The driver's annoyance was palpable. He was endeavoring to turn out of a driveway onto Wilshire Boulevard, and there was a tiny crease of opportunity in the unrelenting stream of traffic. But his bid was being foiled by the sudden presence of a rare, threatened species in Los Angeles: a pedestrian.
He waited, stewed and showed admirable restraint in not clipping the heels of the walker before finally roaring into the turn, trailing a belch of exhaust.
That's life in Los Angeles. In sharp contrast to Boston, Paris, Vancouver and countless other urban hubs, this city, primarily because of its sprawl and dearth of open space, has never been considered conducive to on-foot exploration.
But that's still the best way to get
Here are five walks to consider, whether guided or independent, on city streets or up comparatively wild hillsides. And if you don't have any guests descending on you this summer, consider these for one-day "staycations," to avert taking out a loan to buy gas for a driving trip. See Page 3 for details.
The restored, expanded and revitalized Griffith Observatory
A trail out the back of the parking lot ascends Mount Hollywood, with views of the Hollywood sign along the way and a panoramic perspective from the summit -- the entire L.A. basin, the San Fernando Valley, the San Gabriels, the Pacific Ocean (when visibility cooperates).
A fire in May 2007 scorched more than a fourth of the park, and most of the hike to the top of 1,625-foot Mount Hollywood is spent in the burn area, but the mountain is showing impressive resilience in rebounding from the blaze.
This is especially true at Captain's Roost, about two-thirds of the way to the summit, where a dozen blackened palms line up along a ridge. "The fire destroyed everything around those palm trees,"
The trail is unmarked, but turn to the left at the first major fork to reach the top of the mountain. On the way back, take the other fork to the restored garden at Dante's View.
A house without a driveway, a garage or any proximity to a road. It might be unthinkable for most Southern Californians, but there are dozens of such homes in the funky little community of Elysian Heights, just northwest of Dodger Stadium.
"They were built in the period we talk of as pre-automobile L.A.," said Jesus Sanchez as he led a walking tour on behalf of the Echo Park Historical Society.
Many of the enclaves still exist, two rows of cottages that front an outdoor staircase rather than a road or lane. Present-day residents must adapt, parking on a cul-de-sac at the top of the stairs, then carrying their groceries or lugging their major appliances home on the only available route -- those steps.
On the tour, Sanchez held forth on the colorful history of this neighborhood as he led his puffing charges up and down various stair-step "streets" -- Fargo, Avalon, Lemoyne and the big kahuna itself, Baxter, which has 231 steps as it switchbacks
Lemoyne is kind of a back alley along a row of fairy-tale dwellings, the walkway alternately made of concrete, brick or gravel, and overhung with vegetation. A resident who welcomes the tours laid out drinks and snacks on his patio and provided access to his bathroom.
He talked with amusement about FedEx deliverymen trying to find their way to his door on a "street" that turns out to be just a staircase.
"City Walks: Los Angeles" (Chronicle Books; $14.95) is a box of pocket-size cards of 50 self-guided walks in L.A. I originally tried the one on the cover, which explores Hollywood from the Capitol Records building over to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, but after passing a girlie club, several unsavory characters and some decrepit buildings, I concluded that this might not be a leisurely, pleasurable stroll for your visitors from Des Moines.
Try, instead, the recommended walk along Museum Row in mid-city up to the Farmers Market and the Grove.
There is a rich concentration of museums along a portion of Wilshire Boulevard's famed Miracle Mile: the Page (at the La Brea Tar Pits), the L.A. County Museum of Art, the Broad Contemporary, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, the Architecture and Design Museum, and the Petersen Automotive Museum.
But, this being L.A., you don't want to spend too much time indoors, and a wealth of open-air experiences can be had. The Tar Pits still gurgle forth odoriferous black goo, and you'll often find researchers working at one of the active pit excavations. Between LACMA and the Broad, meanwhile, is an outdoor sculpture garden -- of vintage, operational L.A. streetlights.
The Petersen museum is a classic example of how unaccommodating L.A. can be to people on foot. It has big, wide doors fronting Wilshire, but when you walk up to enter, signs direct you around the side of the building to the only entrance, which is off the parking structure in the rear. But what do you expect for an attraction devoted to the glorification of the car?
"City Walks" recommends a stroll up Fairfax Avenue to Third Street. There isn't much to see along the way, and your group might be the only one on foot, but a reward can be found in the heavenly scents and tasty bites of the Farmers Market food stalls. After a swing through the Grove's Disneyfied retail village, you can continue east along Third to Hauser Boulevard, then wander among the homes of Park La Brea to regain Wilshire and complete the walking loop.
Multiculturalism is no freshly minted concept in Los Angeles, said guide Michael Goldstein as he led one of the L.A. Conservancy's most popular tours, the Historic Core.
Look up at the facade on the west side of the Central Library, he urged. Carved there are the names of Socrates and Aristotle -- predictable enough, for a library. But check out those other names: Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster. Pretty inclusive stuff for a shrine to wisdom built in 1926.
The strength of the conservancy tours is that the docent guides are so well informed, and Goldstein was a fount of information as he led a large group into some of the quirky nooks of downtown.
He delved into the city's history, with all its sordid political overtones -- Mulholland and the water, for example -- and pointed up the irony of developers being required to install public art in skyscraper lobbies, only to have the buildings' owners bar the public from entering.
A stop was made at the sadly idle Angels Flight funicular, grounded seven years ago after a runaway car resulted in a rider's death. And the tour concluded in the lobby of the stunning Bradbury Building, with its lacy iron staircases and brilliantly skylit atrium.
The L.A. Conservancy offers a wealth of walking tours, tied to neighborhoods, architectural styles and other subjects.
Open space is hard to come by in the greater Los Angeles area, but the city's notoriously volatile geology accounts for a generous swath of it on the south face of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. For a change, an earthquake wasn't the culprit; rather, landslides along an unstable coastal slope wrecked more than 100 homes a half-century ago.
Rebuilding was not particularly advisable -- the land is still slipping, as you'll find if you drive over the wild undulations of Palos Verdes Drive South along the coast. This open area at Portuguese Bend is part of the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, and is bisected by a fire road and intertwined with trails.
On any weekend day, you'll share these routes with fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers, mountain bikers and even horseback riders. All come for fresh, ocean-scented breezes and spectacular views of Catalina Island -- so near it feels close enough to touch.
After parking at Del Cerro Park (at the southern terminus of Crenshaw Boulevard), drink in the views as you head down the wide dirt track that somehow got the name Burma Road Trail. There is a web of trails that can be readily explored, and this isn't a vast reserve, so there's little danger of getting lost.
Listen for the human-like cries of peacocks; they live in the wild here, though sightings are rare because of the tall weeds.
One recommended hike combines the Peacock Flats, Ailor and Eagle's Nest trails to reach a little grove of pines on a hillock. Rest here in the serenity of the grove, savoring the view of ocean and island.
Best of all: You won't have to dodge any cars.
IF YOU GO:
ECHO PARK: The Echo Park Historical Society offers its Echo Park Stairways walking tour every three months on a Saturday. The next is scheduled for July 26. The tour covers 2 1/2 miles and can guarantee some huffing and puffing, because it navigates 569 steps and involves an elevation change of 700 feet. A $5 donation is requested from non-members. Advance reservations are required, and can be secured via e-mail at the society's Web site, www.historicechopark.org. Further information: (323) 860-8874. Other offerings include tours of Echo Park Lake and Elysian Park.
GRIFFITH PARK: The most popular hike in the park is from the Griffith Observatory to the top of Mount Hollywood. The wide fire road begins at the back of the observatory parking lot, and the hike to the mountain summit is 2 1/4 miles each way. A recommended detour is to the garden that is Dante's View. Unfortunately, signs don't point the way, but at the first major intersection in the fire road, the left fork goes to Mount Hollywood, the right to Dante's View. Before setting out, stop by park headquarters at 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, between the zoo and Los Feliz Boulevard (watch for the "Park Rangers" sign). At the visitorscenter here, you can peruse old photos of the park and pick up a free, full-color trail map and brochure. www.lacity.org/rap/dos/parks/griffithpk/griffith.htm; (323) 913-4688. Note: The observatory's small parking lot and the adjacent roads can get overwhelmed with parked cars. A free shuttle bus operates from the Greek Theatre on Saturdays and Sundays.
HISTORIC CORE: The Los Angeles Conservancy conducts several exceptional walking tours. The Historic Core tour in downtown L.A., offered every Saturday at 10 a.m., lasts 2 1/2 hours and costs $10 for non-members, $5 for members and children age 12 and under. The walking is easy, with frequent stops for commentary by the guide. www.laconservancy.org; (213) 623-2489.
MUSEUM ROW: The walking loop described in the story is about four miles -- west on Wilshire Boulevard from the La Brea Tar Pits, north on Fairfax Avenue to the Farmers Market and the Grove, east on Third Street, and south on Hauser Boulevard to rejoin Wilshire. There's a reasonably priced parking lot behind the Page Museum (Curson Avenue off Wilshire): $6 Saturday, Sunday and Monday; $8 Tuesday through Friday. Museums along this stretch include: Page www.tarpits.org), L.A. County Museum of Art www.lacma.org), Broad Contemporary www.broadartfoundation.org), Petersen Automotive www.petersen.org), Craft and Folk Art www.cafam.org), Architecture and Design aplusd.org).
PALOS VERDES: To reach the Portuguese Bend Reserve on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, drive south on Crenshaw Boulevard to its terminus. There is parking at Del Cerro Park or along the road. The trail starts where the road ends. To get to the pine grove at Eagle's Nest, follow the fire road to the water tank and take the Peacock Flats Trail on the right side of the road. Turn left after regaining the fire road farther down the hill, then follow the Ailor and Eagle's Nest trails to the grove. Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy: www.pvplc.org.