Day Trekking: Stairways to Heaven

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Photo: Mike Pallotta

FRANKLIN HILLS—Above Los Feliz, cutting through the Franklin Hills, is a network of stairways leftover from a bygone era. Nearly a century ago, in the 1920s, city planners developed the steps as a way for the public to traverse the steep hills quickly and easily—creating shortcuts from the winding streets to the businesses, schools and trolley lines below.

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Photo: Mike Pallotta

Nowadays, the stairs remain as a means for locals to explore the Franklin Hills. Laid out here is a 2-hour hike up and down the stairways and through the neighborhood.

To begin, head east on Franklin Avenue over the Shakespeare Bridge towards St. George Street. Just past the bridge, tucked away on the right, is the first set of steps leading down to Sanborn Avenue. These steps, lined with wood-paneled walls, are not all that strenuous and are fairly well kept, considering some of the hidden paths you’ll get to see later.

At the bottom of the stairs, walk up the incline of Sanborn Avenue as it becomes Melbourne Avenue, then make a sharp right onto Prospect Avenue—skipping the Radio Walk stairs for now.

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Photo: Mike Pallotta

These streets give you your first glimpse of the Franklin Hills homes, which are anything but cookie cutter. From the practical to the expressionistic, you’ll see Spanish style homes next to 1920s-era bungalows just feet away from cubist-inspired houses. So, take in the colorful mix of architecture.

At the outside corner of a sharp bend on Prospect you’ll spot a “Slow Down” sign in front of the next set of stairs. Ahead of you are three stairways separated by Deloz Avenue and Hollyvista Avenue, leading up to Franklin Avenue. Each stairway is a steeper, more exerting climb than the last—so, like the cars coming around Prospect, you’ll inevitably slow down a bit. Take a moment to stop and admire the purple and blue morning glories.

Once you’ve reached the top, head north on Franklin Avenue. Along the way is a wide assortment of landscaping, including bamboo trees, apricot trees, yucca plants, cactuses and L.A.’s ubiquitous palm trees. The horticulture of each house is just as individual as the architecture.

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Photo: Mike Pallotta

At Radio Street, turn left down the Radio Walk stairs. If your legs start wobbling from all the activity, there’s a metal railing for you to lean on as you huff and puff back down to Prospect Avenue. The downward walk and shady brush are a break from the upward climb in direct sunlight from before.

Trek south on Prospect, onto Sanborn Avenue once again, until you come to Clayton Avenue. You’ll arrive at a small staircase that continues onto Sanborn, giving you a clear view of Los Feliz and Hollywood outstretched below.

Hike up the next stairway on your left, marked by a street sign for Sunset Drive. From here, you’ll walk up Sunset, and make another left onto Cumberland Avenue, most likely passing plenty of dog-walkers out for a stroll.

The long Cumberland-to-Clayton staircase is difficult to find, since it’s so thin and wedged between two large homes. The steps are also somewhat enclosed with wood fences on either side and tree branches overhead, making it feel like you’re going through a tunnel. Word of warning: be careful not to wander into someone’s backyard when looking for the staircase. There are plenty of other, smaller steps along the street leading into private property.

Clayton Avenue is one of the more confusing roads that weaves through the neighborhood, so this next stairway actually leads from one section of Clayton to another. Head northwest until you see a shallow stairway bridging a gap between houses. By this point, it should be a welcoming plateau in a long series of rises and falls.

Turn south onto Mayview Drive, where you’ll eventually find another staircase that’s fairly easy to miss. Go down the steps, which are littered with purple jacaranda flowers this time of year. This can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your opinion of jacarandas.

You’ll then come around a bend overlooking Silver Lake. This woodsy portion of the hike feels all but forgotten, considering the steps have been nearly swallowed whole by nature. Farther up, you’ll see a barbed wire fence that’s barely holding back an array of trees and thick brush.

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Photo: Mike Pallotta

After four sets of stairs, you’ll eventually escape the wilderness and stumble onto Udell Court, a small dead end street. Make a right up the incline until you see a 20-foot staircase on the left. Climb the stairs back onto Mayview Drive, where you’ll walk downhill along the cracked street towards De Longpre Avenue, then over to Hyperion Avenue.

Straight up Hyperion you’ll find the staircase, which will take you out of Silver Lake and back into the neighborhood on Lyric Avenue. At this point, feel free to either power through or take a load off at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre & Cafe for a bite and something to drink.

Either way, you’ll eventually come to an empty, dirt lot with a bus stop, just past Scotland Street. To the right of the lot are the stairs. These offer another steep gradient, working your calves pretty hard, but not much else outside of the workout.

At the top, continue up Lyric Avenue until it forks, splitting off into Claremont Avenue on the right. The last staircase, marked by a sign for Radio Walk, is carved right out of the hillside. Boulders, rich foliage, and more bright blue morning glories surround you. It’s a gorgeous end to an arduous hike.

Finally, cool down as you make your way back from Lyric, to where you started on St. George Street and Franklin Avenue.

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