The Steep Streets of Los Angeles
Los Angeles has a reputation for being a flat city. Yet to the surprise of many, four of the steepest streets in the United States are located in the City of Los Angeles.
When most people think about steep streets in California, they think of 22nd and Filbert Streets in San Francisco. Both of these streets, often starring in movies and television and appearing in countless photographs, boast a 31.5% grade. And that’s pretty steep. But if you want to visit the steepest streets in California, you’ll find them spread out over the greater Los Angeles Metropolitan area.
Today there’s legislation in Los Angeles that decrees no street will have a grade steeper than 15%. But, before that happened, the infrastructure of the city was slapped over any terrain, no matter how steep, a policy that has resulted in the six steep streets of Los Angeles we traverse below.
Fargo could be the most famous steep street in Los Angeles not solely because of its severe grade, but because it’s where the annual Fargo Street Hill Climb has been held since the 1970s.
Up through 2019, the Los Angeles Wheelmen have hosted this notorious ride where cyclists try to ride up the hill as many times as possible without putting a foot on the pavement. The winner gets bragging rights and commemorative patch. The ride typically held in mid-March. It’s free to enter, so if you’re bicycle-inclined give it a try. Just be aware the record is 113 ascents in one day for men and 105 for women.
In May of 2018, to curb excessive traffic due to navigation apps, the city made Fargo a one-way street, downhill from Alvarado. This change meant that the organizers of the Fargo Street Hill Climb had to petition the city for a permit to hold the event. It was declined in 2019 and the ride hasn’t been held since, marking a sad end to an event that’s been celebrated for nearly five decades.
Baxter is parallel to Wells and just as steep. But Baxter has the added benefit of having a steep drop off on both sides of Alvarado. When you’re driving up, all you can see is sky, so it feels like you might drive off the end of the world.
I’ve driven it many times, but it’s always a thrill when you reach the top. Then you crest the narrow peak and start rolling down into the valley on the other side. It’s like a roller coaster.
Baxter is so steep, in places it’s been marked with a grid pattern in the concrete that helps tires grip the road. Don’t drive Baxter unless you have the utmost confidence in your car and your tires. Many drivers — especially those behind the wheel of longer vehicles — have tried to traverse this street only to find themselves stuck at the top.
Baxter dates back to 1892, and in the early days of the automobile it was used to test a vehicle’s power.
And Baxter doesn’t only pose a challenge to cars. In 2016 a skateboarder by the name of Nuge set out to conquer Baxter …
Like Fargo, as of May 2018 Baxter has been designated one way to keep navigation apps from directing unwitting drivers over its steep hills. It’s one-way in either direction from its intersection with Alvarado, which sort of diminishes the roller coaster effect, but it’s still a thrilling drive.
28th Street runs between between Gaffey Street and Peck Avenue in San Pedro. It’s technically the steepest street in Los Angeles by 0.3%, but that grade only runs for 50 feet.
So while old 28th is impressively steep, it’s not quite as impressive as …
Eldred Street has between a 33% grade and 33.3% grade over 400 feet, making it the steepest street in California and the third steepest in the United States.
Eldred Street dates back to 1912. It’s so steep that the postal service stopped driving up it years ago to deliver mail to the residents (who call themselves Eldred Highlanders). Instead, all mail is delivered to a special post office box at the bottom (at the intersection with Avenue 48). The DWP also has trouble traversing Eldred’s grade — it uses special mini garbage trucks to complete the Tuesday trash runs.
At the top, Eldred dead-ends into the Eldred Street Stairs — the city’s oldest staircase comprised of 196 wooden steps that lead up to Cross Avenue. But if you can make it all the way to the top, and it’s a clear day the views of the surrounding mountains is spectacular.
Bonus Steep Streets!
On the same hill that is home to Fargo and Baxter, you’ll also find the similarly graded Duane and Ewing Streets. Neither of these made the official steep streets lists, but both boast respectable grades.
Duane doesn’t feel quite as steep as its neighbors. It’s a bit more manageable and, as a result, is somewhat heavily trafficked.
Ewing, between Duane and Fargo, doesn’t have the overall steepness of its neighbors, but it is rather narrow — and the final drop-off down to Allesandro looks particularly harrowing.
Steep Streets of Los Angeles
Los Angeles is home to four of the steepest streets in the United States. Eldred Street ranks third, 28th Street ranks fourth, and Baxter Street and Fargo Street are in fifth and sixth place respectively. San Francisco’s famously (not-so) steep streets don’t even hit the list until ninth place. Too bad, Franny.
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