AAA Travel Tips / The 5 Best Hikes in L.A.

The 5 Best Hikes in L.A.

AAA/Frank Swanson
By AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson
January 09, 2020
Hiking in Los Angeles might seem like the punchline of a joke or a reference to the couple hundred feet of concrete an Angelino might cover between a parking garage and a trendy restaurant, but it turns out that this car-centric city possesses an array of preserved natural areas filled with excellent hiking opportunities. Griffith Park is the city centerpiece for outdoor recreation, but there’s also nearby Runyon Canyon and a variety of parks along the beautiful California coast. Here is our short list of the best hikes L.A. has to offer.
Historic Griffith Observatory overlooks Los Angeles from the slopes of Mt. Hollywood in Griffith Park.
AAA/Frank Swanson

Griffith Park Hike

• Name: Mount Hollywood Trail from Griffith Observatory to Mount Hollywood
• Distance: 2.5 miles round trip
• Trailhead/Parking: Charlie Turner Trailhead off the Griffith Observatory parking lot at 2800 E. Observatory Rd., Los Angeles
• Reason to Hike: Great Views
Rising above sprawling Los Angeles like an island in an urban sea, Griffith Park covers more than 4,500 acres of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains. It’s a rugged landscape of dry hillsides covered with scrubby chaparral and deep canyons sheltering oak and walnut trees. Even more important for visitors, Griffith Park is home to two of the city’s most recognized and iconic attractions: Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Sign.
Confusing matters for tourists just a bit, the Hollywood Sign sits atop Mount Lee, and Griffith Observatory occupies the slopes below Mount Hollywood. Hike to the top of Mount Hollywood and you’ll have a sideways view of the Hollywood Sign more than a mile away as the crow flies.
Those hikers wanting to snap a selfie with themselves and those famous giant letters might be disappointed by a hike to the top of Mount Hollywood, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort. Starting at the Griffith Observatory parking lot, the path up Mount Hollywood Trail is broad, easy and just 2.5 miles one way. And while the sign may be off in the distance, the views of the observatory’s distinctive domes with downtown Los Angeles in the background are spectacular. It’s a classic postcard view of L.A.
A couple of notes you’ll want to keep in mind:
• Griffith Park is laced with a network of more than 70 miles of trails, and you’ll encounter several intersections on this short hike alone. Just follow the signs, and you’ll be fine.
• Temperatures can soar in the summer, so bring plenty of water.
• Parking at the observatory can be a problem, so either start out early or take the DASH bus that runs from the Vermont/Sunset Metro Red Line Station to Griffith Observatory.
The Hollywood Sign overlooks Los Angeles from the top of Mount Lee in Griffith Park.
AAA/Frank Swanson

Hollywood Sign Hike

• Name: Brush Canyon Trail
• Distance: 6 miles round trip
• Trailhead/Parking: At the end of Canyon Drive, 3000 Canyon Dr., Los Angeles
• Reason to Hike: The Hollywood Sign! (Duh.)
You might be tempted to hike from Griffith Observatory to the Hollywood Sign and knock out two must-sees in one fell swoop, but at 9 miles round trip, that would be quite a swoop! Unfortunately the easiest routes to the sign are now off-limits because they begin at trailheads in neighborhoods whose residents ultimately became frustrated with hordes of hikers taking up all the street parking.
While the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks figures out a solution, an alternative to schlepping all the way from the observatory is taking Brush Canyon Trail to Mullholland Trail. It connects to Mount Lee Drive, which then passes the unsightly antenna array facility near the summit and ends atop Mount Lee for a view down (through a chain-link fence) at the large aluminum sign known around the world for its association with the glamor of the film industry. The view of the surrounding landscape is unforgettable, and the photos you take here make the journey more than worth it.
Escondido Falls, Los Angeles, Malibu Hike
iStockphoto.com/tkorocky

Malibu Hike

• Name: Edward Albert Trail to Escondido Falls
• Distance: 4 miles round trip
• Trailhead/Parking: 27807 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu
• Reason to Hike: A lovely 50-foot-high waterfall, which is unusual for the area’s dry climate
Of the several great hikes around Malibu, the Escondido Falls Hike is one of the best and most popular and it’s no wonder why. Water cascading down a 50-foot-high cliff is a beautiful sight, and the hike itself is not only easy but pretty as it passes through lush Escondido Canyon Natural Area on the edge of the Santa Monica Mountains.
From the small parking lot along Pacific Coast Highway, the “trail” takes Winding Way for three-quarters of a mile through an expensive-looking neighborhood before reaching the Edward Albert Trail and the real beginning of your hike. The path descends to Escondido Creek, which is lined by trees much of the distance, and crosses the creek a few times before arriving at the falls.
A few points to be aware of: The falls disappear during the dry season, so spring is usually the best time to visit. The parking lot fills up early on the weekend, so go on a weekday if you can. If you need a bathroom break, your options include a porta potty at the parking lot and that’s it.
Also, you may see photos of the upper falls, which are even more impressive than the lower ones. It’s disappointing, but not only are the upper falls on private property outside park boundaries and therefore off limits, getting to them is a challenging and dangerous scramble up a steep hillside. Stay safe and stick with the lower falls, which are picture-worthy on their own.
Palos Verdes in Los Angeles
iStockphoto.com/Focqus, LLC

Palos Verdes Hike

• Name: Portuguese Bend Reserve Loop
• Distance: 3-mile loop
• Trailhead/Parking: Park along Crenshaw Boulevard or at nearby Del Cerro Park, 2 Park Pl., Rancho Palos Verdes
• Reason to Hike: Great Views
Known for its upscale communities with enviable locations overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Palos Verdes Peninsula also boasts some notable nature preserves with hiking trails along the shore and high atop bluffs. Probably the only reason Portuguese Bend Reserve hasn’t seen the housing development of the surrounding area is due to the infamously unstable ground here. While the shifting soil is not great for building mansions, it’s perfect for a network of hiking trails that show off dramatic views.
From the end of Crenshaw Boulevard, follow the Burma Road Trail, veering off to the right almost immediately for the first scenic overlook that takes in a sweeping vista that includes (on a clear day) Catalina Island. Continue until you reach Eagle’s Nest Trail and take that (a left) to the next viewpoint. Continue on Eagle’s Nest Trail until you link back up with Burma Road Trail, making another left. When you reach the Ishibashi Trail, make a left again, and now you’re headed back to the trailhead.
Just one word of warning about this Palos Verdes hike: Parking is limited, so if you park in the surrounding neighborhood, look out for permit-only zones.
Runyon Canyon Loop, Los Angeles
iStockphoto.com/Valley Type

Runyon Canyon Hike

• Name: Runyon Canyon Loop
• Distance: 1.9 miles or 3 miles depending on the route
• Trailhead/Parking: The trail begins at 1998 N. Fuller Ave., Los Angeles. Park along North Fuller Avenue or on adjacent streets.
• Reason to Hike: Hollywood views and the chance for a celebrity sighting
The easy version of a hike through Runyon Canyon—which is known as much for its popularity with Hollywood A-listers out to enjoy the fresh air and post selfies of their workout as it is for its panoramas—follows Inspiration Point Trail to two scenic overlooks: Inspiration Point (naturally) and Clouds Rest. Both overlooks are worth the easy climb and the crowds. You’ll have the Hollywood Sign behind and to your left and Los Angeles spread out before you as far as the eye can see. The trail then loops back via Runyon Canyon Fire Road for an easy return trip.
This relatively short hike can be extended to a challenging 3-mile trek by continuing north past Clouds Rest along Runyon Canyon Road to the Mulholland Drive park entrance and returning by way of the more challenging, less maintained West Ridge Trail.
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