Hiking through Caspers or Whiting Ranch is dandy, but have you ever tried climbing the stairs of South Laguna? No, not the ones in Heisler Park—these babies hide between the seaside estates of South Laguna just past the Montage Resort but before Three Arch Bay. Finding them is quite maddening—only a couple have signs identifying their existence amidst the frightful zoom of PCH—but one trek through the region's six public-access staircases will make you gasp.
It's not just their steep vertical drops, which start from Pacific Coast Highway and quickly plunge about 300 feet toward the sea. A walk down the stairways will include glimpses of lush vegetation and stunning views of the Pacific. Birds chirp along the way; flowers bloom every 20 steps or so. And at the end are some of Orange County's last pristine beaches, white-sanded beauties with only the gnostic in sight. This is urban hiking at its optimal: each a hell of a workout, a gem, a beautiful day date with your beloved.
But you'd better visit South Laguna's vertical walkways before they're condemned. On March 15, the Laguna Beach City Council voted against accepting the six staircases from the county, which doesn't want them because of the maintenance costs. That's the same reason Laguna Beach Mayor Elizabeth Pearson-Schneider cited in explaining her nay vote on the gift. “There is a risk in taking them,” Pearson-Schneider told the CoastlineNews.“They are in very poor condition.”
Nobody loves South Laguna's stairs—so why don't you? Here's a guide to all six.
It starts with flowers, goes through a private garden with a leafy archway stolen from TheSecretGardenand ends in a spiral that hacks through tall grass onto a lonely beach. The climb is difficult at times but always mitigated by your surroundings (are those the whispers of day laborers behind the ivy-covered walls of the house along the way down?). While appreciating the panoramic view near the staircase's end, listen to the soft gurgle of the storm drain below you.
HIKINGDIFFICULTY(on a scale of 1-5): 3.
31321S.COASTHWY.(On Camel Point Drive)
A giant tree greets you at the trek's beginning, where there are also two concrete slabs masquerading as benches. This is more walk than climb—the stairs quickly end, and most of the path is really just a fragrant trail around a private back yard that ends in a meadow, where the view of the ocean is uninterrupted. From here, a short walking trail leads to an asphalt street that ends on the sand. HIKING
31351S.COASTHWY.(Also on Camel Point Drive)
Similar to its 31321 S. Coast neighbor, but with more dry leaves and thorny bushes along the way—in fact, both end at that same asphalt road with the wondrous ocean view. The concrete staircase at the beginning of the trail shakes a bit, but otherwise your heart rate will remain slightly above what it would be if you watched ThisOldHouse.
31441S.COASTHWY.(Past Laguna Royale Condos)
Straight, sheer descent. Thighs will cramp; breath will disappear a quarter of the way down; liver will hurt for the rest of the day. One slip on this baby, and you'll stumble in a way that makes Homer Simpson's fall down Springfield Gorge seem as pleasant as a bounce house. This rise would be worth the pain if the view was gorgeous—but on one side are unsightly condos, on the other are bushes. And the orange warning posts ain't lookers, either.
31965S.COAST(Before Ninth Street)
The famed Thousand Steps—actually 224, but who's counting? Walking up and down Thousand Steps is our local version of Angkor Wat—looking up from the beach, the stairs seem to disappear into a jungle. Ruining the fantasy are the graffiti on every step, the smelly unisex bathrooms at the bottom and an ascent that will result in a torn anterior cruciate ligament if you try it more than once.
31597TABLEROCK(Private street just off PCH)
As stairway aesthetics go, this is the best—made of wood, with bronzed railings and a slow, steady wind around more private gardens. The surroundings and subsequent view also charm. But these stairs boom hollowly every time you take a step. And you can see the drop below through each stair. And were those termite borings we saw on the support beams?
PUBLICMARKER?No. Though public-access, this stairwell is inside a very white, quiet neighborhood—so say hi to the suspicious neighbors!