Archive for the ‘Peaceful Places’ 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.

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.

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.

School’s in — hit the beach!

September 12, 2013

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September is my favorite time to visit the beaches of L.A. Camp field trips are over, school’s back in session, and temperatures are still uncomfortably hot anywhere east of the 405. Even those with unscheduled time seem to forget that the beaches are open after Labor Day, meaning you will practically have the sand and waves to yourself if you show up with a chair and a book.

My favorite Southern California beach is Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County. Marked by 50-foot cliffs that mask all that PCH traffic, it’s a remarkably clean three-mile stretch of sand that is perfect for walking, especially at twilight. It’s a long drive from most parts of L.A. and parking is steep ($15 at last count), but it’s a breathtaking beach that will sweep you away from the traffic and hassles of life in L.A. as easily as any Hawaiian vacation.

A more accessible option for sweltering Eastsiders is Torrance Beach, just south of Redondo. There’s a fee lot just south of Miramar Park, but also often plenty of free street parking on Paseo de la Playa. A long ramp makes it easy to push a stroller down to the strand and there are public bathrooms and outdoor showers. The refineries that anchor the beaches to the north like Hermosa and Manhattan are nearly obscured, and Palos Verdes Peninsula juts off the south. Being in Torrance also gives you an excuse to visit the King’s Hawaiian Bakery on Sepulveda; pick up some of the famous rolls or sample island dishes like Kahlua pork or Char Siu and eggs (I’m partial to the King’s Hawaiian French toast).

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.

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.

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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.

Springs Preserve: the Most Peaceful Place in Las Vegas

June 23, 2013

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When I visited Springs Preserve northwest of downtown Las Vegas a few years ago, I figured it would only be a matter of time before it added a sponsor’s name, like Trump or Mlife, to its surprisingly un-catchy title. To its credit, it hasn’t, but neither has it quite lived up to the promise it had when it first opened. Part science museum, part desert garden, and part eco-innovator, the sprawling property is owned by the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the polar opposite of the nearby madness of the Strip. It’s a wonderful respite from the casinos, but it can be eerily quiet and devoid of activity on weekdays. The heat (110+) kept visitors inside the Origen Museum or Nature Exchange and the beautiful drought-resistant gardens and playground were as deserted as an East Coast mall in the middle of a snowstorm.

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The highlight of our visit was a better-than-average lunch in the air-conditioned Springs Cafe (pricey, but super-fresh and a welcoming change from the burgers and fries we had been subsisting on). You can see the Stratosphere and other Strip resorts from inside and outside the 2nd-floor cafe. The kids also lingered in the Nature Exchange, where like Kidspace in Pasadena, you can answer questions or trade things found in nature for cool rocks, shells, and minerals.

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A tip: try to visit Friday through Monday. The adjacent Nevada State Museum is open, and admission is included with a Springs Preserve ticket. It looks like a sleek mastodons-meet-stalactite-caves kind of place, but we missed out on our Tuesday visit.

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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