Last weekend, I headed out to take a ramble up the staircases that weave through the La Loma neighborhood in western Pasadena, as outlined in Charles Fleming’s guidebook, Secret Stairs. Honestly, I had no idea that these stairs (or, for that matter, any of the stairs in this book) existed, and I was looking forward to the adventure. At first, I set to out to mimic the route as prescribed in the book, but I quickly decided to change it up, because his route begins a good distance from the start of the stairs and I was anxious to get to the steep action. The book has walkers start at the junction of Colorado Boulevard and North Figueroa Street just where Pasadena ends and Eagle Rock begins. But given that I was coming over La Loma Road from the east, and the map in the book indicated that the staircases begin before La Loma hits Figueroa, I decided to pull over on La Loma and park where it crosses Elmwood Drive.
The hand-drawn, not-to-scale map in the book makes it look as if the stairs are wide and sweep down the hillside in a channel as wide as a house lot. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth. As soon as I found the stairs (which took a few minutes of walking back and forth on Elmwood Drive), I understood why I’d never heard of them—Fleming isn’t messing around when he says these are secret. The photo to the right is what I could see of the stairs from the street, just barely peeking out from under an overgrown tree.
As soon as I began the climb, the vegetation became thinner, and I passed backyards with barking dogs and and climbing vines. Just as my legs started to protest, the stairs opened up onto Redwood Drive and began again on the other side of the street. On this street they were much easier to spot (photo at left), although I had the real sense that I was intruding on someone’s property as I made my way skyward. 99 steps later and I was admittedly puffing and looking forward to the next set, which was downhill. The book said it began on the other side of Tamarac Drive.
Only problem was that I couldn’t find the downhill stairs. The book told me they were not directly across the street from the set I’d just climbed, but I just kept walking and walking, thinking, “No, those definitely head to someone’s house, and those, and those…” Eventually I gave up and walked around the block and down to Glenullen Drive, where I could pick up the next set. Of course, on Glenullen, I saw the stairs I was looking for coming down from Tamarac (photo to the right)—there must have been a tree hiding them from above. But no matter. I found the next 99 steps heading to Cherry Drive on my left and started up.
Once I reached Cherry, my uphill work was done, and I turned right on the street as instructed and strolled down, admiring the tree-rich neighborhood of handsome houses that are generous in size but not ostentatious.
For the final leg of my journey, I wanted to create a loop that would lead me back to my car, but the book advises against it, saying that you will pass another staircase off Cherry Drive on your right but “don’t go there.” Despite this rather intimidating proclamation, this set of stairs (pictured at left) looked perfectly legitimate, so I braved them. They brought me straight back down to La Loma, where I continued on a few minutes to reach my car. In fact, Fleming isn’t actually warning people off these stairs—he just wants walkers to continue on a few more minutes on Cherry Drive to one more shorter flight and then loop back around and climb up these stairs. Though my loop was different, I thoroughly enjoyed it and had a very decent workout.
Secret Stairs is a local bestseller, and so I expected to see other walkers on my route. But on a sunny Saturday midday, the only creatures I ran into were squirrels, dogs and the occasional crow—I didn’t see a single other walker. Perhaps it’s more popular in the early mornings or evenings, or maybe it’s still a well-kept secret. If it’s the latter, it’s time to get the word out—this is a worthwhile, heart-pumping adventure in a lush, lovely neighborhood.
Be sure to check out the Secret Stairs website— you can even buy a T-shirt.
Next up: the Lacy Park stairs!