Your First Walk In The Canyon
For this tour you will need a comfortable pair of walking shoes, a good sun block and a sense of curiosity. We being at 7th and Adelaide (parking is available on one side of Adelaide only!). As soon as you turn left onto Adelaide you can already see the ocean ahead of you, and off to your right the view of the entire canyon.
Some of the homes on your left date from the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. Walking on, you come to a spiked wrought iron fence on the right. There’s a great view of the original one-room schoolhouse moved from Sycamore Road to its present site, smack in the middle of the Canyon Elementary School where it is presently used as a computer lab and library. Walk on a few yards and you come to the first set of stairs. These are not the infamous 4th Street stairs. Those are a little farther ahead. As you near 4th Street, on your left is the home built by Robert Gillis, considered to be the first Santa Monica Canyon developer. He even named the street after his daughter “Adelaide.” The stairs on your right (these are the infamous stairs) become crowded with people climbing them for exercise. If you look left down the 4th Street meridian, you will see the stretching area for all the ‘stair climbers.’ But if you look right over the tiled rooftops, reminiscent of the Italian coast, you can see all the way to the Pacific Palisades Highlands, past the ocean and fantastic sunsets.
Ahead of you on Adelaide, on your right is a new cliff hanger home designed by Maya Lin, the young Princeton graduate who won the honor of designing the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. This was her first residential design. Crossing 4th Street, Adelaide becomes a one-way street. Most of the homes are original or have been respectfully restored. Many of the famous people who have lived in the canyon have memories tied to these homes. The house on the cliff side at 145 Adelaide was the long-time home of author Christopher Isherwood and well-collected artist Don Bachardy. Neighboring at 147 Adelaide was the summer home of actor Charles Laughton. On your left at 236 is a beautiful shingled Craftsman on a huge lot with rolling green lawns. Continue passing the giant eucalyptus, pines and flaming bottlebrush as your round Inspiration Point at Ocean Avenue, walk down the hill and snake around to your left onto Mabery Street. On your right between 255 & 245 Mabery is one of safely hidden staircases.
Many of the original homes have survived, but many have given way to very contemporary new homes. All of it seems to work. Heading toward the bay before you round the corner and see the spectacular view of the Pacific, on your left and not to be missed is an original International-style house designed by Richard Neutra. Gratefully, the present owner has had the home registered as an architectural historical site.
As you hit the bottom of Ocean Way it is probably time to meander towards the beach. But, before you go to Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), Patrick’s RoadHouse on your left is a long-time canyon hangout and a great place to stop for a lemonade or lunch. Refreshed, find your way back up the canyon by crossing the bridge on Short Street (it is really short!), working back up the canyon on the left is East Rustic Road. It becomes a natural creek farther up Rustic Canyon. The street remains narrow to avoid the huge sycamores that grow on its path.
The earliest homes on this street tended to be modest framed cottages. Many are still there: a beautiful Spanish-Moorish style home at 432, an English Cottage from the late 1920’s at 544. Once at the end of East Rustic you can cross the bridge on your left and circle back on West Rustic or retrace your path four or five houses and bear left. This will take you to Sycamore Road where many of the homes are original or just slightly altered.
If you look to your left between 400 and 392 Sycamore you will find a well-hidden staircase that will take you half way up Mesa Road. Once on Mesa, look both ways carefully before you cross the street – cars travel quickly to and from Rustic Canyon. Just across and up a house or two at 400 Mesa Road is a fantastic set of hidden stairs. Don’t try these if you are already pooped. But, if you are game for it, climb the stairs that take you to the top of Upper Mesa Road. From there you can either take Amalfi Drive and wind your way back to West Channel Road past the Canyon School or brave another set of stairs at 395 Amalfi, down past huge old palms. If you take these stairs you are now facing Adelaide on the opposite rim (where you started). Continue down Amalfi. As it is about to bend at 271 there is yet another hidden set of stairs. Head down the stairs (go on! You are almost back) to Sage Lane on your left. You will pass what once was the late Sam Francis’ home and studio and the original Lois Lane’s home. As you hit the channel take the short footbridge; you will be standing on the west side of Canyon School.
Along East Channel Road, if you walk to the corner and turn left you will pass the site of the Canyon Service Station which is now part of a residential home. The station was one of the oldest gas stations in the city, dating back to 1926. It was built by Perfect Marquez, the original land grant family of Santa Monica Canyon. The station serviced the community and was used by filming companies because of its wonder and original charm. Across the street from Canyon Service the 4th Street stairs are challenging you t