The Big Parade, now in its fourth year, returns this weekend. It's an urban hike that's not just about exercise (although you'll get plenty of it), but about seeing Los Angeles -- its past and present -- while meeting and walking with your neighbors. It's also one of the coolest experiences, up there with CicLAvia, that you can have in this city.
At 35 miles between downtown and the Hollywood Sign over two days (through Chinatown, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Franklin Hills, Los Feliz, and the Hollywood Hills), the walk is not in a straight line, but zig-zags and circles around neighborhoods in order to walk up and down over 100 public "secret stairs" that once served residents in a period of time when the city was better served by public transportation (if you haven't seen our web episode about them, watch it here).
Before the prospect of a two-day commitment and all those miles scare you off, let me just say that I've never personally done the whole thing, each year joining for an afternoon and easily making an exit close to where I started. That's part of the genius of organizer Dan Koeppel who has designed loops within the longer hike. There are five in total: four on Saturday, one on Sunday; here's the rundown:
- Saturday's first loop begins with the first step of the whole parade -- 8 a.m. at Angel's Flight -- and lasts two miles and one hour.
- For the larger downtown loop, add another hour and a half and you'll end up at the Chinatown Metro Gold Line station where you can easily ride the Gold and Red lines back Angel's Flight at the Red Line Pershing Square station.
- Later on at 2 p.m. is the five-mile main loop in Echo Park that covers 20 staircases in about two and a half hour's time (this year the Echo Park Art Walk will be taking place at the same time so you'll see that, too). This loop will take you to L.A.'s longest stairway and gives you a chance to visit some local art landmarks, "including," according to Koeppel's step-by-step guide, "the former cabin residences of pioneering Echo Park artists Paul Landacre and Edward Middleton Manigault, who literally died to preserve the purity of his work."
- Later at 6 p.m. is the two-mile Angelino Heights loop, a chance to walk among the beautiful victorian homes on Carroll Street.
- Sunday's five-mile main loop begins at 9 a.m. outside La Mill Coffee in Silver Lake. It will take about three and a half hours and includes a tour of area architecture and history.
And whether or not you're on a loop, The Big Parade is not hustle and bustle ("No whip-cracking," says Koeppel, even if I find myself with a good sweat every year). There are breaks with experts who join in like L.A. River blogger and CicLAvia organizer Joe Linton at the river part; Diane Edwardson of Corralitas Red Car Property who explain the Silver Lake property she knows so well; and Mike Eberts, author of "Griffith Park: A Centennial History," who, of course, will join Sunday evening at the park he's so well versed in. And then there is entertainment like a solo performance by Steve Moramarco of the "Soul Punk Swing" band The Abe Lincoln Story and the screening (pending city approval at this time) of Laurel & Hardy's "The Music Box" at a park.
There's a lot packed into the two days that make up The Big Parade (not to mention the Prologue walk on Friday!), but there's no need to be overwhelmed. Koeppel has PDFs explaining how to join, times and locations for both Saturday and Sunday, and a detailed public transit guide to help join or leave the event. And if you have a question, Koeppel is generally available to answer questions on the event's Facebook channels (while Twitter is especially useful for live updates during the walk).
For however long or short you can join, I cannot overstate how amazing The Big Parade experience can be. Casey Schreiner of Modern Hiker joined last year and left with these feelings:
Over the past few weeks, I have been falling in love with Los Angeles again, and falling hard. I definitely credit the Big Parade L.A. with jump-starting that relationship. I saw so much of the city I never knew existed, met a ton of great people, and learned a lot about our seemingly non-existant history - and I only did half of the route!
I know most of us think of hiking as a way to leave the grind of city life and recharge with nature, but every once in a while an urban hike like this can remind you why you came to live in this city in the first place.
I couldn't say it better.