The hike offers great downtown views and unlikely encounters with nature… (Charles Fleming / Los Angeles…)
Nobody walks in L.A.? Ridiculous! This is one in a series of articles exploring the many opportunities for walking in (and around) a major city.
Distance: 3.5 miles
Duration: 1½ hours
Difficulty: 2.5 (on a 1-5 scale)
Transportation: Metro bus No. 45, 83, 84
This is an unexpectedly bucolic walk through city-center neighborhoods unknown even to most Los Angeles natives, offering great downtown views and unlikely encounters with nature and history.
Begin this walk on North Broadway, near the entrance to "Old Chinatown" at 951 N. Broadway. (Metered street parking is abundant, and it's free on Sundays.) Enter the gaudy, colorful Old Chinatown — in reality, it is the new Chinatown, built in 1938 and incorporating "Chinese" sets donated by Cecil B. DeMille; the original Chinatown was destroyed to make way for Union Station. Then walk from Broadway to Hill Street, admiring the shops where Chinese clothing, artworks and ceramics are sold. When you get to Hill, turn right and walk out of Chinatown, heading north toward the on-ramp for the 110 (Pasadena) Freeway.
Just past the on-ramp, bear slightly right, then turn left onto Cottage Home Street. Walk straight on as the street climbs slightly, under a lane of handsome crepe myrtle trees. On your right is the huge property belonging to the combined St. Bridget's Catholic Church and Cathedral High School, a Christian Brothers preparatory school operated for underprivileged boys since 1925. (The football field, just out of sight, says "Cathedral" on one end and "Phantoms" on the other, because the school was built on the site of an old cemetery. The mascot is a spooky skeleton in a shroud.)
Follow the road as it turns the corner and descends down Bishops Road. (A bishop did live here, long ago.) Just at the entrance to the school, cross Bishops and turn left, and begin walking up the sidewalk on Stadium Way. After a short distance, you'll see a sign reading "Radio Hill." Turn right here, and begin climbing a wide paved roadway.
You rise up under enormous old eucalyptus trees, gaining increasingly dramatic views of the downtown skyline to the south and landmarks like the Twin Towers jail and Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center to the southeast. Closer at hand, directly below, are the Gold Line light-rail tracks, heading for Pasadena, and the "Cornfields," a.k.a. Los Angeles State Historic Park.
Climb on. The city noise dims as the greenery thickens. When you come to a fork in the road, bear left and climb some more. At the top of the hill to the left is the massive radio tower that gives Radio Hill its name. To the right is tiny Butterfly Park, where helpful signs, defaced by spray paint, inform you that the trees and shrubs you've been appreciating include Western redbud, Monterey ceonthus, autumn sage and scrub oak. At the end of the park are views of the roaring 110 Freeway below and Dodger Stadium above.
Return to the paved roadway and descend to the fork in the road. Turn left again and follow the roadway as it winds around Radio Hill. (Watch for birds here. I had a very close view recently of a massive red-tailed hawk, sitting on a branch, munching on some fresh prey and only slightly disturbed by my presence.)
In time, the paved roadway meets a wide gate. Pass this, then cross Amador Street and pass another wide gate as the paved roadway continues. Cross under an overhang of craggy trees until you are almost on top of the 110 Freeway, then descend to meet Solano Avenue. Note a sad Cold War relic overhead — an air raid siren once used to alert paranoid residents to an impending nuclear strike. (The sirens used to be tested at 10 a.m. on the last Friday of every month but were decommissioned in 1986 and have remained quiet since. There are about 150 of the silent sentinels still standing in Los Angeles.)
Cross Solano, and walk a short bit to the left, toward the noisy 110. A few feet ahead, you'll find a relative anomaly — a pedestrian walkway going under the freeway. This is a remnant of the old "subway" system, one of a handful of pedestrian underpasses that in most cases were designed to help schoolchildren take a safe shortcut to school.
On the other side, bear right and walk 50 feet to see the school in question — Solano Avenue Elementary. If you want to see another L.A. rarity, at this point you could take a hard hairpin right at the top of the subway stairs and take another staircase that rises to a narrow pedestrian walkway that runs from Chinatown north into Frogtown, in the divide between the northbound and southbound sides of the 110. It's a dirty, polluted walkway, and as far as I know is the only one like it in the city.