road into Aubrac, France
Road into Aubrac, Chemin du Puy, France, 2009.

Training ~ The Los Angeles Stair Streets

100’s of Great California Walks

When I moved to Silver Lake (Los Angeles) a few years ago, and began prepping for my 2005 walk, I stumbled upon a few of the “stair streets” in the neighborhood. The most famous one is now called the Music Box steps, in honor of the classic, Oscar-winning, Laurel and Hardy film of the same name. (That’s the one where they’re trying to deliver a piano up a very, very long stairway).

Little did I know at the time what I had wandered into. A couple of years later, I discovered the work of Dan Koeppel, another local resident who was intrigued by the stair streets. He went about cataloging them and then designed a single walking route that runs up or down most of them. My favorite comment from his downloadable instruction sheet, describing a view along the way is, “Minaret House, up and right. You’ll be there in five hours.” (That’s training!)

Following his notes, I found more and more of the stairs. Friends told me about the Franklin Hills stairs, described on a free map available here. More recently, a new book appeared, as described by Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times. Always looking for interesting new ways to train, I picked up a copy.

Secret Stairs, is a terrific volume containing 42 fully described walks, with maps. They cover nearly every public stair street in Los Angeles, and even Santa Monica. Additionally, there is plenty of interesting commentary about the neighborhoods, architectural gems, views, and other highlights of each walk. It’s a great little book. I’ve already learned things I never knew about my neighborhood, and found a few more stairs only blocks from my home. Highly recommended.

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Erin Mahoney Harris is another inveterate LA walker and the author of Walking L. A. – Stairways, Streets and Buildings You Never Knew Existed, now in its 2nd edition. She maps out different itineraries both in the same neighborhoods, as well as in others, such as nearby Glendale, and port city San Pedro. It’s another great addition to an L. A. walker’s library, with many fresh facts and photos that augment the detailed maps. 38 leg-burning, heart quickening itineraries. Highly recommended.

Another classic on the L. A. Stairs is the now rare Stairway Walks in Los Angeles by Adah Bakalinsky (& Larry Gordon). Still considered a primary source on the history of these pedestrian pathways, the book highlights 18 more walks through what makes Los Angeles such a cool and diverse town. Also check out Adah Bakalinsky’s Stairway Walks in San Francisco, another hard-to-find favorite of our friends up north in the “other” California.

One final book on this increasingly popular subject is the self-published GUIDE TO THE PUBLIC STAIRWAYS OF LOS ANGELES, by Bob Inman, which includes descriptions, maps and photographs of over 60 additional walks. I’m telling you, finish a fraction of these in the days leading up to a long-distance walk on the Camino de Santiago, and you’ll be more than ready for the PyrenĂ©es, and beyond. And as if those aren’t enough to make you suck your canteen dry – just keep walking, baby…

Another interesting guide through the paths of Shangri-L.A. is Los Angeles: 50 Adventures on Foot, by Los Angeles native Eric Hiss. This is a particularly nice one for residents in other parts of town, and for those who need a little warm-up to the hills. Some of the 50 walks in this compact volume are on flat terrain, like the Venice Boardwalk, but you can work your way up to the trails of Griffith Park. Another fun, open-air, gym-free way to dig LA.

If you’re ready to broaden your local horizons, check out Day Hikes Around Los Angeles, which describes a wide ranging selection of hikes, for all experience and fitness levels, within a 50-mile range of Los Angeles. This book is an essential guide to 82 trails through the great metropolitan outdoors, packed with detailed information about getting to the trailhead, maps, and highlights along the way. Now somewhat hard to get, grab one if you can find it. Recommended.

Another good guide to roaming your way to readiness for a Grande RandonnĂ©e (or whatever fitness goal you have), is Afoot & Afield in Los Angeles County. It covers a couple of hundred walks within an hour of Los Angeles, from the ocean’s edge to the San Gabriel range. Many of them are shorter trails, so it’s a good one for the glove box – the hikes are all grouped by region, so if you find yourself in a new part of town, you’ll be able to find the nearest leg-stretcher.

One of my favorites is the old standby Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels. I’ve walked through several editions of this book, and always enjoy returning to it and the trails within. One great feature is the map that comes with it, which shows all of the routes on a single leaf. There are trails for every level, from short to long, with good driving directions, and route descriptions. Essential, and well worth the price, even if you’re just visiting the city of angels. Highly Recommended.

Casting an even wider net is 101 Hikes in Southern California, which includes some of the best walking routes in Southern California, including some overnighters. From easy jaunts to strenuous climbs, from coast to high desert and inland mountains, from Ventura to San Bernardino. Nice!

Now, let’s snug up our laces and go!

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