The images that come to mind when you think of Los Angeles are often rolling hillsides overlooking the ocean, Rodeo Drive and famous beaches crawling with movie stars. These images have spread across the world, but the city and surrounding areas also contain hidden gems well worth exploring. From weaving through trails near the Hollywood sign to some outstanding camping options for beginners and veterans, Los Angeles has a lot more going on than chic hangouts and beaches. Consider adding some of these destinations onto your trip itinerary.
Camp by the ocean or the mountains (or both) at Leo Carrillo State Park Campground
Tanning on a beach is only one way to enjoy the L.A. region’s beautiful coasts. Just past Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway, Leo Carrillo State Park Campground sits along the beach but also right beneath the Santa Monica Mountains. This park offers the best of both worlds for the ultimate California camping experience. Campers can enjoy a morning surf or swim before taking a long hike into the cooler air of the mountains during the peak of summer. Although there are a myriad of hiking options, plenty of locals find their way to the Nicholas Flat Trail for a very early-morning jaunt. The sunrise views of the mountains and ocean from the peak are nothing shy of spectacular.
Explorers also come to check out the enigmatic caves, tide pools, and seclusive coves that give the site its unique character. For fishing enthusiasts, Leo Carrillo even has some great options in this department as well, giving outdoors lovers even more incentive to head to Leo Carrillo.
For those who like to ditch the easy, modern-city life and rough it a little, this is the perfect way to experience L.A.’s sprawling pine forests and rugged natural landscapes. Looking down over Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles from the San Gabriel Mountains, Henninger has gorgeous views, campsites for groups both small and large, and a wealth of terrific hiking in the area. You have to hike to the campground (about three miles), which makes it a peaceful oasis unlike the fast-paced atmosphere of L.A. There is one caveat, however. Because there is no running water, campers need to be realistic about whether that’s a problem or not. But for those ready for a little adventure filled with gorgeous views and old-school camping, Henninger Flats is ideal.
Alternative: Only a few minutes from Leo Carrillo, Sycamore Canyon is also about an hour northwest of downtown Los Angeles – when traffic is cooperating – and offers excellent beach camping along with many hiking/biking trails. As a substitute for Henninger Flats, Horse Flats is only a short drive away and does have running water.
Dive into a swimming hole at Malibu Creek State Park
While many pile into the coastal hot spots around Los Angeles, swimming holes have also become favorite gathering places for weekend warriors and anyone looking for a different type of L.A. experience. Up at the Malibu Creek State Park, visitors come for a nice leisurely hike that leads to a natural swimming hole – complete with low-level cliff jumping and plenty of room to splash around in a wide, freshwater basin. Although the Grassland Trail leading to the pool isn’t the most rigorous hikes in L.A., it still shows off northern L.A. County’s rugged terrain and is easy to navigate for families. For movie fans who come to L.A., Malibu Creek State Park has been a popular shooting site for a century, including classics like Planet of the Apes and How Green Was My Valley.
While Malibu Creek State Park is about a half-hour drive northwest from downtown L.A. if you get up early enough to miss the traffic, heading northeast will take you to Hermit Falls at the cusp of Angeles National Forest. More adventurous than its Malibu counterpart, Hermit Falls showcases a moderate, heavily forested trail leading to a seclusive waterfall. Though you’ll need to grapple down a rope to get to the basin, it’s a picturesque picnic spot that is particularly beautiful during the spring and early summer, when the waterfall tends to be at its fullest.
Pasadena’s Eaton Canyon
Not to be outdone, Pasadena’s Eaton Canyon also features a plunging waterfall and a refreshing mostly shaded hike that can be the perfect antidote to a busy day in the city. While the waterfall’s basin is great for wading and cooling off beneath the water-carved boulders the area is known for, the hike is also loaded with terrific scenery thanks to the gentle stream that cuts through the heart of the trail. With peaceful refuges all over Los Angeles County, there is no shortage of ways to slip into the Californian wilderness for a day of tranquility that is sure to recharge your batteries.
Go horseback riding and more in Griffith Park
You’re probably more likely to think of Ferraris than horses when L.A. comes to mind, but going horseback riding is an age-old pastime in the area and continues to thrive with visitors for a reason. Though you could just snap a distant photo of the famous Hollywood sign and be on your way, there are also great horseback-riding options that will take you through the famous Hollywood hills just like the original settlers of the area.
During a tour with a local company, you’ll enjoy some of the very best views of downtown L.A. while you travel along the paths of famous Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country. Because there are very few good viewing spots for the Hollywood sign, a horseback ride also gets you much closer than usual, taking you for an up close and personal glimpse of one of L.A.’s most famous landmarks. But even if you’re indifferent about seeing the sign, the horseback ride offers staggering views of L.A.
To complete a trip to Griffith Park, there are all kinds of other opportunities awaiting outdoor lovers. Not only does the park contain a seemingly endless series of great hikes, but you should also get a nice taste of the local plant and wildlife. Mule deer, gray foxes, more than 200 species of bird, and even the occasional mountain lion wander the area. The park is also packed with wildflowers that are particularly beautiful in the springtime. Visitors tend to find their way to the mysterious Bronson Caves, used as the original Bat Cave for the 1960s Batman TV series, along with a long list of famous movies. Though packing into the main Hollywood strip is one way to experience L.A., heading out to the Hollywood hills trails will give you more of a behind-the-scenes look at the area without having to fight the crowds.
A choose your own adventure
The sheer number of things to do in L.A. can be daunting. Although the beauty of Los Angeles is that it’s a state with endless opportunities for relaxation, adventure, and everything in between thanks to its geographic and cultural diversity. As long as you’re mindful of traffic and willing to get up a little early to beat the crowds, L.A.’s many outdoor adventures can be the perfect weekend activity.