Welcome to my travel blog (redux)

February 26, 2008

When I moved to southern California twenty years ago, I would get giddy with anticipation every time I read the calendar sections of the L.A. Times and L.A. Weekly. There were so many things to do — you could hike up a mountain in the middle of Hollywood, then go and hear Dennis Hopper introduce a screening of “Rebel Without a Cause,” then find yourself eating vegan meatloaf next to Madonna at a place owned by the guy who created Rugrats. I’d  hyperventilate just thinking about it all. But a 10-to-7 job and a newcomer’s fear of 20-lane freeways kept me from doing justice to all there was to offer. Then I got friendly with my Thomas Guide, wrote lots of travel stories for Sunset Magazine and the Washington Post, had a baby, and published two hiking guides to Southern California.

Now that baby is a teenager and prefers mountain biking to hiking. He also has a dog and a brother. The dog joins me for hikes more than the kids do these days, and the pandemic has changed the way we all do pretty much everything. My posts going forward will reflect that, so expect more challenging hikes in more isolated places as I find myself with more time and inclination to avoid crowds and climb mountains.

Thanks, as always, for dropping by…


Not all good hikes are scenic

September 20, 2021

This one in San Clemente deserves a closer look, especially when options are limited.

A forest emergency closure was extended to Sept. 22 this week for the Angeles, Cleveland and San Bernardino forests. That’s why I recently found myself on a trail I wouldn’t normally choose: Peaceful Valley Trail in San Clemente. My son wanted to take his mountain bike for a spin, and I wanted to get an outdoor cardio workout, the closer to the beach (and cooler temperatures), the better.

At first, Peaceful Valley trail seems anything but peaceful. It’s basically four miles of fire road used by mountain bikers to access single-track trails with names like Holeshot and Gully. It is not unusual to see a bike or two flying across the trail in front of you like a colony of blurry jackrabbits. You’ll see more rows of transmission towers than the Coulter pines you’ll find in our (closed) national forests. You can also expect to hear random and unsettling booms in the background, courtesy of the artillery training often going on at Camp Pendleton across the street.

Yet the more I walked, the more the trail grew on me. It has gradual elevation gains and the paths are maintained well enough. The trails are unmarked, but it’s nearly impossible to get lost, meaning I never had to break stride to check my phone or a map. Signs of nature occasionally poked through: I saw hummingbirds and butterflies buzzing around the few clusters of wildflowers that hadn’t withered in the heat. I never saw the ocean, but I felt its familiar salty breeze on much of the trail and knew it was close. I also had an unexpected brush with state history: a view from the south side of the trail of a large white cross across Cristianitos Canyon. Nearby is the site of the first baptism in California, which took place near the Native American Panhe village in 1769. It’s worth reading Gustavo Arellano’s L.A. Times column about it.

I only saw one other person on foot, a trail runner who also seemed to be lost in her own world.

I don’t know if I’ll rush to revisit Peaceful Valley, but I’m glad I hiked it and I might return in the spring when wildflowers promise to cover the dusty brown hills. It was a glimpse into a part of Southern California I don’t get to very often, and was more satisfying and interesting than trudging around a local track to get exercise.

Tip: Free parking is available at the east end of Avenida La Pata near the dog parks.

#hiking #orangecounty #moderatehikes #peacefulplaces #socalhiking #pandemichiking #hikingwithamountainbiker #coastalhikes #sanonofrestatebeach #californiahistory

Where to hike when the national forests are closed (and it’s hot)

September 7, 2021

It was a double whammy for Southern California hikers this Labor Day weekend: all national forests were closed due to wildfire risk and temperatures were expected to hover in the nineties pretty much everywhere but the beach. What to do? Here are three close-to-home trails that I turn to when it’s hot and I’m looking for a hassle-free hike with minimal social contact. The forest closure is in effect until Sept. 17, though it could be lifted or extended at any time.

Ocean Trails Reserve, Rancho Palos Verdes. It requires a walk through the sterile confines of a private golf course, but you quickly leave all that behind and reach a dirt trail with wide-open ocean views. Take it north or south for a mile or two and stick to the cliffside trail or follow the unmarked turnoffs down to the ocean. Dogs are allowed on the trails, but not on any parts of the beach. There is a large free parking lot at the end of La Rotunda Drive off Palos Verdes Drive South.

Stocker Corridor Trail, Baldwin Hills/View Park. This urban trail is the easternmost segment of the new Parks-to-Playa trail, which connects the Baldwin Hills area to the ocean. There is a parking lot at the corner of Overhill Drive and Stocker Street, and I’ve never had trouble finding a spot here (also, unlike the lots at nearby Kenneth Hahn, it’s free). Follow the trail north as it parallels Stocker Street for 1.3 miles (for extra cardio, you can add a walk up Valley Ridge Drive, which intersects with the trail, to View Park, an attractive, quiet neighborhood with view of downtown.

I know the presence of cars isn’t a desirable element of hiking, but this trail sits far enough above the road that it makes you feel removed from the traffic, or at least grateful for not having to deal with it. My dog loves this trail, and the flat, well-maintained terrain make it fun way to introduce small kids to hiking. It’s an easy way to get some exercise when you don’t have a lot of time to spare.

P.S. I have no photos of Stocker Corridor — since this hike requires little planning or water/food strategizing, I usually embrace the simplicity and leave the phone in my pocket.

The steps at Avenue 43

Jack Smith Trail, Mt. Washington. The Jack Smith Trail isn’t really a trail so much as a very pleasant nature-meets-city walk that’s close to a red-line subway station (Southwest Museum). It’s a great workout if you start at the steps at Avenue 43 at Marmion Way in Highland Park. The steps used to follow a funicular railway that carried Mt. W residents to and from their hilltop homes. It gets hot in this area of L.A., but much of the hike is shaded by old, graceful trees that are as interesting to observe as the neighborhood’s architecture.

Specifics: Avenue 43 turns into Canyon Vista Drive. Follow this until it ends to San Rafael Avenue. Look for Sea View Drive, not long after passing Mt. Washington Elementary School, and turn left. This leads to a dirt trail with weather-permitting views of the ocean, then loops back around to Moon Avenue, which is a steep walk that winds downhill past more interesting homes to Marmion Way. From here, it’s about a half-mile walk back to where you started.

Shady Seaview Lane

#hiking #hikingwithdogs #hikingwhenitshot #discoverlosangeles #southerncalifornia #pandemichiking #losangeles #septemberhikes #peacefulplaces #baldwinhills

Another Orange County hike: West Ridge Trail to Top of the World

May 25, 2021

Name: West Ridge Trail to Top of the World

Length: 5 miles out and back

Exposure: Sunny, minimal shade

Scenery: Seasonal wildflowers, panoramic views of the ocean and urban sprawl

Traffic: Expect lots of mountain bikers and people on weekends. Weekdays are generally quiet.

Three time’s the charm. It took three visits and three different starting points to understand the allure of the trails at Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. The first time I hiked the Aliso Summit Trail and parked in a residential neighborhood off Highlands Avenue. It was pleasant and dog-friendly with great ocean vistas, but more of an urban walk than a real hike. The second time I parked at the fee lot off Awma Road and took Aliso Creek trail up to Mathis Canyon. The flat part of the trail was too long, in my opinion, and looking up at the cliffside beige cookie-cutter homes was uninspiring. Also, no dogs are allowed in this part of the park and rangers are strict about enforcing it.

The view from Top of the World.

The third time, we parked at Canyon View Park. Its manicured green lawn and paved walkway quickly gives way to wilderness, or at least the feeling that you’re in the middle of it. I hiked half a mile up the Lynx Trail to West Ridge and followed it to Top of the World for a moderate five-mile roundtrip hike.

If you have a dog, you can take the surface streets from the park to Hollyleaf Road and access West Ridge Trail that way. Leashed dogs are allowed on West Ridge Trail, but not on the steep trails that connect to it or pretty much anywhere else within Aliso and Wood Canyons.

Canyon View Park — this path leads to a network of wilderness trails.

Kenter Fire Road: Better than Runyon

May 7, 2021

Kenter was one of my go-to hikes in 2020. Popular trails like Runyon and Eaton Canyon were overrun with newbies looking to get out of their homes, and I avoided them like the plague (sorry). Kenter, not far off the 405 and Sunset Boulevard, was never crowded, and the wide fire road allowed for easy social distancing. I saw more dogs than people on this hike, and the city-to-ocean views are unforgettable.

Length: 2-4 miles round trip.

Exposure: No shade on the trail.

Scenery: Chaparral hillsides, sweeping views take in the Getty, much of west L.A. and the ocean.

Traffic: Quiet on weekdays.

The good: It’s a good cardio workout in a short amount of time. If you live or work in west L.A., you can be in and out in as little as two hours. And soak up some incredible views at the same time.

The bad: Lots of abandoned dog poop bags sitting on the side of the trail, despite several trash cans near the trailhead. You also never feel fully immersed in nature; views of Brentwood mansions and the distant buzz of leafblowers are part of the experience.

The surprising: A hilltop with a bench and a big shade tree with a rope swing. Worth the short uphill detour.

FYI: This trail is popular with professional dog walkers. I have seen some walking with as many as 10 dogs. Also, there seems to be an unofficial off-leash policy, though most of the dogs I’ve encountered have been well-behaved and stick close to their owners.

Street parking is available, but heed the signs and expect lots of big trucks and construction activity on weekdays. The roads in the area are narrow and winding.

O’Melveny Park: Griffith Park without the tourists

May 3, 2021

I am ashamed to admit that until recently I had never even heard of O’Melveny Park in Granada Hills, let alone hiked its trails. It is L.A.’s second largest park behind Griffith, its flashier, better-known neighbor to the south. There’s no observatory at O’Melveny, but there are groves of lemon trees, fewer crowds and sweeping views that will take your breath away on a clear day.

Name: Top of O’Melveny

Length: 4 miles, moderate with bursts of steep elevation gain

Exposure: Sunny, minimal shade

Scenery: Sweeping views of San Fernando and Simi Valleys and the Santa Susana Mountains.

Traffic: Busy on weekends, though crowds thin out after the first mile. The lot fills up quickly, but there is plenty of free street parking.

Comments: There are very few signs marking the backcountry trails. It’s hard to get lost, but it’s worth studying a map before you go if you have a specific destination like Mission Point in mind. I followed the main path right through a picnic area then turned left when it ended and headed uphill.

Tip: Try to time your hike for a cool, overcast day, especially if you bring dogs; this trail would be tough to stomach in the summer heat.

Surprise discovery: A fragrant grove of citrus (mostly grapefruit) trees on the main path leading to the trails. There is a sad, faded sign at a kiosk advertising a u-pick event from a few years ago, but one gets the sense that those organized events are a thing of the past. Signs around the grove warn visitors not to pick the fruit.

Discovering wildflowers and rock snakes on an Orange County hike

April 29, 2021

I’m all about moderate hikes these days. My dog loves hiking but she can’t handle the heat or any sharp elevation gains, so I’m always on the lookout for a three-to-five mile trail that offers a decent workout and some features that keep it interesting for me. I found a good one in Irvine Regional Park recently. Here are the details:

Name: Horseshoe Trail to Puma Ridge

Length: 3 miles (you can add another mile by doing a figure-eight loop that combines the Horseshoe and Puma Ridge trails)

Exposure: Sunny, minimal shade

Scenery: Seasonal wildflowers, rolling hills, views of suburban development

Traffic: Busy on weekends with mountain bikers and park-goers

Comments: Leashed dogs are allowed, unlike many trails in Orange County. High temps and wildfire season make this a tough area to hike in summer: I recommend visiting in winter or spring.

Tip: There is an In ‘n Out Burger a few miles away on Chapman Blvd., a nice way to cap a morning of hiking.

Details: Irvine Regional Park is a big manicured park with playgrounds, a zoo and a Tuesday farmers’ market. But like Griffith Park, its more famous neighbor to the north, it has a network of wilderness trails that range from very easy to moderately difficult. (Unlike Griffith Park, it is also a very popular mountain biking destination.) We started off on the Willows trail near Parking Lot B, but I wasn’t loving the flat terrain or the ridgeline view of cookie-cutter homes, so we turned around and took the Horseshoe Trail south. This trail follows a three-mile loop around the whole park, but we cut off at the Puma Ridge trail, which gained a little more elevation and was more desolate and peaceful.

Why I loved this hike: It was easy to navigate and quickly leaves the hubbub of the park’s activities. Finding a rock snake at the top of Puma Ridge was a fun bonus.

#hiking #thenewnormal #discoverlosangeles dog-friendly hikes hiking hikingwithdogs Hiking with dogs Los Angeles moderate hikes Orange county Orangecounty Pandemic hiking Peaceful Places santa susana mountains Simi Valley socalhiking Southern California Wildflowers

Discovering peaceful nooks in quarantined Los Angeles

April 17, 2020


I was happier than many Angelenos when self-quarantine measures took effect last month.  I love exploring the city and all its resources, but traffic has been so consistently bad and trails overrun with hikers in recent years that I found myself sticking closer to home. After most people started working from home, though, freeways and sidewalks seemed to empty overnight. I immediately started a list: Echo Mountain in Altadena, Aliso and Woods Canyons in Orange County, the Venice Canals, Langer’s for pastrami. I got out my hiking boots. I reveled in the plummeting gas prices and deserted freeways. This was my dream Los Angeles, the city I had found so accessible and multi-faceted when I moved here twenty years ago.

Then they closed all the parks and hiking trails. They roped off beaches and promenades. Even the old forgotten basketball nets behind our local Little League field were covered in caution tape. There was the feeling that, if you weren’t going to the grocery store or hospital, you might be pulled over and cited. I put my list away and reacquainted myself with my home surroundings. My family and I baked, watched movies and gave the dog lots of belly rubs. I cleaned the oven.

Until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to break out.

One day after schoolwork was done, I told the kids to get in the car and started driving north. Oh My Burger, a Gardena eatery we had always wanted to try, was offering a Pandemic Special — cheeseburger, barbecue wings and garlic alfredo fries for $14.

L.A. comfort food at its finest.

I studied the map on my phone and saw that Oh My Burger wasn’t far away from the Forum, the famed arena where the Lakers and Kings used to play. Local residents like to use its perimeter as a four-mile exercise loop, and I had always wanted to check it out. We parked on Kareem Court and joined the handful of brisk walkers and scooter riders from a safe distance. We had a front-row view of the nearby construction of the new football stadium, a hive of construction activity in an otherwise eerily quiet city.

The Forum is across the street from Inglewood Park Cemetery, an unusually large expanse of greenery where Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, and Betty Grable were laid to rest. We drove through slowly and it felt like a normal day there, with gardeners tending to the grounds and a handful of families placing flowers or wreaths on the graves.


By the time we picked up our Pandemic Specials at Oh My Burger, complete with deep-fried Oreo puffs for dessert, I felt almost normal and had fallen in love with Los Angeles all over again.

A few days later, we tried again.

This time, we ordered lunch from Honey Dress, a new-ish fried chicken place in Torrance, and explored another area nearby before picking it up. My phone map showed that Los Arboles Park wasn’t far away. We could walk the dog while we waited for our food.


Turns out, Arboles Park boasts a sweeping hat-trick view that takes in ocean, city and mountains, capturing Los Angeles as I had never seen before. It also has one of those vintage rocketship slides that have been phased out to make way for safer (read: boring) plastic playgrounds that now dominate parks the world over. I regret that I hadn’t learned about this park earlier in my mom life, when the kids would have gotten real play mileage out of that rocketship.

We went home feeling human once again — and we had incredibly good Korean-style fried chicken to boot. Another euphoric L.A. moment. There’s nowhere else like it.

Our next trip was on Good Friday. We decided fried fish would be an appropriate supper, and H. Salt popped up on a search of local fish places. Turns out, it was near a county park with a big pond teeming with geese and ducks. I had driven past Alondra Park many times, but had no idea it was so expansive. It borders a (closed) golf course, and there is so much open space that a gymnastics team could take over one area without violating social distancing rules. I found myself stopping often to breathe deeply and revel in the old trees and rippling water.

The fish place was the kind of unassuming strip-mall joint that exists all over L.A. Inside, three masked, gloved and hair-netted people were working hard filling bags with hush puppies and fried hunks of catfish, shrimp and zucchini. A handwritten sign warned customers that they wouldn’t be served if they weren’t wearing a mask. The bill came to $49 and it pretty much covered dinner for four people (maybe three-and-a-half) twice over. Who says L.A. is only for the rich and glamorous?

It’s easy to be envious of the people who have escaped the city to second homes in Palm Springs or Mammoth or the wilds of Utah. But there isn’t any place that I would rather be right now than Los Angeles. The quarantine has reminded me that the city still has  plenty of peaceful places waiting to be discovered. And fresh air to boot, while it lasts.

Spring break Rail Trip: LA-San Antonio-New Orleans-Chicago-LA

March 27, 2019



2 adults, 2 kids

13 days, 13 nights

5 nights on a train

4 nights in chain hotels in San Antonio and New Orleans

4 nights in a cozy attic suite near Logan Square in Chicago

Cost for train travel only: $788 (full disclosure: we used guest award points for 1 leg, which saved about $300)

Cost for train travel + lodging: $1,469.14 (full disclosure: we used award points for 2 hotel nights)

And here we go…



Peaceful Times at Heritage Square

April 18, 2016

The historic buildings of Heritage Square can be glimpsed from the 110 Freeway, a quick blur of patterned brick chimneys and Queen Anne turrets as the car whizzes by Avenue 43 north toward Pasadena. But to really experience this living history museum, it’s necessary to exit the freeway and follow the signs past a long row of tract houses and chain-link fencing to its formidable entrance gates.

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Behind the gates sit a cluster of beautifully restored 19th-century houses, along with a Southern Pacific train depot and a steeple-topped 1897 Gothic church that was moved here, piecemeal, from Pasadena in 1981. Framed by mature trees and well-tended gardens, Heritage Park is a sweet respite from L.A.’s busy urban landscape and a reminder that there is a strong preservation effort in this city working to protect its past, rather than replace it with McMansions and high-density condos.

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This past weekend, Heritage Square hosted its annual vintage fashion show and tea,  one of many events it throws throughout the year. I was lucky enough to be invited to sell my books along with other exhibitors like the Grier Musser Museum, Sew Cranky, and the International Printing Museum. It wasn’t hard labor, sitting in the shade with a view of the church’s massive stained-glass window, a blooming rose garden, and what is perhaps L.A.’s only remaining octagon house.


Docents cloaked in period costume lead tours of the grounds and homes every Friday through Sunday. Also coming up on May 15 is Museums of the Arroyo Day, when admission and tours are free all day at Heritage Square and other nearby museums like the Lummis Home and the Southwest Museum.

One more thing: Heritage Square is surprisingly kid-friendly — there’s lots of wide-open space, a red boxcar rescued from the Tucson, Cornelia, & Gila Railroad, and a turn-of-the-century pharmacy with a marble-topped soda fountain and fascinating displays of snake-oil potions, leech pots and vintage tools.

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How Trails Get Their Names

April 29, 2015


Ever wonder how a trail got a name like Devil’s Chair or Walter’s Wiggles? The answer is simpler than you might think…