Hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, California

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With every trip to Los Angeles, I understand more and more the allure, the affection, and why so many of my East Coast friends and family have escaped to its warmth. This latest trip was extra special because I had my husband and kids with me, something which always makes travel to anywhere more fun.

On my last visit, I was able to connect with a lot of local friends who showed me the best of their neighborhoods. I invite you to check out Los Angeles from a New Yorker’s Point of View for a list of these must-see areas.

On this trip, we had a small list of suggestions, but mainly did a lot of exploring on our own and found a few more gems in the process. Most importantly, on this trip, I got to take part in my favorite activity: hiking.

Ahhh, the outdoors!

I feel like the point of California-living is being outdoors. But if you aren’t from there it might not be as natural a thought. You will find yourself outdoors plenty, whether at an eatery or by the pool bar, but what I’m talking about is heading out into nature.

Los Angeles is expansive and has a lot of pockets of nature to explore. We kicked off our first day with hike to the Parker Mesa Overlook in Topanga State Park, along a trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.

There are a few trails on Los Liones Canyon (main entrance says Los Leones) for any skill-level, and the only recommendation I would make besides figuring out which trail to take, is to prepare for the weather.

Ready for action!

The week before we arrived we were told the weather was rainy – not great for that trail as it can be muddy and the rocks can be slippery and dangerous. On the day we hiked, it was sunny and clear. Perfect, except the trail is only partly shaded and it can get really hot as you’re hiking up. It’s really the only thing that made it feel a bit more difficult for us.

Overall, the trail itself wasn’t tough for our family, we’ve done more challenging ones. The trail got more crowded as it got later in the day though and even though dogs are not allowed, not everyone seemed to follow this rule. We hiked the 3+ miles up to the overlook and they did not disappoint.

From the 1500+ feet elevation we could see all of Santa Monica Bay, Catalina Island, Downtown Los Angeles, and even the snow on the tips of the San Gabriel Mountains. Next time I would plan a much earlier hike or wait later for the sunset.

This particular hike is about 7.3 miles in total round trip, and it can take an average hiker about 3-4 hours. There are a few other, more extensive hikes to choose from. The trail is lush and serene, and every so often the breeze would carry a soft scent of flowers blooming. They caution to beware of rattle snakes who like to bathe in the hot sun, but they are more afraid of you and will try to avoid you if they can, and we never saw one – to the disappointment of our boys. We did see a lot of small lizards though!

There is plenty of parking at the bottom of the trail and public bathrooms which are clean and bright. Bring a picnic and plenty of water. Best hiking period is between March and November.

Not a bad way to start the day!

Another, much shorter trail is the Corral Canyon Trail, a 2.5 mile loop which will lead you to beautiful water views. We didn’t do this trail, instead headed over to Malibu Seafood (right next to the trail base) where we basked in the joy from our earlier hike and indulged in all kinds of yummy seafood, such as mussels, swordfish sandwiches, flounder and seaweed salad.

This popular eatery is only opened in the afternoon, where they serve the morning catch to hungry visitors. We were lucky to be there on a weekday as we heard that weekends is a hectic experience.

After lunch, we sat along the rocky beach and took in all the awesome of that moment.

I am convinced that from this moment on all my visits to Los Angeles will include several hiking excursions. Till now, I’ve limited my California hiking to the national parks, but clearly, as this trip proved, I have been missing out.

For more info on the Corral Canyon Trail and other fun California hikes, check out some of my favorite resources for the area: All Trails, Modern Hiker, Hikespeak, as well as the National Parks Services website.


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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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