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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

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…

In honor of the baseball playoffs, a hike through Elysian Park

October 6, 2014


Nothing is blooming on Elysian Park’s Wildflower trail right now, but there are plenty of friendly dogs and hopeful flashes of Dodger Blue. The day after the Dodgers came back to win Game 2 of the baseball playoffs, the trail across the street from their home stadium was business as usual, hosting hikers, picnickers, and regular dog walkers.


The trails that wind through Elysian Park don’t get as much attention as other urban hikes in L.A., but every moderate hiker in L.A. should make a point of exploring them. Like the city itself, the trail that winds through the park is an unsettling mix of natural beauty, concrete freeway, and payoffs that will leave you energized and reinforce the reasons you chose to live in this crazy town.

Check out my extended post on to learn more about this hike.


Books and the Beach

October 31, 2013


I’ve been spending more time at the beach these days and discovering all kinds of new places that don’t involve surfboards or bad pina coladas. The latest is a great little bookstore about four blocks from the Hermosa Beach pier. Known as Bard Street bookstore (it’s at 1309 Bard St., just off Pier Avenue), it sells leftover inventory from the local library and is run by volunteers. It’s everything you would want in a used bookstore — well-organized, pleasantly cluttered and full of great finds. So far, we have scored big with several Calvin & Hobbes books (for Jack), a Barbara Pym hardcover (for me), and a ridiculous amount of dinosaur books for Theo. Prices average 50 cents for paperbacks and a buck or two for hardcovers, plus there’s a rack of free books for the taking just outside the door.

The only downside is its limited hours: Mondays from 9 am to noon and the third Saturday of every month. On a recent visit, customers included locals who seems to consider a stop here a Monday ritual and a couple visiting from Saskatchewan, Canada, who were preparing to take an armful of books back home. I like to think that as temperatures hit freezing up there, they are huddled under blankets reading their books and thinking of Hermosa Beach and its charming little bookshop.


From Apollo to Endeavor: L.A.’s Rich Space History

November 18, 2012

There was no better time to be an Angeleno than the day the space shuttle Endeavour flew over the city. Whatever our neighborhood, job or family ties, we all shared equally in the thrill of watching Endeavour’s final flight over our homes, schools, offices and favorite landmarks. I think it’s impossible to truly recapture the joy of that day, but you can come pretty close by stopping by the California Science Center to see the 85-ton orbiter up close and horizontal. We went on a whim after school one day. It was more crowded than expected, but manageable and so cool to walk under Endeavour’s belly and see every ding and scratch it picked up in its amazing travels.

Here’s how a visit works: Timed tickets are required (free, but there’s a $2 per-ticket processing fee whether you get them online or on site). We sailed right in, but soon found ourselves surrounded by several after-school groups. You enter from the 2nd floor of the Science Center, walk through a brief but thorough exhibit on California’s space industry that includes a film about Endeavour’s history and a simulated shuttle ride ($5 a person), then you are given a purple chip and told to walk down a separate flight of stairs to enter the actual pavilion. For now, the shuttle is horizontal and housed in a temporary hangar, but the plan is to someday move it into a ready-for-takeoff position.

P.S. While you are in a cosmic frame of mind, consider visiting the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey. Built on the former NASA site that developed Apollo spacecraft, it is one of the last remaining vistages of a round-the-clock space hub that also oversaw assembly of the entire shuttle fleet after the Cold War. The complex closed in 1999, and it’s now a film studio (“Christmas with the Kranks”), medical center, and soon-to-be mall. The Columbia space center does make for a fine afternoon with the kids — interactive exhibits include a paper airplane-making station, rocket launcher, and design-your-own solar system. There is also some information on Downey’s role in space exploration; that may expand as preservationists and former employees voice their concerns that it is all disappearing with the demolition of so many buildings.

Take a Hike through Old Hollywood on King Gillette’s Ranch

September 23, 2012

Looking for a new moderate hike? The LA Times has an article about a good one in Calabasas, calling the property, once owned by razor-blade mogul King Gillette, “a step back in time to the Southland’s golden age.”

Another New Yorker falls for Los Angeles

September 17, 2012

Writer Emma Straub tells the L.A. Times about her new-found admiration for the city:

“As a New York City native, I was raised to look down on Los Angeles. You know, Biggie vs Tupac, etc. I think the biggest surprise for me, over the course of the last few years, is how much I really love it. My older brother is smart and has lived in L.A. since he was 18. If my husband had his druthers, we would be living somewhere near the Arclight. Or maybe living at the Arclight.”

(There’s more):

“I didn’t get to as many of the old-school L.A. restaurants as I wanted to, but blame that on Gjelina and all the different kinds of avocados at the farmers’ markets.”

Ah, the Jacarandas…

June 4, 2012

I still remember the first time I drove down a Los Angeles street with the jacaranda trees in full spring bloom. The endless lavender canopy lifted my mood for the rest of the day and left me giddy about the approach of summer. It’s most fun to let the jacarandas take you by surprise, as you turn down a street lined with them on your way to a dentist appointment or errand, but a few places in L.A. are worth a special detour, like the street in Claremont pictured above. One of the best places to sit and relax under the jacarandas is the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA’s Hammer Museum, where the trees complement dozens of abstract sculptures placed around a sprawling lawn.

Enjoy them now, because their blooms are as fleeting as an actor’s career.