Southwest Museum / Eldred stairs

Southwest Museum / Eldred stairs (Tia Lai / Los Angeles Times / April 27, 2012)

SOUTHWEST MUSEUM / ELDRED STAIRS

You don't have to fight the crowds in Santa Monica Canyon to get a great stairway workout. You can hike the historic wooden Eldred stairs in Highland Park and get great city and mountain views in the bargain.

Duration: One hour

Distance: 2.6 miles

Difficulty: 3 on a 1-5 scale

Transportation: Gold Line, Southwest Museum Station; Metro bus No. 81

1. Start from Figueroa Street and Woodside Drive. Climb the stairs to the elevated sidewalk, and pass Casa de Adobe and some fine Craftsman homes.

2. Across Figueroa, note the Hiner-Sousa Bandshell. Farther up, at the corner of Sycamore Terrace, stop at the Hiner House and Sousa Nook, the home and rehearsal space Dr. Edward Hiner built in 1922 for himself and his friend, marching band composer John Philip Sousa.

3. This stretch of Sycamore Terrace used to be known as "Professors Row," a moniker dating from before 1914, when Occidental College left Highland Park and went to Eagle Rock. About half the homes on this block have Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument status. Turn left on Ave. 50 and walk about five blocks.

4. Climb a steep (really steep!) stretch of Eldred Street, and then find the Eldred Stairs, just beyond a sign that warns of "loose dogs" and "big horn sheep." The stairs are among the city's oldest and longest, containing 196 wooden steps fitted with a sturdy wooden handrail.

5. At the top, turn left and admire the fine views — the San Gabriel Mountains out to Mt. Baldy and Big Bear, on clear days.

6. Great views here too of the Southwest Museum, Ernest E. Debs Regional Park and the downtown LA skyline.

7. The sepulchral doorway tucked into the mountainside is actually the entrance to a 200-foot-long tunnel that connects to an elevator rising to the museum itself. Alas, it's closed to the general public.

Charles Fleming is the author of Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles and Secret Stairs East Bay: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Berkeley and Oakland.

charles.fleming@latimes.com