Micheltorena Stairs

Micheltorena Stairs Silver Lake

LA's Secret Staircases

There are hundreds of hidden stair streets throughout Los Angeles, with several concentrated around the hilly Eastside neighborhoods. Many have been painted by street artists like the Micheltorena Stairs shown above, this staircase in particular makes more appearances on Instagram than any of its counterparts, mostly because it is easily spotted from Sunset Boulevard and they are painted with hearts and vibrant hues. The installation is entitled Stair Candy and Blooming Hearts, which is part of a larger street art project called Street Hearts. Corrine Carrey, a local artist, started the project in 2013 when she noticed a bougainvillea growing on the side of the 101 Freeway in full view of commuters, she groomed the bush into the shape of a heart as a gift for her fellow Angelenos, and that lead to other Street Hearts like the Micheltorena Stairs and the nearby Hamilton Stairs. 

Why Are There Secret Stairs in Los Angeles?

Before the automobile became a household item, LA was a rail town, Angelenos used a network of street cars to get around the city and beyond to places like Orange County and the newly developed Inland Empire. Angelenos enjoyed not one but two major rail systems, the red cars and the yellow cars who were in fierce competition with reach other. Stair streets were built to make it easier for people, especially women and children, to get to stations where street cars would stop to load and unload passengers. Some of the steepest hills in the nation are found in the Eastside (i.e. Baxter Street), stair streets helped people traverse those hills to go on about their daily lives. Once cars took over, people forgot about the stairs, overgrown vegetation often concealed the right of way to the stairs putting them out of sight and out of mind. 

Pictured: Upper Section of the Micheltorena Stairs—Stair Candy and Blooming Hearts by Artist Corrine Carrey.

Pictured: Upper Section of the Micheltorena Stairs—Stair Candy and Blooming Hearts by Artist Corrine Carrey.

Corrine CArrey's Blooming Hearts

Corinne Carrey adorned three staircases in Silver Lake, the lower section of the Micheltorena Stairs, the upper section (shown above), and the Hamilton Stairs around the corner. The latter is entitled Stair Tempo, the stairs are painted to resemble synthesizer keys with a large red heart in the middle of the stack. Stair Tempo was a tribute to her dad who played the synthesizer in the 80s.

Discover Los Angeles featured the Micheltorena Stairs in their latest campaign.

Film & Television Appearances

The Micheltorena Stairs recently made it into a campaign by Discover Los Angeles (featured above), the campaign is entitled #EveryoneIsWelcome, a rebuttal to the White House's failed travel ban. They were also featured on the Netflix original series, "Love" in an episode where the two leads walk past landmarks in Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz.

All photographs by Natalie Escobedo.

All photographs by Natalie Escobedo.

Casita del Campo

A big pink house on Hyperion Avenue has served as a beloved Mexican restaurant for more than 50 years. It's called Casita del Campo and it was founded in 1962 by a dancer who played a Shark in the movie version of West Side Story, Rudy del Campo. Casita is the kind of restaurant that makes everyone feel welcome, while it is not necessarily a gay-owned restaurant, Casita has a fiercely loyal LGBT following. Locals come here for their enchiladas, margaritas, and a healthy serving of high camp.

Cal-Mex Cuisine

Casita del Campo serves Cal-Mex cuisine, a variation of Mexican food that is distinctly Californian, different than that of Texas, and not exactly what you'll find in Mexico. Casita was founded around the same time as El Torito—before El Torito's meteoric rise and subsequent crash—these types of California-style Mexican restaurants made Mexican food approachable to an entire generation of anglo-Americans. The advent of Cal-Mex cuisine introduced Americans to margaritas and essentially every Mexican dish you've ever heard of outside of a few Tex-Mex staples. Unlike most of Casita's alumni, the friendly Silver Lake restaurant never went out of favor and it survived many incarnations of the neighborhood. Before the boho-chic ambience of present day Hyperion Avenue, Casita's neighbors were mostly gay bathhouses and leather bars (makes me wish I had a time machine and a leather harness).

casita del campo-rubber tree

Curiouser and Curiouser

If you've ever been to Palm Springs, Casita del Campo might remind you of a restaurant you'd more likely find there. The space is quite whimsical and it seems to go on forever as you walk through its cavernous dining rooms. An image of Frida Kahlo greets guests at the entrance, her image is a recurring theme throughout the space, she reappears in the form of a mosaic table in one of the patios. In the main dining room, a large rubber tree grows from the ground and its leaves fringe from the ceiling. 

casita del campo-silver lake-art-mask

Cavern Club Theater

Casita del Campo conceals an underground cabaret in its basement called the Cavern Club Theater. Amazing things happen down there. Last year, an encore run of Men of Steel was the breakout show of the season—six masculine gay dudes with full beards dawned dresses, low heels, shake-n-go wigs, and Southern accents for a remake of Steel Magnolias. The Cavern Club is on the camp drag circuit with established queens who have made a career from writing and producing their own material. Drag queen, Jackie Beat does an annual Christmas show where she performs popular songs, except the lyrics have been rewritten to comment on current events. Similarly, Dina Martina (who is arguably a drag queen) does new material each year, she comes with her own vernacular of misemphasized words which makes the audience go nuts, and when the time comes for Dina's costume change, a screen drops down to show strange vintage videos with her face transposed onto someone else's body. Subscribe to the Cavern Club Theater's mailing list →

Mosaic tables made by Gina del Campo

Mosaic tables made by Gina del Campo

Food & Drink Recommendations

Casita del Campo's cult following can be easily traced to their old school Cal-Mex menu offerings and their incredibly warm service. It is the kind of spot that inspires guests to drive from Culver City to Silver Lake regularly for 30 years, as one TripAdvisor reviewer admitted. I highly recommend starting with a cadillac margarita on the rocks with salt; if you're out for blood, order a double margarita straight-up, the glass will come to your table filled to the rim sans ice, ice is served in a separate glass and you replace sips with ice cubes until all of your ice has eventually made it inside your still-full margarita glass. Most dishes come with soup or salad, the albondigas here are really good, if you prefer leafy greens order the salad with blue cheese dressing, they make it in-house. If you're hungry and you enjoy cheese, order the combinacion dos, it comes with a cheese enchilada, a chile relleno, rice and beans. Otherwise, the enchiladas rancheras with carne asada is delicious. Those who like spicy food will want to request habanero salsa.