Someone asked me the other day “Tally, where do you find all these cool hiking spots?”
Short answer: Google (“Hiking Spots in LA”), but I occasionally get recommendations from friends and Uber/Lyft passengers, one of which recommended the Culver City Stairs, located just outside of downtown Culver City.
“It’s a lengthy outdoor staircase with steps between one and three feet in height. It’s a pretty challenging workout, but the views over Culver City are amazing.”
It was a simple, but convincing pitch, and I immediately made it a priority to check out this hike within the Baldwin Hills Overlook:
- Distance: About a mile
- Overlook Elevation Gain: 400 feet
- Staircase Elevation Gain: 715 feet
I prefer short and strenuous hikes over long and easy ones, so choosing this stairmaster-of-hell that made my legs burn into oblivion was a no-brainer for me.
Before the Stairs
There are two ways to start this hike:
1. You can park on the street (it’s off of a very busy intersection) and start hiking up the cemented pavement to the very top of the hill.
2. Be semi-lazy and drive past all those hikers on the same cemented pavement to the top of the hill, where parking is more accessible at a meager $2.00/hour fee.
I, of course, choose the latter, determined to accomplish the entire hike in 1 hour because I’m cheap.
Beyond the pay stations lies the first trail, which leads up to a beautiful glass building of some sorts (I later find out this is a visitor center).
Restrooms to the left, about 200 feet from the base of the parking lot (do you know how rare it is for a hiking trail to have “nice-looking” public restrooms?!)
I could tell right away that the upkeep of this particular hiking spot was second to none compared to most trails that I’ve been on (I didn’t see one beer bottle or ounce of trash).
A “mini” staircase that leads to a small garden.
View of the Visitor Center behind me.
The trail from the small garden loops up to your first scenic view of Culver City (you can either drive or hike up the pavement in the photo, as I mentioned earlier).
I always silently chuckle when I see a single chair or bench on a trail, especially if the particular trail doesn’t pose much of a challenge.
You can get a sense of how close this trail is to the city, which reminded me a lot of Runyon Canyon in LA.
The trail forks off and loops to a rounded-area, (my English skills are coming through guys) showcasing some “negative-space” artwork of animals and plants.
The start of another trail, just behind this “rounded-area,” which descends slightly into the abyss below.
About 300 feet later, you’ll reach a “playground” of some sorts (and by playground, I mean a lengthy set of monkey bars to your left).
I continue the trail around to the left to reach a radio tower of some sorts (which kind of reminds me of the ones in Wildwood Canyon).
A sign depicting a synopsis of the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook.
I fork left to loop back around to the Visitor Center (I like to cover a hiking trail in its entirety).
Once I make my way back toward the Visitor Center, I figure it’s high-time to head toward the infamous Culver City Stairs.
But not before I make a quick stop to a gigantic banana-shaped metal contraption!
The Metal Banana
This tasteful piece of architecture is located about three-quarters up on the paved road that I drove on, so I had to descend a few hundred feet on another forked trail from the Visitor Center.
I always admire the determination in keeping a trail “closed” with a simple, yet effective wooden stick.
After a few easy switchbacks, you’ll hit a sign: Hetzler Road (the paved road) to your left, with the Scenic Overlook Trail to your right.
The banana is off of Hetzler Road, so head that way for some mild amusement.
A jungle-gym in the shape of a fruit. My life goals are officially complete.
This would make for a fantastic hammock.
The view from the metal banana.
You can either continue down Hetzler Road for a downhill hike or continue back up toward the stairs (and we’re here for the stairs people)!
To the stairs we go!
A pano-shot of the trail from the metal banana, overlooking Culver City and the mountain range beyond.
Now here’s where things get interesting:
This part of the trail loops through the Stairs, hitting different “levels.” You could theoretically ascend up the stairs once you reach the first level, but I would recommend you continue on the current trail to descend down to the base of the staircase.
The first “level” of the staircase.
Another “level” of the staircase as I descend further down the trail head.
The trail is fairly easy and consists of a few switchbacks and mild elevation loss, which is perfect for beginner hikers.
A quick off-trail that leads to…nowhere.
Some pretty cool graffiti on this off-trail (check out my post on Sunken City: The Lost Ruins of San Pedro for some epic graffiti artwork).
I quickly turn back around to the main trail head, which leads down to the initial streets of Culver City (the busy intersection I mentioned in the beginning).
The start of the trail head up the paved road.
Like I said before, I like to cover a hiking spot in its entirety, so I decided to hike up the paved road to see what that’s like before (finally) tackling the staircase.
The paved road is pretty strenuous but doable for even a beginner hiker.
A few hundred feet later, you’ll reach another Baldwin Hills sign (just in case you forgot where you were).
I pass by the metal banana once more and loop back down to the base of the staircase, ready to tackle the gem of this hiking trail.
The Culver City Stairs
It doesn’t look so bad from afar, but trust me when I say this was an a**kicker.
Let hell commence.
About a quarter of the way up. So far, it’s not too bad. The steps aren’t too high (no higher than a foot) and I’m moving along pretty swiftly.
One of the “levels” I mentioned earlier regarding this staircase, which is essentially a large gap or “checkpoint” between various parts of the stairs. (This is also connected to the main trail head).
About halfway up; I notice some hikers opt to walk up the hill instead of the steps themselves.
This is where the tricky part began, where the steps decide to increase in height by about 1-2 feet (and being a whopping 5’4, I had to slow down and leverage my tiny little leg muscles to haul over each step).
The last leg of the staircase, where the steps go back down to normal (about 6 inches).
The view from the top of the staircase (the feeling of conquering a tough climb never gets old).
I make my way back to the Visitor Center and towards my car where I collapse from sheer exhaustion (a slight exaggeration).
Total Time Spent:
- Hiking: 1 hour
- Climbing the stairs: 7 minutes (the record for hiking the staircase is supposedly just over 2 minutes)
What I liked the most about the Culver City Stairs hike was how difficult the staircase became. The steps not only changed in height but also became more uneven and rigid to provide an even greater challenge. It starts off fairly easy but quickly slaps you in the face with a 180° turn in difficulty.
I also appreciate how this outdoor staircase is in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Culver City, surrounded by well-kept grounds and easy trails that don’t really become too steep (aside from the Heztler/paved road).
The fact that there are also public restrooms and ample parking (albeit a $2.00/hour fee) at the top of the hill also earns this hike some brownie points.
However, if you’re not a fan of people in general, stay far away because this place is about as touristy as Runyon Canyon and Griffith Park.