A little over a year ago, a friend loaned me a book entitled Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles. When he later heard how much use my wife, Samantha, and I were getting out of it, he gifted it to us.
Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!
Last year alone, Samantha and I enjoyed many fun dates together inspired by the walks described in this book, completing no fewer than 18 (and we haven’t even covered half of them yet, there are 42 in all). It has given us a chance to further explore the city in which we live, discover many “hidden” treasures, and in some cases visit neighborhoods we hadn’t even heard of.
The author, Charles Fleming, designed the walks around the impressive number of public staircases that exist in L.A., vestiges of a long-gone era wherein the city was not so car-centric and trolleys and transit lines abounded. As Fleming writes in the book’s Introduction: “The staircase-to-trolley system was so much a part of the landscape that developers in some areas built houses that had no other access to the outside world…The trolleys and streetcars are gone, but the staircases remain.”
Though each walk features numerous staircases that provide both good exercise opportunities and a certain amount of novelty, the stairs, in the end, are really just an excuse to explore many other points of interest (and there are many!) in the areas surrounding them. Fleming makes for an enchanting and informative guide, directing your attention to things that could easily be glossed over and often giving you some backstory you never would have picked up on were you wandering around on your own.
You can follow his directions step by step, and/or veer off on your own for more in-depth explorations of whatever captures your interest. For instance, as side excursions from some of his prescribed routes, Samantha and I went for a pedal boat ride on Echo Park Lake (Walk #12), took in a planetarium show at Griffith Observatory (Walk #29), hiked around the perimeter of Lake Hollywood (Walk #34), and visited the Vedanta Society’s bookstore at their Hollywood Temple (Walk #35). We also have made a habit of trying out new (to us) breakfast places near the starting point of a number of our walks, discovering great places to eat like Camilo’s, Highland Café, Beachwood Café, and Blu Jam Cafe, to name a few.
One of the greatest gifts of this book, though, is it has helped me to notice and appreciate more deeply that which is right in front of me. In our harried and hectic day-to-day lives, especially in the big city, this seems to be something most of us (adults) rarely do, and is a practice well worth cultivating.
While I highly recommend the Secret Stairs books to both northern (Fleming also has an “East Bay” version of the book) and southern Californians, the truth is that wherever you live there are bound to be “secret stairs” in close proximity. Perhaps not literally. But you’ll know you’ve found them if they elevate you, reward you with great views, and offer new perspectives of already familiar turf. All it takes is a willingness to break out of your routine and look for (and at) things you normally don’t pay attention to, a spirit of adventure and exploration, and (perhaps) the assistance of an excellent guidebook. 🙂
You can pause the slideshow below at any time by moving the cursor into the frame and clicking on the “pause” button in between the arrow buttons at the bottom. The arrow buttons allow you to scroll through in either direction at your own pace: