Street Hiking... Back to Hikes
first appeared in the January 2001 issue

So it's February. You want to hike: It's been raining lately and the mountains look all nice and green. 'Course, along with "green" the mountains have a good chance of being other things. "Wet," "muddy," "landslide-filled" and "flooded" come to mind as acceptable terms.

So let's do a "Street Hike."

By my definition, a "Street Hike" must have the following (or it's just walking):

  • Scenery - the whole point of going hiking, to my mind, is to see stuff. If it was just to get to some destination, you could drive. Therefore, scenery is a vital component of any hike, even if it's the street variety. What's "scenery" of course varies from person to person, but I like historically interesting sites, fine old buildings, and lots of trees.
  • Some sort of up & down - and I'm not talking low hills here. If at some point you're not at least two-hundred feet higher than you were, you're just walking.
  • At least some part of the trip must be over a route you can't take a car, even if it's just cutting through a park. We're hiking, after all, it shouldn't all be on roads.
So, with all this in mind, let's dive right into our first "Street Hike." This is a nice one (I walk a slightly longer version of it all the time), about five and a half, six miles in length, that easily includes all the points above.

So it's a fine late winter's morning as you head on over to the Eaton Canyon Nature Center (North of New York Drive, just off of Altadena Drive), and park in their lot. Adjust your shoes, your belt, and head on back up the driveway to Altadena Drive and go south the half-block to New York. Head west (right) onto New York.

At first, the homes are typical late 40's, early 50's houses, but as you go along, you'll see that they get bigger and older. Once past Hill, trees begin to climb on both sides of the street, creating a shaded green canyon and the homes have become a fine series of examples of early twentieth-century Pasadena living.

At 1231 E. New York, when the trees are reaching their maximum, you'll see, nestled back from the street, a fine old (and large) bungalow-style house, nearly invisible behind those trees and what I like to call "The Cool Hedge." Filling nearly the whole front yard, it's green and convoluted and looks nothing else so much as like the surface of a brain. Cool.

Pretty soon, you'll hit Lake and hang a right (north) onto it. Just north of New York (at 2027 N. Lake), you'll pass The Coffee Gallery, One of Allison's favorite spots to hang out. But then, a shop name with the word "coffee" in it and the phrase "one of Allison's favorite spots" are pretty much synonyms.

Ronnies And across the street from it is Ronnies Automotive Service, star of many a move, TV show, and video with its period "Roar With Gilmore" pumps and general appearance.

Eliot Jr. High Still tromping north up an increasingly steep Lake, we're now passing Eliot Jr. High, an interesting building (the strips give it, to my mind, a slight "Lego" appearance), put up in an era when schools were supposed to be imposing, permanent structures - unlike the temp-trailer, spray-on "stucco" of today.

Old P.E. Substation Caddy-corner across Lake from Eliot is the beautiful brick and wood pile that once was Pacific Electric's substation, providing power for all it's trolleys in Altadena and North Pasadena - including the Mt. Lowe Railway (funny how that railway works its way into every hike article I do, isn't it?). In danger of being torn down a couple of decades ago, it's now the home to the architectural firm of "Spencer/Hoskins." This mission-esque style was common in P.E. substations and terminals, and this is one of the better surviving examples.

Yep, we've still got more up to go. Nearly hidden behind a wall, at 1366 N. Lake, we pass the old Altadena Library building. Nice, in its "Cal Tech Greek" style way, but you quickly realize just how small it was.

Finally we reach Altadena Drive, and all of the "up" you're going to be doing. Head east (right) onto it. I recommend walking on the north side of the street - there's slightly more sidewalk there.

Wildlife Like New York Drive, you pass many beautiful old homes, some nearly (or completely) hidden behind their walls of trees, bushes and stone. The farther east you go, the larger the trees get, the larger the houses get, and (in some cases) the yards get huge!.

The homes are a glorious mix of styles. From bungalow to Mediterranean to Greek Revival to Mission to Tudor to New England - occasionally, all in the same house - they sit, nestled behind their green lawns, tall oaks, and beautiful stone walls. In many ways, this is the Pasadena that used to be, still here in the northern reaches of Altadena.

Parsons Bungalow Amongst other things, soon you'll pass is the tiny, fairy-tale cottage of Jim Dickson Realty, then the absolutely gorgeous Parsons Bungalow at 1605 E. Altadena Drive. It used to be on California in Pasadena, but was moved here in 1980, the foundation and landscaping recreated at it's new site.

Altadena Drive narrows and meanders slightly past this point as the trees on either side grow taller. By now you're so close to the mountains that it almost looks as if you're hiking in them. As the street begins to curve to the south, you'll pass (at 2500 E.) one of the coolest stone houses I've ever seen on your left. Personally, if I was going to live this close to the mountains - and their fires - this is the kinda architecture I'd have.

The Stone House Continue to keep your eyes open on your left. Soon the house will disappear and the edge of Eaton Canyon will replace them. At this point, you'll see a trail leading down into the canyon, take it...

...or not. Since one of the reasons you might be taking this hike is to avoid rain-spawned floods, you should know that when it reaches bottom, the trail will run right along - or occasionally in - the river. If there's a lot of water down there, then stay up on Altadena the rest of the way back to the Nature Center.

But let's assume some dry land is still available and you take the trail down. It heads north briefly at you descend, then goes south again when you reach bottom. Follow it down the rock and sand strewn depths of the canyon until you reach the Nature Center. By now, it should be open, so why don't you drop by, check it out, and make a donation? Afterwards, well, your car's just a few parking spaces away.

Street Hike Map