Intimidated by hardbody hikers? Try these challenging (and fun) urban stair walks

The exterior of a house with the Hollywood sign on the hill in the background and an animated sun
A view of the Hollywood sign from the Beachwood Canyon walk, one of the L.A. hidden staircase hikes recommended by this week’s guest wilder.
(Los Angeles Times illustration; photo by Jeanette Marantos / Los Angeles Times)
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Editor’s note: The Wild is all about featuring a variety of exciting voices from SoCal’s outdoors scene. We loved having veteran journalist Dakota Kim share her explorations and escapades with us. For the next several weeks, we’re featuring a series of guest writers (whom we’ve dubbed “wilders) from around The Times who are eager to share their adventures with you. Our first wilder (and the author of last week’s installment) is Times staff writer and flora-loving SoCal native Jeanette Marantos, who spends much of her outdoor time working in her garden, exploring L.A.’s many neighborhood stair walks and strolling botanic gardens.

Before we go any further, there’s something you need to know:

I am not a hardbody.

Not even a little bit. My “workouts” consist of wrestling big bags of potting soil out of my car, shoveling compost out of my pickup and yanking my midsize dogs down the street. (I say “yanking” since “walking” implies regular forward motion — their style is more a series of lateral stops and starts to roll, sniff and occasionally drop their own pungent offerings, which, yes, I always stop to pick up).

I tell you this because it feels a bit intimidating writing installments of The Wild. The creator of this newsletter, Mary Forgione, has climbed Mt. Whitney more than 20 times, for pity’s sake, and seems to have intimate knowledge of every trail in Southern California.

A hiker stands in front of a roaring waterfall with a rainbow forming in the mist
Mary Forgione, enthusiastic hiker and creator of The Wild newsletter, pauses in front of Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park.
(@maryforgionehikes on Instagram)

I, on the other hand, have climbed no mountains, and my knowledge of hiking venues is skimpy at best. In fact, there was a period a few years ago when my knee swelled so badly and painfully that I despaired of ever walking to the kitchen again, let alone climbing trails. So I worried that writing for The Wild might be seen as a kind of fraud if people ever discovered my couch-potato leanings.

And then I remembered — although I haven’t climbed a mountain, I have mastered L.A.’s toughest stairs. Not just one, but 16 such walks, involving hundreds of steep, chest-heaving, eye-dazzling steps through some of the city’s oldest and most interesting neighborhoods.

Would they have been easier if I’d been in better shape? Yes. But I did them, and despite reaching a near-liquid, oxygen-deprived state on a couple of the hottest treks, I recall them all now with hazy pleasure (very similar to how those painful memories of giving birth dissipate with your precious babe in your arms).

A steep outdoor stairway with a signpost that reads Alta Loma Terrace
Some of the steps on the 2.6-mile Hollywood Bowl and High Tower loop.
(Jeanette Marantos / Los Angeles Times)

No, seriously, these walks are great. If you’re interested, read my story, which provides step-by-step descriptions and directions you can read on your phone (and awesome drone footage of the stairs by Times photographer Myung J. Chun). But I really recommend buying the inspiration for these walks: the 2010 book by former Times staffer Charles Fleming, “Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles.”


Fleming documents 42 looping stair walks around L.A., from the up-and-down neighborhood of El Sereno to ocean breeze-buffeted Pacific Palisades, and ranked them according to difficulty. He also writes beautifully and adds lots of historical tidbits about the neighborhoods, making this a fun read even for armchair wanderers.

My story covers only the 16 most difficult walks, completed last summer and fall. I did some alone but most were with friends, which I strongly recommend, because, you know, misery (and wonder) loves company.

The view down an outdoor staircase that is lined with trees
The view looking down from the 85th step of the famous Mattachine Steps above Silver Lake, the first of some 650 steep steps along the Cove-Loma Vista Loop walk.
(Jeanette Marantos / Los Angeles Times)

One of the most memorable was the Cove/Loma Vista Loop Walk in Silver Lake, only 2 miles in distance but involving more than 650 steps, mostly going up, and a nearly vertical downhill walk on one of the city’s steepest streets — Edendale Place.

Loma Vista, it turns out, is a stair street, with houses accessible only by foot. I was so astonished by this realization — and the leafy, charmingly mysterious homes along the way — that I barely felt my heart hammering as I climbed. At the end, I was literally dripping with sweat as I slogged back to my car, hoping I wouldn’t dissolve into a puddle before reaching air conditioning.

Luckily, I had to pass Silverlake Wine to reach my car, and someone opened the door just as I walked by. Tendrils of cool called my name, so I threw shame to the wind and slunk in, hoping no one would notice my odiferous, watery state. I wandered the store in a stupor, basking in the conditioned air, until I spotted a bottle of orange wine called Gulp Hablo. It was organic, from Spain, and it glowed at me like a friendly beacon.

Surely, this was the wine of champions, and I was now a champion, having completed this stupendous walk. So I bought an icy bottle, carefully drove it home, and later that night, savored it the way all champions do, with a few ibuprofen and my feet up on the couch.

A graffiti-covered house on the left and an outdoor staircase on the right
The graffiti-covered ruins of some old buildings at the old Murphy Ranch, at the bottom of the Pacific Palisades- Giant Steps Walk, deemed the mother of all L.A. stair walks.
(Jeanette Marantos / Los Angeles Times)

The point I’m trying to make is this: You don’t have to be a hardbody to get outdoors. If you aren’t ready for a mountain trail, check out our urban stair walks. You can use them as an excuse to explore downtown L.A. or the purported Nazi ruins at Murphy Ranch, the elegant manses in the Hollywood Hills, the rickety wooden stairs in Highland Park at the end of L.A.’s purportedly steepest driveable street, or the unofficial outdoor gym of many Santa Monica hardbodies on the 4th Street Steps.

I say be inspired by those hardbodies, and, when necessary, get out of their way (particularly good advice for the 4th Street Steps on the Santa Monica Canyon-Rustic Canyon Loop walk) but don’t let them embarrass you into staying inside.

Because life is too short, my friends, and even the urban outdoors is full of wonders — one staircase at a time.

3 things to do

(First a note: Last week, The Wild mentioned professional falconer Adam Baz’s Intro to Falconry class on Sept. 17 and it apparently struck a chord because the $100 class sold out immediately. So Baz, of Hawks on Hand, is now offering a second class from 9 to 11 a.m. Oct. 22 at Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in the Montecito Heights neighborhood. If you’re interested in this close-up look at birds of prey, you’d better act fast. )

Monarch butterflies gather on the leaves of a tree
Learn about the monarch butterfly habitat while enjoying a beautiful nature trail in Huntington Beach on Monarch Nature Trail Volunteer Day, Sept. 2.
(Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times)

1. Pitch in on Monarch Nature Trail Volunteer Day, Sept. 2. This is a big win-win for people who want to enjoy a beautiful nature trail in Huntington Beach while learning about and helping to improve the monarch butterfly habitat by weeding, mulching, collecting seeds and watering young native plants.

This is a the more, the merrier-type of event that doesn’t require pre-registration. It’s sponsored by the UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County from 9 to 11 a.m., and there are tasks for people of all ages, including activities for children. So bring the kids, plenty of drinking water and be sure everyone is wearing closed-toe shoes and sun protection (as in sunscreen and hats). Note: There are no restrooms available on site.

People cluster on a trail next to a green hillside
A group of volunteers gather for a community climate action day. The first such event in Riverside is scheduled for Sept. 23.
(California Volunteers / Office of the Governor)

2. Sign up for a community climate action day, which is returning to cities throughout the state this fall. This annual project is promoted by California Volunteers and the California Climate Action Corps, an AmeriCorps program that pays “fellows” 18 and older a stipend for 11 months to work on community projects that improve the environment. (Applications to join the fellowship are available now).

It’s up to local communities to set a date and project for community climate action days. Los Angeles’ project isn’t coming until Nov. 11, but Riverside, in partnership with TreePeople and Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, is looking for volunteers on Sept. 23, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., to help establish a native plant habitat at Martha McLean-Anza Narrows Park. The work will involve removal of invasive species, planting native species and trees and cleaning up along the Santa Ana River, which borders the northwestern edge of the park. Volunteers will get a free lunch. For other opportunities this fall, keep checking the California Climate Action Days website.

An aerial view of a bridge being built over a  freeway
An aerial view of the under-construction Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing on May 23. Although Although wildlife won’t be able to use the crossing until 2025, docent-led tours of the northern and southern sides of the project are in high demand.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

3. Take a walk on the wild side at the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing. The crossing, which will span the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills, is under construction and not scheduled for completion until late 2025, but the Cougar Conservancy’s free guided tours on its southern and northern sides are in big demand. There are only a few slots left, so book sooner rather than later.

If you’re wondering how a cast of hundreds, including scientists, landscape architects, native plant experts, soil scientists, water experts, biologists and engineers are working together to create a convincing corridor for wildlife over one of California’s busiest freeways, this is your chance to learn more. The project is fascinating and well worth the visit.

The must-read

A boardwalk with a railing on one side extends over a river and marshy area
The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach is one of the eight spots on Laura Newberry’s recently published list of hiking trails accessible to everyone, from wheelchair users to kids in strollers.
(Laura Newberry / Los Angeles Times)

Times staff writer Laura Newberry really emphasizes my point about getting outside with her useful list of L.A. trails that are accessible to everyone, from wheelchair users to kids in strollers.

The thing is, most walkers don’t realize how hard it can be for people on wheels to navigate trails, even when the paths seem flat and friendly.

I will never forget watching a determined mother push a two-baby stroller up a steep, rocky path at the Ventura Botanical Gardens, with two large, on-leash dogs tethered to one arm and a huge backpack dangling from her other shoulder. I had to admire her tenacity, but that grueling walk couldn’t have been much fun.

There was a time too when I pushed my father in a wheelchair down the pedestrian trail along Riverside’s beautiful and historic Victoria Avenue. I wanted to give him a fresh perspective, broader and less arduous than our hilly neighborhood, but I soon realized that the path was not meant for people sitting in rolling chairs.


The first challenge was finding a place to park so we could safely get my father into the chair. The second issue was pushing him along a narrow hard-pack stretch of dirt to get him on the trail, which took some uncomfortable maneuvering. Once we finally made it to the trail, I kept hitting bits of gravel and small debris that caused his chair to bump and shake. I wouldn’t have noticed them as a walker, but I could tell from his gritted teeth every time I dodged fallen palm fronds and small holes in the trail that he was having a less than wonderful time.

I was trying to decide what to do when I suddenly heard a thundering thump behind me as a giant palm frond dropped a few feet from where we’d just been. Luckily, my father’s hearing wasn’t so great, so he didn’t realize our near miss, but at that point, I felt the best course was to turn around and go get ice cream, to which he happily agreed.

A short bridge with railings on both sides on an outdoor trail
Part of the .5-mile, wheelchair-accessible path at Placerita Canyon Nature Center in Santa Clarita.
(Laura Newberry / Los Angeles Times)

Laura’s story lists eight truly accessible trails. It could have been at least 12, but four of the others that were recommended to her turned out to be too bumpy or steep or narrow to merit inclusion on the list.

Trails that can be enjoyed by the widest range of abilities do have a few things in common, Newberry notes, using tips from Ed Price, founder of the Trail Access Project in Nevada.

“They’re either paved or made from firm ground that wheelchairs can traverse safely; they’re at least three feet wide; and they have a low-grade, meaning they’re relatively flat,” Newberry writes. “They should also have accessible parking spots nearby. Resting areas and handrails are a plus.”


Bottom line: We need more trails that are truly accessible to people who can’t move without wheels, “because everyone should be able to enjoy the outdoors,” Newberry writes.

If you have a favorite accessible trail not listed in that story, let us know so we can share the wealth in a future updated guide. Email your suggestions to with the subject line: Accessible trail suggestion.

Happy adventuring,

Signature for Jeanette Marantos


An aerial view of Los Angeles with the back of the Hollywood sign in the foreground
A view of Los Angeles from behind the Hollywood sign.
(Hollywood Sign Trust and RD Willis)

Writing this week’s column really stirred some fond memories of two of my favorite stair walks in the Hollywood Hills: the Hollywood Bowl and High Tower Loop and the Beachwood Canyon Walk.

So I was pretty finely tuned to Hollywood vibes when I ran across this lovely opinion piece written by Linda Deutsch, a longtime special correspondent for the Associated Press and a resident of the Hollywood Hills: “A Serendipitous Encounter That Could Only Happen in Hollywood.”


In it, she tells the story of a chance encounter with a lovely young Ukrainian woman who was walking up her street, looking for the Hollywood sign before she left for her new temporary home in Spokane, Wash. The woman was a medical student, nearly done with her studies, when the Russian invasion of Ukraine forced her to leave. She was no dewy-eyed starlet wannabe, but she still wanted to see the place that once felt like a fairy tale.

The story Deutsch tells unfolds like a beautiful script, both heartbreaking and inspiring. When the young woman named Maria finally sees the Hollywood sign, she gasped, Deutsch writes. “Then she said something I will always remember. ‘People here may think these are just letters on a hill. But to us, this is our dream.’”

If you have time for nothing else today, take a moment to read this short but beautifully crafted tale. I can’t stop thinking about it, or my envy for how Deutsch deftly adds a pointed message to the industry at the very end.

I don’t want to give anything away, but the woman can write, I tell you, and I’m the better for having read her words.

Oh, and if you have your own visitors dying to see something more of Hollywood than the boulevard, take them on one or both of the Hollywood Hills stair walks above. I guarantee it will win you star host status.

For more insider tips on Southern California’s beaches, trails and parks, check out past editions of The Wild. And to view this newsletter in your browser, click here.