Archive for the ‘Hiking with Kids’ Category

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Music Box Steps: Best Urban Hike in L.A.

July 19, 2013

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Everyone’s favorite gripe about L.A. is that no one walks here. It’s not without validation — I once walked from my office in mid-Wilshire to the Trader Joe’s on La Brea without passing a soul on the sidewalk. People driving by stared at me carrying my canvas bags as if I were a homeless tourist attraction.

But there are pockets of the city that are perfect for a hardy stroll, and Silverlake is one of them. I’m not sure why it took me 13 years of L.A. residency to do the Music Box Steps hike, but it should be on every Angeleno’s bucket list. I followed the Music Box loop from Charles Fleming’s excellent Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles. It covers 2.5 miles and combines a good cardio workout with a self-guided film history and architecture tour. It made me never want to go to the gym again.

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The Music Box steps got their name from the 1932 Laurel & Hardy short film. Stan and Oliver had to deliver a piano to the top of a flight of outdoor stairs; comic bumbling ensues. The barren hillside in the film is now surrounded buildings and, as Fleming rightly points out, disappointingly ill-maintained given its landmark status. But it still provides a rush for most film buffs, as does the shady triangular pocket park across the street, named for the duo. Besides this slice of movie history, the walk is also studded with views of downtown L.A., all kinds of flora and fauna, and a fascinating mix of homes featuring Moorish minarets, tiled fountains, and thoughtful displays of sun dials and garden gnomes.

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This hike starts and ends at Café Tropical, a little neighborhood hub known for its café con leche and Cuban sandwiches. Parking is reasonably easy to find on surface streets around here. A couple of tips: strollers won’t work, period, and there is very little shade. Go early in the morning in summer, or wait for a cooler overcast day if you must go in the afternoon. It’s probably best to avoid nighttime altogether.

Squrrl

Turn this into a real L.A. outing and head over to Sqrl café on an edgy corner of Melrose, a 15-minute walk from Café Tropical via Marathon St. I had the burnt brioche with house ricotta and blueberry-rhubarb jam while jazz and an unfathomable number of trendsetting hipsters kept the place buzzing. The hike, combined with the exquisitely good breakfast, was one of those only-in-L.A. experiences that I won’t soon forget.

Searching for apples in Southern California

October 11, 2012

It’s the time of year to celebrate the apple, and the best way to do it in Los Angeles is to head east to Oak Glen. It’s the largest collection of apple trees in the region, and all kinds of apple-centric activities have cropped up around the orchards. My family and I usually head there in October, after most of the trees have been stripped by the pick-your-own crowds. There’s still plenty of apples to bring home, and it’s a little less chaotic.

Snow-Line Orchard is our first stop. Its apple cider donuts and cider press alone make it worth the trip, but it also gets points for its generous apple and cider samples, and wide selection (Pink Lady to Honeycrisp and McIntosh).

Riley’s at Los Rios Rancho is next. It’s touristy, with a petting zoo, wagon rides. outdoor barbecue, and gift shop, but the apple pies are the best I’ve ever had, and the grounds are kid-friendly. They also recently added the equivalent of apple sommeliers at their tasting table, experts ready to help you make sense of all the varieties available. There’s also solace to be had if you wander across the parking lot to the totem pole Trail sign and follow the path past the apple orchards. Keep going past the restrooms and picnic tables and soon you’ll be surrounded by an almost New England-like autumn. The leaves change to bright oranges and golds here and pile up enough to create some serious leaf shuffling, if not full-on leaf-pile jumping. There’s a pond, too, and some ducks, and a gorgeous backdrop of pine-studded mountains.


All in, it’s about an hour and a half’s drive from Los Angeles. It often gets super-crowded on weekends, even after picking season is over. We always try to get there well before noon. It’s awfully easy to get up early when you know those apple ciders donuts are waiting for you.

Tips for Leading a Peaceful Life in Los Angeles

September 24, 2012

A friend from the East Coast, who recently spent miserable stretches of time on the 101 freeway, asked ‘How can you live here?…With kids??’

My simple answer was ‘I never take the 101 Freeway.’ Here’s the longer answer…

1. Don’t try to go the beach at noon on a summer weekend. The 10 will be a parking lot, guaranteed. Go before 9:30 a.m. or take the day off and go during the week. Better yet, go in October when it’s still hot but everyone’s mind is on school and Halloween. Or go in January, when you’ll probably see more wild dolphins than you ever have in your life.

2. Avoid major freeways between 8 and 10 am or 4 and 7 pm weekdays. If you must go then, check Sigalert before leaving the house and plot your route based on that. I’ve planned spur-of-the-moment day trips to Laguna Beach and Malibu based on red-free traffic patterns.

3. Do a little research before you go…but not too much. Advance prep applies to everything from Disneyland to that mid-summer hike in Topanga Canyon. (It may look close to the ocean, but chances are it’s 15 degrees hotter.) Let yourself be surprised too, by the no-name tamale stand or the spinoff trail that leads to an even better view than the one mentioned on Yelp.

4. Never, ever take the 101 or the 405. Moorpark Street in the Valley parallels the 101 and Sepulveda runs along the 405. They’re usually fast and much more scenic and interesting.

5. Make at least one farmer’s market a part of your weekly routine. Year-round strawberries, live music, pupusas, spit-roasted chicken, croissants, sunflowers…You can pretty much find one somewhere in L.A. at any day or time of the week, and spending even an hour is guaranteed to lift any mood.

6. Open your mind. So many people who hate L.A. base it on their drives from LAX to a hotel in El Segundo or Hollywood. Let’s face it, Cienega and the 5 Freeway are not the city’s best assets. But that strip mall Peruvian restaurant just might have the best ceviche you’ve ever tasted. Get past the stucco and adjacent laundromat and go inside. And the chaparral-covered hillside you pass every day off Avenue 52 might end up being an Audubon Society-sanctioned nature preserve with one of the best outdoor children’s gardens in the city.

Bottom line: Plan a little, make time for detours, and avoid the 101 at all costs.

Madrona Marsh: a thousand shades of green

July 19, 2012

At first glance, Madrona Marsh in Torrance may seem a little pathetic as far as nature preserves go. The dry-as-dust path near the entrance gates leads you past views of sterile office buildings and sounds of cars motoring past, most of them on their way to Plaza del Amo mall across the street.

But give it a chance. Keep walking south toward the trees and in a few minutes you will find yourself surrounded by cottonwoods, wild grapevines, bramble bushes, and a thousand shades of green. This marsh is one of the last remaining wetlands in Southern California. In other words, this is what the South Bay used to look like before Macy’s and Chevron showed up. Despite development’s best efforts, it has somehow managed to thrive thanks to the efforts of some determined preservationists and the city of Torrance.

Madrona Marsh is home to some of the biggest ducks you will ever see, and your children will laugh their heads off when the ducks come charging through the soupy green muck hoping you’ve brought them some grub. Egrets and blue herons also stop by from time to time. Before entering the marsh, stop in the slick nature center for maps, updated wildlife sightings, and the chance to view some pretty cool reptiles. The center runs all kinds of nature hikes throughout the year; it’s almost worth a drive across town in rush hour to experience them. If you don’t want to do that, any weekend morning will suffice for a uniquely peaceful respite from routine.

Harbor seal haven in Carpinteria

April 29, 2012

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It isn’t often that you hear about a great California coastal destination by word of mouth. Seems like it has all been written about, photographed, and visited before. But my neighbor recently told me about a little-known place her Santa Barbara-based daughter had shown her: the Carpinteria Seal Rookery. About 100 harbor seals make their home at the bottom of the Carpinteria cliffs south of town. In December, they give birth and from a viewpoint atop the cliff, anyone can watch the mamas and babies frolic, waddle, argue, dive for fish, and sleep. It’s a beautiful show and worth the half-mile walk from the parking lot. It’s also an ideal place to stretch your legs to or from a trip up the coast. Be sure to stop and say hello to the friendly hot dog vendor near the entrance.

More information: http://www.carpinteria.com/points_of_interest/thesealrookery.

A wilderness preserve in Glendale

March 16, 2012

Gas prices and apprehensive curiosity brought me to the trails of Deukmejian Wilderness Park last Saturday. I wanted to test out a new phone application (more on that to follow in a separate post), but didn’t want to drive across town to do it ($4.29 a gallon!?).

The Station Fire ripped through this park in 2009, turning it into an apocolyptic wasteland, and it was closed for more than a year. I had heard parts of it had reopened, but was reluctant to check it out and destroy my peaceful memories of the place.

News flash: it’s as beautiful as ever.

Tucked into the northernmost Glendale, the park is named after George Deukmejian, former governor of California. Some serious money went into spiffing it up before the economy tanked. There is a wide lawn with picnic tables overlooking the Verdugo Mountains for post-hike relaxing and a restored barn surrounded by robust rows of grapevines.


The main loop trail (LeMesnegar) is slightly shorter than I remember (about 1.8 miles), but it’s in good condition and has a couple of nice turnoffs that lead to viewpoints. Half the trail has distant views of the 210 Freeway and the other half views of chaparral-covered hillsides that make you forget civilization is just around the bend. Charred oaks dot the landscape, but in hopeful contrast, wildflowers and wild fennel also coat the hills and illustrate nature’s power to fight back and survive. Interestingly, while cars jammed the pullout next to the La Tuna Canyon trails just across the freeway, Deukmejian only had a handful of cars in its ample lot. The longer and more strenuous Rim of the Valley trail is closed for the time being, so that may be one of the reasons.