Get Out of Town!
In 2020, Take the Stairs
January, 2020 - Issue #184

Whether it is your New Year's resolution to work out more, get outside more, or get out of town, this one is for you. It checks all the boxes, and adds in a little history, too.

When Los Angeles was under development in the early 20th century, it was actually well-served by public transit. So much so that new home builders added staircases in hilly neighborhoods to make trolleys, streetcars and buses easily accessible to residents.

While freeways would eventually eclipse that transit network, the concrete stairs endure and they are waiting to be explored - if you know where to look.

Start by grabbing a copy of Charles Fleming's, "Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles." It's the definitive volume on finding these hidden pathways that are scattered from Pasadena to Pacific Palisades. A handful of walks are also posted on his website,, but I recommend buying the book to inspire further adventures.

If New Year's Day delivers its trademark Rose Bowl weather - clear blue skies and balmy temperatures - then work on keeping your resolutions with an oceanside walk. The Pacific Palisades trip covers 3.2 miles in about an hour and 15 minutes, depending on where you start.

The guidebook recommends parking at Gladstone's, the landmark restaurant on the beach where Sunset Boulevard meets Pacific Coast Highway. But we found free parking a little further north on PCH, just past the pedestrian bridge that spans the roadway.

After using the bridge to cross PCH, we found ourselves in the midst of a hillside residential neighborhood on Castellammarre. Continuing uphill, we found the first hidden staircase, a steep affair of 69 steps that leads to Posetano Road. The next set, two flights of stairs bordered by red handrails and littered with sycamore leaves, takes you back down to Castellammarre. The ocean, visible now and then through gaps in the vegetation, crashed onto the beach hidden below. Oddly, the surf was louder than the traffic on nearby PCH.

The path laid out in the guidebook winds through the neighborhood, where houses range from ordinary to opulent - none more extravagant than Villa de Leon. Built in the mid-1920s for wool tycoon Leon Kauffman, the 12,000-square-foot house is often mistaken for its more famous neighbor, the nearby Getty Villa. Chances are you've seen Villa de Leon, even the inside. It has been used in photo shoots with Brittney Spears, Lady Gaga, Robert Downey Jr. and even hosted a Rod Stewart Christmas special. It's worth the extra steps to see the villa's stately exterior and take in the ocean view from the top of the driveway.

Don't be surprised if you work up an appetite hiking the Palisades streets and stairways. It's a workout that will earn you the opportunity to treat yourself to something tasty. And maybe healthy, too.

For some guilt-free goodness, head north on PCH toward the Malibu Pier. There, you'll find Malibu Farm and its farm-to-fork oceanfront dining. The full-service restaurant at the start of the pier features a full bar and specialty cocktails, while the cafe at the end of the pier offers counter service.

We settled under an umbrella at the restaurant, which allowed us to enjoy the view, the breeze and the parade of humanity promenading along the pier.

We were mostly healthy with our order, choosing the Earth Salad, which combines roasted beets, lentils, shaved kohlrabi and goat cheese vinaigrette on a bed of mixed greens. We indulged a bit, selecting the Malibu Blue Nachos. The chips were indeed blue and topped with black beans, cheese, sour cream and a zesty chipotle salsa.

Is 2020 going to be a good year? That's up to you. Resolve to start it right with a day on the coast paired with a heart-pumping walk and a delicious meal.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic.

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