Los Angeles-Area Hikes

We haven’t had a chance to travel for awhile, but over the past couple of years, when we’re home we’ve done a bunch of local hikes and walks (and a couple of new bike rides), thanks to Hank’s research. Though Southern California doesn’t have the grandeur of Yosemite, the wildlife of Yellowstone, or the colors of tropical diving, we’ve nevertheless appreciated the chance to explore locally, and we hope you’ll enjoy this little report on our explorations. For those who live in SoCal, we’ve tried to provide enough information (and links) that you can find these places yourself, but feel free to ask us if something isn’t clear. All of these hikes occurred after the Covid pandemic began and are within an hour of our home in Marina del Rey.

Yellow-rumped warbler
View from Mugu Peak

Turtles in the San Gabriel River: We were pleasantly surprised to discover that you can see green sea turtles near Los Angeles (yes, the same species that you see in Hawaii and other tropical destinations!). There’s a bike path from the Seal Beach Jetty north along the San Gabriel River, and where the power plant releases warm water, green sea turtles have discovered this spot and now live in the mouth of the river (or at least visit). After parking at the Seal Beach Jetty, we enjoyed a fun bike ride early in the pandemic with friends Rich and Lori, and Kim and Suzie. Here’s a link to someone else’s blog (It’s a Piece of Cake…) with lots of details (and better pictures of the turtles than we were able to get).

A green sea turtle pops up its head in the San Gabriel River
Biking along the San Gabriel River with friends

We rode our bikes several more miles up the San Gabriel River to El Dorado Park (El Dorado Nature Center, a huge park in Long Beach just west of the 605) and walked their nature trail, where we got to see freshwater turtles, among other critters.

A pair of turtles at El Dorado Park

Mugu Peak Trail in Pt Mugu State Park (Ventura County north of Malibu) has long been a favorite of ours. It’s about 2.7 miles round trip depending on what route you take. An old Chumash Indian trail, it’s pretty steep, but offers beautiful views of the Malibu and Ventura County coastline on a clear day.

At the top of Mugu Peak, 1266 feet
The view from Mugu Peak

Temescal Canyon Trail is operated by L.A. County and is near Pacific Palisades. You hike to the end of the canyon and into Topanga State Park. It’s very popular and provides great views of the Santa Monica Bay and Santa Monica Mountains when it’s clear. Our friends Rich and Lori joined us for this Christmas Eve daytime hike over a year ago, as did a friendly little snake.

Friends Lori and Rich with Hank
A snake in Temescal Canyon

Will Rogers State Historic Park, also in Pacific Palisades, has a 2-mile loop to Inspiration Point. In non-pandemic times, you can tour Will Rogers’ house and watch while teams actually play polo on horses. Bring a lunch and enjoy a picnic on the huge lawn.

Rich and Lori join us again
Will Rogers' house

George F. Canyon Nature Center is operated by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy in the city of Rolling Hills Estates. Their 2-mile (round-trip) out-and-back trail climbs 400 feet in elevation and gives a nice view of the surrounding city. It’s mostly shady along a dry stream bed, so it’s a good choice in summer. Not much wildlife, but we saw lots of poison oak (be careful!) and a very cute Western fence lizard.

A Western fence lizard poses for us.

Eaton Canyon Nature Center, including Coyote Canyon, is operated by L.A. County in Pasadena at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. Eaton Canyon is named after Judge Benjamin Eaton, who was the first person to use irrigation from Eaton Creek to grow grapes on the slopes of the nearby hills. This is a popular hiking area and there are lots more trails than we explored one day with our dive buddies Richard and Marilynn. The nature center has informative displays, and we saw several deer and lizards on this rather warm day. You can hike to a waterfall (which we didn’t do today), which was one of the very first dates that Hank and I had back in 1988!

Friends Richard and Marilynn with Cindy
A deer in Eaton Canyon

Malibu Creek State Park has lots of places to explore, and we haven’t really spent much time doing that in the past, even though we’ve lived in the area for 40 years (Cindy) and 63 years (Hank), respectively. On this day, we were greeted by a very friendly ranger (paying for parking and an extremely-helpful official Malibu Creek map) before walking to the Century Lake Dam along a wide dirt road, passing a lizard, great blue heron, and other birds along the way.

On the way to Century Lake

Our destination was a tiny dam with a lake that is really more of a pond full of lily pads. We could have continued on to the M*A*S*H site, where much of the TV show was filmed, but skipped it this time (though we got to see an original ambulance door outside the closed Visitor Center). On the way back, we stopped at Rock Pool (some rocks, no pool) where a scene from the original Planet of the Apes was filmed.

Hank at the Century Lake Dam
An ambulance door from M*A*S*H

Across the street from the main entrance to Malibu Creek State Park is the King Gillette Ranch, where the headquarters for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, part of the National Park Service, are located. The ranch was formerly owned by the man who invented Gillette razor blades, hence the name. The Visitor Center has very well-done displays and a hummingbird that hangs around outside. On our first visit (mid-morning), we hiked the 1.5-mile Gillette Ranch Loop Trail (past Inspiration Point) and saw at least 6 deer.

Hummingbird at King Gillette Ranch
Mule deer
Say's Phoebe, a medium-sized flycatcher

On our second visit to King Gillette Ranch, hiking at mid-day with our friends Kim and Suzie, we hiked the King Gillette Ridge Trail Loop for a slightly longer (2.5 miles) hike. No deer this time, but we had striking 360-degree views of the mountains, including Malibu Creek State Park.

Friends Suzie and Kim join Hank
The view from Inspiration Point looking over to Malibu Creek State Park

Carbon Canyon’s Coastal Redwoods: Did you know there are coastal redwoods in Southern California? We sure didn’t know that until Hank read an article about them. Not native to the area, this grove of redwoods was planted in 1975, and today there are 241 beautiful redwoods that survive in this dry location with assistance from underground sprinklers. It’s a refreshing, cool walk through the trees, and you can hike uphill a ways to get a nice view looking down on them. Part of the Carbon Canyon Regional Park of Orange County, the redwood grove provides great habitat for a number of birds and is a short hike from the parking area. The park is huge with restrooms, plenty of parking, and a small entrance fee.

California scrub jay

The Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, an L.A. County Park off the Antelope Valley Freeway (14), has a small visitor center with live rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, and a helpful staff member. Known for its beautiful rock formations, this area was also a hiding place in 1874 for Tiburcio Vasquez, a notorious bandit, for whom the rocks were named. These sandstone rocks have been featured in hundreds of movies and other shows, including The Ten Commandments, Planet of the Apes, Little Miss Sunshine, Monk, Mission: Impossible, The Twilight Zone, and lots of Star Trek movies and episodes.

Rattlesnake in the visitor center

The Vasquez Rocks Trail was not well marked, so we relied heavily on our All Trails app for this hike. And this is not a trail to do in the summer or in the middle of the day, as there’s no shade and it can get brutally hot in this area. But it’s a good hike for kids because you can climb on the rocks and pretend to be a bandit (or an alien)!

Tataviam Archaeological Site at Vasquez Rocks--Native petroglyphs

Our Sepulveda Nature Walk in the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve was a really pleasant surprise for us. Part of the Sepulveda Dam/Lake Balboa complex in the San Fernando Valley, this nature walk around an unnamed lake was filled with all kinds of birds, including white pelicans, snowy egrets, and great blue herons. Though the parking area was tricky to find, this was an easy walk around the lake, even the day after a significant rainstorm. The wide path was decomposed granite most of the way around, with lots of little turnouts to get close to the water and thus the birds. There are also great bike paths all around the park.

The island in the middle of this small lake
White pelicans were everywhere
This little bunny hid pretty well.

After an outdoor breakfast at Marmalade Café in Malibu, we drove up Pacific Coast Highway another mile and parked (free) at the Malibu Bluffs Park, which is a large complex of baseball diamonds, hiking trails, and more. The Malibu Bluff Trail is on land protected by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and is up high (no beach access) with clear views of the ocean, the wealthy homes below, and Pepperdine University on the other side of PCH.

The Malibu Bluff Trail is right next to PCH.
Great views from the Malibu Bluff Trail

Then we drove back toward our breakfast location and paid $3.00 per hour to park at Malibu Lagoon State Beach. This is another great park for bird watching, and it’s also a good spot to watch surfers at world-famous Surfrider Beach, or just enjoy a walk on the beach.

Egrets and pelicans in Malibu Lagoon
Tiny little surfers at Surfrider Beach

Of course, it’s always nice to just walk in our own neighborhood, where we are so spoiled to have the uncrowded (and not-weird) part of Venice Beach, plus the Ballona Lagoon (here’s a great LA Times article), to enjoy. Both locations have tons of birds, especially in the winter when we have so many migrating birds join us for several months. And we were happy to recently see that starfish (sea stars) have come back to the rocks on our beach. It’s fun to hunt for them during very low tides.

Oystercatchers on our beach
California least terns from last summer
Sea stars at low tide--so glad they're back!

If you live in (or visit) the L.A. area, let us know if you want to try out any of these hikes. We might want to go again! Meanwhile, we’ll keep investigating our own backyard as we try to get/stay in shape for upcoming travels. Feel free to share your favorite L.A. hikes in the comments section!

Great blue heron
Lesser scaup
An osprey on top of a sailboat mast in Marina del Rey
Sea lions nap on our docks
Bufflehead in Ballona Lagoon
Great egret in Ballona Lagoon
A mama duck needs help getting her chicks out of our condo swimming pool.
Allen's hummingbird above Ballona Lagoon

4 thoughts on “Los Angeles-Area Hikes”

  1. Hey Hank and Cindy!
    I would say the most surprising picture was the petroglyphs!!! You also captured a ton of urban wildlife and the green sea turtle!!! I had no idea they would be so far ‘inland’ from the ocean! I guess water is water! (same with your condo ducks!) It is nice to see and appreciate what is in our very own backyard.
    I love the update!

  2. Wow, this is so interesting. I never had the wherewithal to visit these places. It is so good that you send this blog and pictures so that I can travel, vicariously, through your posts. It is very cold here in Chestertown and so I am staying inside and taking care of various projects. Thank you so much.
    Phyllis Brown

    • Phyllis! I’ve been thinking of you all week! Wish you could join us on these hikes. The coast is beautiful and we get to many of these hikes along the Malibu coast. It’s 70 degrees today in Marina del Rey. Sorry!!!!


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