In a country full of elevators, escalators, and moving walkways, Angelenos climb and run our stairways for fun.
Although originally built as necessary access points (generally on hilly terrain too steep for cars), now these antiquated thoroughfares have become a unique kind of celebrity.
Some of them even have their own Yelp pages.
You’ve got to admit: it's certainly an industrious way to get exercise. They say that climbing up stairs, even at a slow pace, will burn twice the calories as walking briskly on a flat surface. It’s also 50 percent harder than walking up a big hill.
Besides, this is a free workout that provides shade, a paved path, and a heart-pounding challenge that can burn about 150 calories in 15 minutes. At this time of year, that’s enough to burn off a serving of green bean casserole or a cup of mashed potatoes. And just a half hour of stair-trekking can erase the guilt of eating a small slice of pumpkin pie.
So if you forgot to train for your local Turkey Trot this year, here are six great places to take the stairs after your Thanksgiving dinner.
1. Hollywoodland Historic Stairs, Beachwood Canyon
There's something mysterious and confusing about those hills in Hollywood’s Beachwood Canyon, whose streets look like driveways and aren't always marked and whose house numbers don't seem to go in chronological order. But it’s worth getting a little bit lost there, if you can manage to find the historic granite staircases of Old Hollywoodland (including the Saroyan Stairs, built in 1923). There are those that are out in the open, easy enough to find; but others are a bit more enshrouded by overgrowth, wedged next to private properties. It can feel a bit like you’re trespassing, but you’ll know you’re on the right path by the unmistakable pattern of those granite stairs. Like many of the secret stairs of L.A., some of these go straight up, with little to no breaks, while others offer the reprieve of plenty of landings. As you climb up and down, you’re cutting through the Hollywood Hills, which most people circumvent by car. And you’re being led both everywhere and nowhere, all at once.
2. Murphy Ranch, Pacific Palisades
The parkland surrounding Murphy Ranch (the storied Nazi sympathizer compound and former artist colony) is a labyrinth of stairs, some of which lead to nowhere and others that all pretty much go to the same place. There's one huge public staircase that most people know leads down to Murphy Ranch -- though it's not terribly easy to find either from the top or the bottom -- but it's not the only one that you can descend from Sullivan Fire Road down to Murphy Ranch and the other ruins of Rustic Canyon. But most people have never explored the other stairs, the ones that require some bouldering and crab-walking just to drop down on them, as well as fairly steady footing to make your way across wooden blocks that barely count as stairs. Even more stairs weave their way through the canyon, more worn, eroded, consumed by and submerged into the canyon soil. If you’re afraid of getting lost, you can be sure that if the stairs are going down into the canyon, you'll get to the rusted, graffitied ruins and Rustic Creek -- and if they're going up, you’re headed back home.
3. Santa Monica Stairs, Santa Monica
“Santa Monica Stairs” is technically just two different sets of concrete and wooden stairs, including one off Amalfi and Entrada and one off 4th and Adelaide. (You can see both of these indicated by dashed lines on Google Maps.) And boy, are they popular. These days, they’re so crowded that they’re better for celebrity-spotting than actually getting a conditioning workout -- but fortunately, Santa Monica has got more stairs to offer than that. There’s a little spur staircase off the 4th Street one that leads to an overgrown sidewalk path behind the residences in the trees, as well as a “secret” (read: less crowded) staircase that takes you from the upper juncture of Upper Mesa Road and Amalfi Drive to Sumac Lane down below. Or, climb down the Palisades Park stairs amongst the bluffs, cross the Pacific Coast Highway on one of the bridges, and sidle up to a swingset on the beach, encircled by the seagulls one last time before the sun disappears behind the horizon.
4. Echo Park & Silver Lake
It is in these two areas of L.A. that you can find a particularly dense distribution of public staircases -- and ones that are so steep, so challenging, and so historic that they’ve achieved landmark status. After all, these neighborhoods are the land of many hills -- roads whose only outlets are, in fact, sets of stairs leading up or down to cut over to another winding street above or below. Here, you can trace the steps of long-gone commuters, who once needed to climb down to the streetcar and back up to their homes -- some of which appear to be teetering on the edge of the world. There are “The Music Box Steps” made famous by Laurel & Hardy (a.k.a. the Descanso Stairs), the monumental Baxter Steps behind Elysian Park, the colorful Micheltorena Stairs across from Micheltorena Elementary School on Sunset, and the concrete steps on Cove Avenue devoted to Harry Hay and the founding of his gay rights organization, Mattachine Society, in 1950. While Silver Lake in particular has embraced its public stairways (and has used them as a canvas for public art), occasionally you’ll find one with the gate shut and padlocked.
5. Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, Culver City
Did you know that Southern California has its own version of Machu Picchu, right here in Culver City? It’s the stairs that lead to the peak of the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, a California State Park that offers amazing views of L.A. to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Sure, you could drive to the top and park (for a small fee). You could even take the “long” way by traipsing up the fire road that winds around the hill. But you might as well just take the stairs, like so many locals do from the early morning hours till well past nightfall. At the bottom, the stairs are liberally spaced out and rise up higher than you might expect, though they become a bit more manageable as you trek upwards. Stairclimbers here range from slow novices to expert runners, so be prepared to step aside – or walk around someone else who’s taking a much-needed break. Make a pit stop at the top, and then go back down the way you came (or on the fire road). Going up and down once takes about an hour or so (give or take), which is why some people repeat their ascent and descent a couple of times. If it’s your first time, once should be enough.
6. Runyon Canyon Park, Hollywood
People say that there are two ways to hike Runyon Canyon: the hard way and the easy way. To take the supposed "hard way," turn right at the fork, and soon enough you meet a sign that warns of such steep slopes, you must be in good physical condition to take them. It's a scramble all right, though really dedicated athletes sometimes run up the slope. To go the so-called "easy way," turn left at the fork and climb steadily up the paved fire road and continue on the loop towards the right. If you ask me, going down those eroded, makeshift stairs is much harder than going up them. If you make that mistake -- and you feel vertigo kicking in and panic ensues -- all you can do is tiptoe across the wood planks and down the uneven terrain, sliding along the gravel. You might feel top-heavy, weak-ankled, and, at times, paralyzed. But just pretend to take a breather by taking in the view, when what you’re really doing is taking inventory of your bravery. You’ll be rewarded with sore quads and wobbly legs -- or you can just stick with climbing upwards, tackling the steep ascents and taking the more gentle slopes back home.