Adventure Beyond The Sprawl: Natural Wonders in Los Angeles

Get those kids out of the museums and into some valuable vitamin-D rich sunshine! In Los Angeles, a city surrounded by hills, mountains, beaches, and canyons, there are plenty of opportunities.

Grab some sunscreen, your hats and water bottles, snacks, and bug spray and step out of your door. You can get the best out of nature in pockets all over the city, but also by making the trek just out of town.

Beaches to Hang Your Hat On

Head to the classic city beach, Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica. You’ll find Will Rogers at Temescal Canyon Way and the PCH, just north of the popular Santa Monica Beach and Pier, which puts it out of the major tourist fray. Play volleyball, lie on the sand, or dive into the surf. Lifeguards, bathroom facilities, food stalls and showers make the beach convenient for families. Arrive early to get a spot at the on-site parking lot.

From Santa Monica, the closest beach city to Los Angeles proper, you’ve got two options: North or south.

Taking the southern route to San Pedro, you’ll arrive at a pleasant peninsula on the edge of San Pedro, Cabrillo Beach, 33 miles from Santa Monica. Adventurers can catch a wave on the open side of the peninsula and splash out to sea. Parents of small ones should swim facing the harbor (east side), with a children’s play area and roped-off swim area. Just beyond the beach, kids can stick their fingers in the touch tanks at the aquarium and wash up or shower at the Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse. Lifeguards are on duty daily.

In the other direction… Wind your way north up the coast for 28 miles to a true city escape at Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu. Explore a mile of tide pools, sea caves, and reefs before diving in or laying out on the beach. Picnic areas, restrooms, showers, and campgrounds facilitate longer stays, with backcountry hiking trails in the Santa Monica Mountains making this the ideal nature escape. Which brings us to. . .

Hikes Before Naptime

For the most idyllic nature hikes, get thee to Malibu! The rustic Santa Monica Mountains provide a bevy of treasured landscapes for hikers of all ages and skill levels.

Prepare to get wet when you hike Solstice Canyon, just off Corral Canyon Road. Climb the paved Rising Sun Trail for a bird's-eye view of the ocean. Down in the canyon, your kids can explore the ruins of an old stone home and an abandoned architectural gem, both burned in a forest fire. Tropical foliage, pools, and a 30-foot waterfall create a wet, wild, and magical adventure! Older kids will want to take the steep trail to the top of the waterfall for more pools and another great view. The entire loop is less than three miles, well suited to a sane level of endurance.

Waterfall chasers on the eastside can head into Angeles National Forest, where the San Gabriel Mountains loom large over Pasadena and its suburbs. Hike to Switzer Falls, the 50-footer 10 miles north of Altadena. Pick blackberries on the once-paved Bear Canyon Road (that was in 1930, so no promises of smooth sailing) and cross onto the Gabrielino Trail up the side of the canyon toward the falls. Kids can splash and play in the pools beneath the falls, but the scramble up to the top is probably a bit too advanced.

Back in the city, head to Griffith Park. Don’t miss the Bronson Canyon trail, a loop that’s less than one mile and takes you to the “bat cave” – or at least the entrance to said cave from the 1960’s Batman television show. Kids will love the odd lunar landscape and maybe even recognize it from a few movies. Get there from Hollywood via Canyon Drive, just north of Franklin Avenue off the exit from the 101. Park at Camp Hollywoodland and cross the red concrete bridge to start the trail.

Parks to Navigate By

Test out a variety of other trails in Griffith Park, which are generally great for families. Hike to the Hollywood sign for the classic Los Angeles 360 view, or take young ones on the Fern Canyon Trail near the merry-go-round. And yes, the merry-go-round, pony rides, Travel Town Museum and the Los Angeles Zoo are just a few of the other activities you can enjoy in Griffith Park. Picnics on the grass and swimming at the summertime pool at the Los Feliz Blvd. and Riverside Drive entrance are also great ways to have fun.

Playgrounds galore, a basketball court, and sand volleyball await your hyperactive children on the westside at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. Set them free on hiking paths, by a waterfall, on their bikes, or galloping on horses. Walk around the lotus pond with your stroller-bound tots, and send your school-age kids to become junior rangers during summer months.

Kids will also enjoy activities and events in the Santa Monica Mountains’ Recreation Area. Musical performances, nature walks, celestial viewing parties, and history hikes are all great ways to get your kids lost in the woods.

Don’t have time for a full day of park play? There are plenty of local community parks worth visiting. Churn away in a paddle-boat at Echo Park Lake, climb aboard the new playground with rubberized surfaces, or watch your kids play soccer at Roxbury Memorial Park in Beverly Hills. Beat the heat at the splash pad and pool at Annenberg Community Beach House, or dip your toe in the giant fountain at the city’s newest urban park in Downtown, Grand Park.

More from the Great Outdoors!

Take advantage of the unrelenting sunshine when you visit one of the city’s many outdoor pools. For a cool $3.50, you can splash, dive, swim, and float all over the city any day of the week. Stoner Park’s pool and splash pad are great for casual dipping and careening down waterslides. Competitive swimmers and casual sliders will like the dual-pool setup at the San Fernando Regional Pool. And the home of past Olympic Games, the John C. Argue Swim Stadium, is always a good bet, too.

In the summer months, groove to 50 free concerts at Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena, or go to MacArthur Park. Jump continents when you wander the Venice Canals in preparation for a European trip. Fair warning, though: Exposing kids to gondola music early in life can lead to operatic aspirations!

What are some outdoors adventures you don’t want to miss on your L.A. trip? Share them with us in the comments below!

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