting my favorite San Francisco excursions, many of which are completely or partly on level ground. Gradually, I saw the possibility of combining the excursions into a book or creating individual booklets and presenting the excursions as self-guided so people could enjoy them even without my guidance. My son, Rob, who was 14 at the time, would accompany me on the walks and make a rough draft of a map for each excursion. I want to thank Rob for his enthusiasm early on and for the many hours he has helped me with the computer aspects of the project.

Draft map of Marina Green done by Rob



I would like to thank Adah Bakalinsky for being my mentor on this project. She learned the ropes while writing her own books and was very generous to pass her knowledge and encouragement to me. Adah is the author of my favorite San Francisco walking tour book, Stairway Walks in San Francisco. I have walked several times with Adah; she is so knowledgeable and so energetic that she brings the city to life.

 2000 Marilyn Straka
Adah Bakalinsky likes hills and steps!

I would also like to thank the people who helped me check out my walks. Foremost is Ben Pease, my map maker. I was very fortunate to engage him as he is an excellent map maker, has already documented many parts of the city and has experience with handicapped accessibility as well. He got excited about my project and helped me with research and verification as well as the maps. My designers, Shique Seigel, Leslie Waltzer, and William Braznell are all very skilled in their profession and were understanding about the many deadlines. Reenie Albert, Sandra Andrews, Judy Conroy, Elizabeth Hoffman, Bonnie Lewkowicz, Gene Lloyd, Marge and Pete Titcomb, and Pat Tuma were instrumental in making sure that the walks were accurate. 

Kudos for technical assistance to:  

  • Click to order from Amazon  Janice Anderson-Gram, writer and publisher for Waters Edge Press. See her beautiful book about poinsettias at
  • Cathy Flanders, President of Flanders Design.  She can be reached at (415) 922-5789.
  • Bob Mellin, Publishing Services Director for Balboa Publishing Corp.  See his website at
  • Margo Metegrano, who worked with me to design this site.  She's the managing editor of and maintains other sites.


Special Thanks to — Anita Hill of the Yerba Buena Alliance, John Killacky and Catherine Mercado of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Kirsten Maynard of Sony Metreon — for their assistance with the Yerba Buena Gardens excursion.

Special Thanks to
— Steve Haller, Park Historian — for his assistance with the Fort Mason excursion.

Special Thanks to
— Elizabeth Leep of University High School, San Francisco Decorator Showcase, and Tracy Taylor of the Hotel Drisco — for their assistance with the Pacific Heights West excursion.

 2000 Marilyn Straka
Marge, thanks for all your help and support.

Finally, my mother who is from the plains of Minnesota, inspired me. She told me on her last visit to San Francisco, "I will not be back until you flatten out those hills!"





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