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The Status Report

Walk This Way

Careful where you stroll--a path can now brand you as declasse or cool

January 06, 2008|Steffie Nelson | Steffie Nelson is a writer based in Echo Park. She has written for the New York Times, Variety and Monocle. Contact her at magazine@latimes.com.

"Do you walk?" a woman was overheard asking guests at a recent cocktail party in Silver Lake.

In any other city, this question would seem absurd. Well, of course people walk. But in L.A.--where strolling to the coffee shop or corner grocery is an alien concept to many residents--walking has taken on an entirely new meaning, one with cultural subtexts and social repercussions. It's fun. It's fitness. It's yet another way to profess devotion to the environment --although most Angelenos would think nothing of hopping in the car to get to a better walking spot where they could take in prettier scenery and, more important, be seen. It's no wonder that in this city (ranked the 61st most walkable in the nation by Prevention magazine), where you walk is now as telling as what you drive.

"Walking is definitely 'in' now," celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson says. "You see a lot of programs that are geared toward that, and I see more people walking out there. . . . Once you're out there, you start considering your carbon footprint. People may get a little greener after a few walks."

Earth-conscious walkers who live the boho-chic life can always be spotted under the eucalyptus trees in Elysian Park. City Councilman Eric Garcetti is there almost every morning at sunrise, power walking with his pals. Afternoon brings out local musicians, designers and artists taking a constitutional after their coffee. Problem is the laid-back vibe applies to canines too, making it essential to keep one eye on the doggie doo while gazing at the downtown skyline.

For some would-be walkers, this is more nature than they'll ever need, so the perimeter of the nearby Silver Lake Reservoir provides a poop-free loop (plus a look at some killer Neutras) for Eastside intellectuals such as Sarah Tomlinson, a novelist who takes regular walks there with TV/film writer Jill Soloway. Tomlinson remembers being intrigued when Soloway first invited her to go walking. "I had never lived anywhere else where people did that as a social activity," says the New England native, who moved to L.A. a year ago.

One afternoon, the pair encountered actress Justina Machado, who, like Soloway, had worked on "Six Feet Under." "I was like, 'Oh my God, it's Vanessa' [Machado's character]!" Tomlinson recalls. Another time, they met a "very handsome" real estate developer who invited them to tour his latest acquisition, a midcentury gem high in the hills. "I realized then that I needed some cuter workout clothes," Tomlinson says. Now she hoofs it in a plush, leopard-lined hoodie instead of "old yoga pants that are too short."

Perhaps the most high-profile place in L.A. to look fabulous while walking is Runyon Canyon, the busy path in Hollywood. But like so many other entertainment industry social hubs, Runyon is now past its prime. Au courant amblers call it the "bridge-and-tunnel canyon." And though the area still boasts buns-of- steel-building inclines and breathtaking views of the Hollywood sign, those breathtaking views of Hollywood stars such as Jake Gyllenhaal and Drew Barrymore have been replaced by sightings of strippers and out-of-work actors, users on the city guide Yelp have complained.

"Runyon is beyond over," PR maven Patrick Herning says. "Aside from the hot guys taking their shirts off, there's no upside." Herning prefers walking in Franklin Canyon above Beverly Hills, which he describes as an "in-the-know, non-scene" spot. If Runyon were a paparazzi-infested club, Franklin would be the cooler-than-thou speak-easy without a sign outside.

Its neighbor, Coldwater Canyon Park, has also seen a rise in attendance, no doubt thanks to the nonprofit TreePeople, whose headquarters is located there. Featured in Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary, "The 11th Hour," the organization leads full-moon hikes and hosts corporate volunteers such as a crew from William Morris who planted seven native trees on the grounds. A parking lot renovation will soon close off the area to cars until April, but intrepid trailblazers are apparently still trying to investigate rumors of a secret path that links to Franklin Canyon. "It's one of those urban legends," TreePeople's Laurie Kaufman says. "I haven't hiked it, but I know about it."

If you find it, be sure not to let the would-be social climbers know. *

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