Freeway Fun


Do you remember back in the day, when your mom would fume because you didn’t wash the beans correctly, causing some relative to chip a tooth on a tiny overlooked pebble, and she’d get mad enough to yell “go play on the freeway”? No? Me neither. But I can assure you that if it happened to me today I’d most likely say “okay, nos vemos!” since I recently found an easy way to have some fun on the Pasadena Freeway! If you’re up for a bit of urban exploration in Lincoln Heights, let’s take a little walk. Siganme los buenos!


I’ve walked, biked, and driven under this bridge on San Fernando Rd. (near Figueroa) countless times yet I never noticed this staircase right in the middle. So it was strange to suddenly become aware of it, might as well see what’s up there.


Looks like lots of other people do know of this not-so-secret place!


There’s a long walkway on the northbound side of the freeway. You’re protected by a small concrete barrier and a fence, but the roaring of cars zooming by doesn’t make you feel at all safe.


This spot is quite intense as you have the Arroyo Seco meeting up with the LA River, the 110-5 interchange, trains running underneath, and hills all over the place. Lots of nice views all around.


Check out the nice wall. Porn for the architecture perverts.


Eventually you’ll come to this cool looking spiral staircase, right at the mouth where the cars exit the Elysian Park tunnel.


Climb it a bit, take a seat, and enjoy the natural sights and sounds of our urban environment. Take note of all the broken sand barriers, lots of crashy-crashy going on here.


If you go to the top of the stairs, you’ll get a great view from the center of the freeway, and be very, very, close to the Southbound lanes. Remember to keep your hands inside the ride. Here’s a short video clip of the scene, though it looks quite weak compared to actually being there.

If you so chose, you can go the rest of the way towards Elysian Park. I think next time I’ll pack a few brews, put on a contemplative face, and pretend to ponder the endless stream of steel: If I can’t be deep at least I can look it!

15 thoughts on “Freeway Fun”

  1. Drove by there yesterday and commented to my wife that I’ve always wanted to walk up that spiral staircase. She thinks I’m crazy.

  2. I’ve noticed the stairs before! I’ve always wanted to go up the spiral staircase, but since I live far (in South Gate) and have no car, I can’t go.

  3. Great photos. My suggestion would be a clean-up of those stairs to make them more inviting. Then, get CalTrans to fix their barrels. Things don’t have to look crappy just because they’re tucked away.

  4. I go past there all the time and never really paid those stairs any attention. Looks like fun! And kinda scary, what with the cars rushing by.

  5. Oh wow! I’m in Lincoln Heights a lot these days, and I look forward to trying out this walk.

  6. “Porn for the architecture perverts.” very funny, ha, ha.

    Incidently, the reason the walkway on the northbound side of the Pasadena Freeway just north of the Elysian Park Tunnel is there is because at one time, many generations ago, the northbound lanes of the Pasadena freeway going over the Los Angeles River was Figueroa Street. The Street Bridge was built in 1937 and connected Downtown L.A. to Lincoln Heights via Figueroa Street through the Figueroa Tunnels. Traffic went both ways through the tunnels and there was a sidewalk so that people could walk from Lincoln Heights to Elysian Park or even points beyond, like Chavez Ravine and Chinatown.

    The extension of the Pasadena Freeway to the four level brought an end to that as the the tunnels and the bridge over the L.A. River were taken over for the freeway’s northbound lanes.

  7. I haven’t lived in Pasadena for 28 years, but your photos really took me back. I still have nightmares about being on the wrong freeway heading the wrong way and being in the wrong lane. (That Elysian Park Tunnel brought it all back.) Thanks for the memories, just the same.

  8. that thing about suddenly seeing something that’s been there the whole time deserves its own word i think.
    i go on walks in an old landfill and the last time i suddenly noted these bright pink fibers popping out of the ground, looking thoroughly embedded, like they’ve been there at least since the winter, but i’ve never seen them before.
    how could i have missed that pink?!
    makes me consider some kind of delinquent brownies running around adding random things to the landscape to see if we’re paying attention or something.

    i love these photos, especially the architectural details of hidden places. thanks for sharing them.

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