I’ve written about the Big Parade L.A. for as long as Dan Koeppel‘s been running it, but I almost always had something going on the weekend when they were marching and haven’t been able to join up. But this year, in a fluke of illness and weather-related birthday rescheduling, I was able to participate in one of L.A.’s most fun and fascinating events on the day of my 30th birthday!
For those not in the know, the Big Parade L.A. is a two-day, 40ish mile hike through the streets of Los Angeles, starting off in downtown Los Angeles and meandering through secret public walkways, hidden staircases, and freeway medians. Not only is it meant to destroy the idea that nobody walks in L.A., but it’s meant to give Angelenos a taste of the neighborhoods they usually drive through without even noticing. Along the route, we met sixth-generation shopkeepers, local historians, homeowners, artists, and even a few Trail Angels who provided us with free cookies, water, and lemonade.
As someone who spends most of his time in the Hollywood / Miracle Mile area, I was looking forward to getting to know these parts of my city a bit better – and this event most definitely did not disappoint.
We kicked off at Angel’s Flight downtown, where Dan mustered the largest group he’s ever led on the Parade – around 135 marchers. We walked around Bunker Hill through public rights-of-way that actually go through skyscrapers in a neighborhood where the Vision of the Future included elevated sidewalks, bridges between buildings, and spiral staircases (and inside the Westin Bonaventure, which looks like an old set from Logan’s Run).
From there, we marched onward, through downtown, the Pueblo de Los Angeles, Union Station, and Chinatown to a pedestrian walkway that runs right next to the 110 (really!), and walked along that all the way to the Los Angeles River.
After a short lunch by the river, we got into the real meat of the parade – the impossibly steep streets and public staircases of Echo Park. This is also where most of us got our workout for the weekend. Dan crafts the route so that you never walk on the same staircase or street twice, which meant there was a lot of zig-zagging back and forth and a whole lot of climbing up and down – but the views were fantastic and everyone was in good spirits, even the little kids who had joined along the way.
I won’t go into too much detail, because I took a ton of pictures and ended up hiking the entire 20-ish mile first day from 8AM to 8PM, but I’ve embedded a slideshow of my images at the end of the post. There is also an ever-growing Flickr Group from other parading photographers that’s definitely worth checking out.
But let me say this – if you have been thinking about doing this but haven’t yet, do it. This is one of the best things I have done in the city since I moved here in 2003.
Over the past few weeks, I have been falling in love with Los Angeles again, and falling hard. I definitely credit the Big Parade L.A. with jump-starting that relationship. I saw so much of the city I never knew existed, met a ton of great people, and learned a lot about our seemingly non-existant history – and I only did half of the route!
I know most of us think of hiking as a way to leave the grind of city life and recharge with nature, but every once in a while an urban hike like this can remind you why you came to live in this city in the first place. You really can’t ask for better guides than Dan and his crew (and you can’t argue with the price, either – free!). I honestly could not think of a better way to spend my birthday and next year I’m definitely going to try to do the entire two-day parade.
Just make sure you do some training on a sidewalk first … our hikers’ legs aren’t used to so much concrete stomping!
He has also been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press, as well as in documentaries for Columbia Sportswear and the OTIS College of Art and Design.
Casey was one of eight people chosen by the National Parks Foundation to participate in the 2015 Find Your Park Expedition. His first book "Day Hiking Los Angeles," will be published by Mountaineers Books in 2016.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on May 31, 2011