Archive for the ‘It’s Free’ 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

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.

James Turrell Divides the Light in Pomona

July 31, 2013

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The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is hosting a 50-year retrospective this year of artist James Turrell. It’s one of the hottest tickets in town (“the art world’s brightest luminary this year,” according to Forbes). But there’s another, easier way to check out Turrell’s fabulous use of light and space — or to extend your Turrell-in-L.A. experience if you are lucky enough to nab a LACMA ticket.

Head east to Pomona College any evening (or Saturday through Monday evening during the school year) and join those in the know for the best free sunset east of the 405. During the day, the Turrell Skyspace looks like a small open-air courtyard with marble benches and a shallow reflecting pool. As the sun sets, it turns into something absolutely magical. LED lights bathe a hovering metal canopy in an array of changing colors, starting with muted shades of gray and lavender and building to striking swaths of turquoise, blue, and burnt umber as the sky fades to night.

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It is an evening ritual that attracts a fun mix of spectators, from professors and groups of undergraduates to families with small children who stretch out on blankets on the grass. The show creates a subtle camaraderie among its fans, inspired perhaps by the shared witnessing of such an unusually beautiful sight.

A Quiet Detour on the Jack Smith Trail

June 3, 2013

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I head to Mount Washington whenever I crave a good outdoor workout. The area’s hills and steps are a great natural substitute for a treadmill, and the cool architecture and city views keep things interesting. The Jack Smith urban trail (named after the beloved L.A. Times columnist who lived and strolled here) starts at the flight of stairs just above Marmion Way at Avenue 43. I thought I knew everything about this trail (it’s featured in my book, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Los Angeles), but a recent visit added a new layer of magic to it.

The Self-Realization Fellowship, a worldwide spiritual organization with temples throughout Los Angeles, opens the lush grounds of its headquarters to the public most days. The gates are about mid-way through the hike at the corner of San Rafael Avenue and Elyria Drive. Walk through them and you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by lotus pools, meandering paths, and about a thousand shades of green. There’s a big stone table near the rose garden that most writers will find hard to resist and benches placed discreetly throughout, making it easy to cocoon in your own space.

“Where ARE we?” my companion wondered as we wandered through gardens that gave way to more gardens along with stunning views of the city. L.A., of course, minus everything that’s stressful about it.

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Sunday in Santa Monica: Crepes, Spices, and a Giant Whale

May 27, 2013

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I have always been a little intimidated by Santa Monica. Getting there from just about anywhere in the city can shave years off one’s life — and finding a reasonable parking space within a mile of the ocean is often impossible. But on a recent Sunday, the kids and I were up early with a completely unscheduled day ahead of us, so I faced my fears and headed west with a few vague destinations in mind. The 10 freeway was nearly deserted before 10 AM, and we had our pick of parking places (street parking is free on Sunday). The next thing we knew, we were riding the sleek escalators of Santa Monica Place up to the food court and standing in front of a play area dominated by a 46-foot-tall humpback whale. This being Santa Monica, it was a whale made out of sustainably harvested deck wood perched over an “ocean floor” made of recycled rubber, and the kids couldn’t have been more enchanted. They played for an hour, then when it started getting too crowded for comfort, we picked up some crepes and smoothies and headed out to the food court deck and its impossibly scenic setting.

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Our next stop was the tiny Santa Monica Pier aquarium, which was also packed (Sunday afternoon at the beach was now in full swing). But Theo got to see some nurse sharks in an open tank and make a shark puppet out of a paper bag, so he was happy. We spent our last hour shopping at Penzeys Spices, where the clerk hung Jack’s I LOVE Santa Monica drawing in the window, and eating ice cream in the courtyard of the Santa Monica Library, which is also impossibly scenic and surprisingly quiet despite the presence of children.

I don’t know if we’ll go back again soon (too many other destinations on the bucket list), but the kids still talk about our spontaneous trip to Santa Monica and playing in the belly of the giant whale.

Pasadena’s Secret Garden

December 26, 2012

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I think I drove by Arlington Garden about ten thousand times before stopping to explore it. From busy Pasadena Avenue, it doesn’t appear as big as it actually is — I just assumed it was someone’s private garden, or a community garden that required a share purchase. But enter from Arlington Ave. between Pasadena and Orange Grove, and you immediately realize what a special place it is. Scents of lavender, eucalyptus and herbal fragrances are everywhere, and Adirondack chairs are scattered around with whimsical care. Its diverse pockets include a butterfly garden, succulent area, citrus grove, wildflower meadow, and lots and lots of drought-tolerant and endangered California plants. Once designated a construction staging area for the 710 freeway (which never made it this far), the CalTrans land was turned into a garden in 2005 with help from the city of Pasadena, Pasadena Water and Power, and a local couple who saw potential in the dirt and weeds.

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I am always too busy marveling at all the beauty to try out their special phone app, which lets you scan sign codes to identify plants and other garden features. Maybe next time. As much as I love the Huntington and Descanso Gardens, this is a homegrown place that makes you want to kick off your shoes and revel as if it were your own backyard. Sometimes I bring the kids, who love the labryinth created by Mayfield students, and sometimes I drop them at school and take a walk that always ends with a little R&R on one of those Adirondack chairs.

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.

Stumbling upon Atlantis in San Gabriel

August 25, 2012

Giant sea serpents. Pink whales. Dragons and lighthouses and pirate ships. Just about everyone who walks into this whimsical park gasps with a delight usually reserved for Disneyland. Master concrete artist Benjamin Dominguez created the park, known as La Laguna de San Gabriel, at the city’s behest in 1965. There have been a few outrageous attempts to raze it, but a non-profit group stepped in, and now it is perhaps the only playground in the state listed on the Register of Historic Places. After a year and a half of renovations, it has finally reopened to the public. The boys and I checked it out this week and it still inspires the same wide-eyed wonder, though the metal rocket ship and other sweet retro playground structures are gone.

Theo, a huge dinosaur fan, cried when we left and asks almost daily when we are going back to “Monster Park.” Soon, mi hijo, soon.

A couple of tips: Go early or later in the day, as there is very little shade. Since it’s a hefty drive from just about anywhere in L.A., turn your visit into a day trip, or at least consider having breakfast or lunch out. The park is near the San Gabriel Mission and many well-regarded eateries, including the Golden Deli Vietnamese restaurant and Twohey’s, an old-school breakfast-all-day diner. Also, GO NOW because there seems to be a Phase 2 construction in the works, and that means this fabulous place could be off limits again.

This Tuesday, Aug. 28, is the official Grand Re-opening. There will be food trucks, bocce games, music, and all those wondrous sea creatures on hand to help celebrate.

Last chance for Grand Performances

August 21, 2012

This is the final week (til next year) for downtown’s free outdoor music series, a must-do event for any card-carrying Angeleno. The California Plaza setting (at the top of Bunker Hill) is not just your basic urban park: framed by soaring skyscrapers, it is super-clean, with lots of amphitheater-type seating (mostly concrete slabs) and sleek water features. The crowd is a mix of Financial District workers and tourists who have stumbled off the Angel’s Flight funicular. There is plenty of space for kids to run around, but lunch-hour folks can also pretty easily find quiet spaces to eat and enjoy the music.

This Friday’s Lunchbox noon set features He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister, whose sound is described as combining the earnestness of folk, the rawness of blues, the theatrics of cabaret and the hip shake of a rock-a-billy. At 8 PM, El Gavachillo y Banda Viento de Oro (a side project of Ozomatli bassist Wil-Dog Abers) takes the stage.