Before Angelenos pledged their undying love to cars, we were a city connected by trolleys, buses, streetcars and light rails. And how did people get from their houses in the hills to transit lines, schools or the local market? Stairs! Lots and lots of stairs. About 450 hidden historic stairways, built mostly in the 1920’s, wind through LA’s steep hillside neighborhoods, many of them forgotten. Whether you enjoy a bit of cardio with your history or just fancy blazing a steep path where few have known to tread, the following is a small sampling of LA’s historic hidden staircases well worth the climb.
Beachwood Canyon Stairs
(861 Steps, 2.6 miles)
Start: Beachwood Cafe
2695 N. Beachwood Drive
Los Angeles, 90068
It will take you about an hour to climb this fascinating path through Hollywood History. These steps are widely considered to be the most charming in the city and take you past the impressive homes of silver screen stars like Busby Berkeley, Humphrey Bogart and Bela Lugosi and reward your efforts with stunning views of downtown, Lake Hollywood, the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Park Observatory. The final descent delights with unexpected artwork and topiary bunnies!
The Music Box Steps (aka The Music Box Loop)
(705 steps, 2.5 miles)
Lower end: 935 Vendome St
Upper end: 3278 Descanso Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 90026 (Silverlake)
Located in the Silver Lake area, these famous steps were named for the 1932 Academy Award winning Laurel and Hardy film where they tried to push a piano up the stairs between Vendome St. and Descanso Drive. The Three Stooges also filmed some shenanigans on another section of steps. Views of downtown are yours for the climbing and towards the end of the trek you’ll walk right through front yard walk-streets of traditional bungalows embraced by fruit trees and roses. Start out near Café Tropical at Sunset and Parkman and ascend into quirky urban charm.
(518 steps, 3.2 miles)
Lower end: 17575 Pacific Coast Hwy
Upper end: 17606 Posetano Dr
Los Angeles, 90045
This is the ocean lover’s staircase, offering the most scenic experience of the city steps with its breathtaking views of the Pacific and picturesque meanderings through Topanga Park, Getty Villa and the Self Realization Fellowship. The amount of steps may not seem like much, but they’re spread out over 3+ miles so you can trek it in an hour or make a day of it. Start at Gladstone’s and walk north through the parking lot, cross over the PCH Pedestrian Overpass, head up to Castellammare Drive. Watch your step…literally. Landslides have done a job on many of these stairs over time.
Hollywood Bowl and Hightower Loop
(421 steps, 2.6 miles)
Start/end 2100 N. Highland Ave.
(the Hollywood Heritage Museum – people say its okay to use their parking lot)
Los Angeles, 90068
“LA’s Secret Stairs” author Charles Fleming calls this stair-walk “heavy on history, dotted with architectural gems, and full of atmosphere.” You’ll go around the back of the Hollywood Bowl and pass by Frank Lloyd Wright classic Samuel Freeman House and the iconic Hightower Elevator which you may recognize from Raymond Chandler novels. It was built to help select neighbors of the lush, secluded Alta Loma neighborhood reach their hillside homes on car-free streets if they didn’t want to hike up the stairs. Park somewhere near Franklin and Highland and walk uphill on Camrose Drive and turn left on Hightower Drive.
Glassell Park North
(266 steps, 3 miles)
4044 Eagle Rock Blvd
At the intersection of Eagle Rock Blvd. and W 40th Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90065
If you go to the Rite Aid on Eagle Rock Blvd. and W 40th, you’re well positioned to start a stair-walk adventure that offers up a ‘combo platter’ tour of Glassell Park (an interesting enclave which borders Atwater Village and Glendale), Echo Park and Mount Washington. These stairs can be steep and the walk is long so make sure you’re up for the challenge. But fascinating architecture, views of the San Gabriel Mountains, artful murals and lush greenery (including a grove of redwood trees) will entice you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Notes to readers:
Because many secret stairs stop and start again somewhere else, it can take some careful navigating. The 2010 bestselling climbing guide, “Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historical Staircases of Los Angeles”, offers in-depth directional tips and maps. And there’s an app for that! Check out www.secretstairs-la.com. One intrepid fan of stairs walked all 42 staircases listed in the book. Robert Guerrero chronicled his adventures at his blog Climbing LA.
Bob Inman’s self-published “A Guide to the Public Stairways of Los Angeles” is also a very handy resource.
Curious but don’t want to go it alone? Check out the Secret Stairs Meetup Group for monthly Sunday walks led by Charles “Stairmaster” Fleming himself!