The first time I hiked Runyon Canyon, I couldn’t even find the entrance. I aimlessly maneuvered my car, a beat-up and blue ’98 Ford Escort, up the windy Hollywood Hills. I remember focusing mostly on not driving off the road during the turns.
Out of desperation, I finally rolled down the window (my car is so old you have to manually turn the crank) and shouted to the nearest person I could see walking if he knew the way to the nearest trailhead.
The guy tensed when he first saw me make eye contact, but after he heard my question, he pointed to the left, his head ducked down, and replied, “That way.”
I thanked him and rolled my window back up. It was then that I noticed my friend in the passenger seat looking at me with wide eyes.
“Do you know who that was?”
I shook my head no.
“That was B.J. Novak! The guy from The Office.”
I can’t confirm if it actually was B.J. Novak that day, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was him. As I’ve since learned, Runyon Canyon isn’t so much a hike as it is an experience — a place to see and be seen.
This was a foreign idea to me at the time. I grew up thinking that hikes were supposed to be about working out. You dressed for them in ratty T-shirts and embarrassing spandex. But that is not the case at Runyon Canyon.
If the hike to the Hollywood Sign is for the tourists, then the Runyon Canyon hike is for the beautiful people. For you less-than-beautiful-people, the hike offers a view of the city skyline (all of approximately 10 buildings, though more are cropping up these days), the Hollywood sign and even a peek of the Santa Monica beach on clear days.
Runyon is also a Bill Hader impression waiting to happen. One can almost see Hader as Stefon, the city correspondent on Saturday Night Live, gleefully putting his hands to his cheek bones to tell Seth Meyers that this hike has “everything.”
Indeed, the official website for Runyon Canyon uses that exact phrasing when describing the 160-acre park: “smack dab in the heart of everything.” If it was possible for a hike to have an ego, then this hike’s ego would be as inflated as the city it’s based in.
That’s not a bad thing, though.
Walking Runyon feels like you’re taking the pulse of the city. Go on a Saturday morning and you’ll see L.A. kids slightly hungover, decked out in designer apparel and shades, walking their dogs and watching people watch them. Truly, Runyon is the place to go when you want a taste of Hollywood, or at least, what popular culture tries to depict it as.
I know the point of this column is supposed to address the sides of Los Angeles that aren’t so stereotypical. But it would be remiss to ignore the pieces of the city that help contribute to the stereotypes, as they really do help explain the city in their own ways.
Having lived on both the East and West Coasts, one of the things that fascinates me the most about living here is the lack of social stratification. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist (if you don’t believe me, just go to Beverly Hills), but it just feels less important here. If you’re on the lower end of the totem pole, that could change with your next audition or startup idea.
Just like the Runyon Canyon website, which arrogantly brags about being in the center of universe, we, the citizens of Los Angeles, all have the attitude that we are “someone.” Whether we actually are is up for debate -— but that’s not important. As any struggling actress will tell you, what we are and what we will be is purely logistics.
I think a lot of this attitude has to do with our outdoor lifestyle. On the East Coast, the colder weather allows people to stay secluded based on where they can afford to hang out. Those with more money can live worlds away from those with shallow pockets. Because of this, maybe it’s harder on that side of the coast to see how the other half lives, let alone imagine joining their ranks.
The sunshine and the accessible outdoors in Los Angeles make it easy for people from all different walks of life to brush elbows. My ’98 Escort and I are just as welcome at Runyon Canyon as any celebrity. The parking is free, and the trail isn’t private. As I walk the trail and look at people, they look back at me. We are all wondering who the other is, what they have done. Sure, that way of thinking has lead to countless reality TV stars obnoxiously Instagramming their every movement. But I’d much rather live in a society where people believe that one day they can be as important as they want to be.
When I pulled up to the Runyon Canyon trailhead this weekend, a guy and a girl were stretching near the entrance. Both looked like models. The girl, who wore a bored expression, was wearing what looked like an expensive T-shirt that read: “So excited to be here.”
She could have been a celebrity, she could have been an electrical engineer — who knows? The magic of Runyon Canyon is that it doesn’t matter. She could be whoever she wanted to be.
Indeed, that’s why hiking Runyon is fun. It’s still not what I traditionally think of as a hike, but it reinforces the sense that in this city, you are only a few steps away from whatever you want to do. All it comes down to is finding the right trailhead.
Jackie Mansky is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “City of Angels,” runs Tuesdays.