Music Box Steps: Best Urban Hike in L.A.

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Everyone’s favorite gripe about L.A. is that no one walks here. It’s not without validation — I once walked from my office in mid-Wilshire to the Trader Joe’s on La Brea without passing a soul on the sidewalk. People driving by stared at me carrying my canvas bags as if I were a homeless tourist attraction.

But there are pockets of the city that are perfect for a hardy stroll, and Silverlake is one of them. I’m not sure why it took me 13 years of L.A. residency to do the Music Box Steps hike, but it should be on every Angeleno’s bucket list. I followed the Music Box loop from Charles Fleming’s excellent Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles. It covers 2.5 miles and combines a good cardio workout with a self-guided film history and architecture tour. It made me never want to go to the gym again.

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The Music Box steps got their name from the 1932 Laurel & Hardy short film. Stan and Oliver had to deliver a piano to the top of a flight of outdoor stairs; comic bumbling ensues. The barren hillside in the film is now surrounded buildings and, as Fleming rightly points out, disappointingly ill-maintained given its landmark status. But it still provides a rush for most film buffs, as does the shady triangular pocket park across the street, named for the duo. Besides this slice of movie history, the walk is also studded with views of downtown L.A., all kinds of flora and fauna, and a fascinating mix of homes featuring Moorish minarets, tiled fountains, and thoughtful displays of sun dials and garden gnomes.

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This hike starts and ends at Café Tropical, a little neighborhood hub known for its café con leche and Cuban sandwiches. Parking is reasonably easy to find on surface streets around here. A couple of tips: strollers won’t work, period, and there is very little shade. Go early in the morning in summer, or wait for a cooler overcast day if you must go in the afternoon. It’s probably best to avoid nighttime altogether.

Squrrl

Turn this into a real L.A. outing and head over to Sqrl café on an edgy corner of Melrose, a 15-minute walk from Café Tropical via Marathon St. I had the burnt brioche with house ricotta and blueberry-rhubarb jam while jazz and an unfathomable number of trendsetting hipsters kept the place buzzing. The hike, combined with the exquisitely good breakfast, was one of those only-in-L.A. experiences that I won’t soon forget.

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