10 Unconventional L.A. Walks You’ll Actually Want To Take

Cars take us to destinations. Walks take us on journeys. Can you keep pace?

1-Hour Walks

Saunter up the coastline or discover a vibrant community-art hub in the same amount of time it takes to develop a roll of film (if that were still a thing).

1. California Coastal Trail

Malibu’s El Matador State Beach
Malibu’s El Matador State Beach

Photograph by Kristyna Archer

Distance: 2.5 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Smooth sailing

The delights of a long walk on the beach are clichéd for a reason: Little else compares with drinking in the Pacific while moseying along the shore. If you’ve ever done so, you’ve probably experienced a sliver of the California Coastal Trail without even knowing it. About 700 miles of this 1,200-mile route between Mexico and Oregon are accessible, with Malibu’s pristine and beloved public beaches comprising significant portions.

Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach is one of the trail’s sweetest sections in the L.A. area. Named after a former California State Parks deputy director, the beach is better known as a trio of strands: El Matador, La Piedra, and El Pescador. Begin at El Matador, about 25 miles west of Santa Monica off Pacific Coast Highway. Park in the clearly labeled lot a half mile west of Broad Beach, or, if you’re lucky, snag a free spot on PCH. Before heading down the staircases, look northward and savor the view—take a moment to test the panoramic function on your smartphone (or snap a family photo for your holiday cards). Pro tip: This walk is at the mercy of gravitational forces, so plan to arrive at low tide.

The El Matador terrain features rocky outcroppings, diminutive caves, and shallow tide pools. Explore the last for starburst anemones, snails, and fish before continuing north to check out a handful of jagged rock formations (a delicious sight at sunset) away from the beachgoing crowds. While the wet sands here are public, you’ll pass by several homes with private entrances. One sits on a point near the water a half mile into the walk. Carefully navigate around it and you’ll have arrived at La Piedra; another half mile north, you’ll see a staircase leading to El Pescador. Lounge for a bit, if you need a break, then turn around and go back the way you came, or keep venturing—it’s only 800 more miles to the Beaver State. —ZACH BEHRENS


2. Mural Mile

Entrepreneurship Mural by Jaime "Germs" Zacarias (2015) at 13420 Van Nuys Blvd.
Entrepreneurship Mural by Jaime “Germs” Zacarias (2015) at 13420 Van Nuys Blvd.

Photograph by Ryan Young

Distance: 4 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Easy (on the eyes)

Before 2012, the stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard running through Pacoima was a nondescript expanse of gas stations, churches, and Mexican restaurants. Four years later the region has become an unlikely public art destination thanks to a series of vivid murals painted on the exteriors of businesses. Many local artists have contributed pieces, but Pacoima native Levi Ponce is the movement’s ringleader. It was his idea to turn blank walls into colorful canvases in an effort to beautify the area. Start at Van Nuys Boulevard and Herrick Avenue, at the mural depicting Tongva medicine woman Toypurina, created by the all-female crew HOOD-sisters. Stroll (and Snapchat) until you hit Ponce’s Lady of the Valley, about two miles southwest near Arleta Avenue. —JULIA HERBST

2- to 3-Hour Walks

These three urban jaunts will keep your snack game strong. Devour an ice cream sandwich while exploring the L.A. river, or grab fresh sushi in Sawtelle Japantown.

3. The Arroyo Seco and Rose Bowl Loop

The Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena
The Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena

Photograph by Hussein Katz

Distance: 7 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Leisurely with a side of Bloody Marys

It’s been damned dammed (see Devil’s Gate in Pasadena), channelized (due to Great Depression-era flood control), and encroached upon (we’re looking at you, 210 and 134), but the Arroyo Seco has managed to maintain some of the charm that inspired early settlers. Start at the Lower Arroyo Seco parking lot off South Arroyo Boulevard at Norwood Drive. The artificial pond was built for the Pasadena Casting Club to practice fly-fishing (the arroyo was once home to fish like steelhead trout and Pacific lamprey), but beware of errant arrows—members of the Pasadena Roving Archers practice their sport near the lot as well. Walk north on the trail along the river, and you’ll soon be traveling beneath the curving Colorado Street Bridge, a triumph of civil engineering—and formerly a part of historic Route 66—built in 1913. The 150-foot-tall viaduct, known as Suicide Bridge, has a morbid history: More than 100 people are said to have jumped to their deaths here (most recently in January of this year). Continue north and the trail will rise, taking you along Arroyo Boulevard toward the 3.3-mile loop around the Rose Bowl and Brookside Golf Course. Link up with power walkers, joggers, and casual strollers on the western side of the stadium, and follow their course until Washington Boulevard. Cross Washington, and as West Drive begins to bend, take the dirt path to keep going north. Pass under the 210 freeway, then hang a right where the trail splits, which will steer you back toward the Rose Bowl along its eastern edge. Refuel with tacos and Bloody Marys at Brookside Restaurant, or—if you time the walk right—visit the famed Rose Bowl Flea Market, which takes place on the second Sunday of each month. —ZACH BEHRENS


4. Sawtelle Japantown

Ramen at Tsujita L.A. Artisan Noodle Annex
Ramen at Tsujita L.A. Artisan Noodle Annex

Photograph by Ryan Young

Distance: 1 mile round-trip
Difficulty: Afternoon delight

Sawtelle Japantown may lack the pithy moniker of Little Tokyo or K-Town, but the half-mile strip between Nebraska Avenue and Olympic Boulevard in West L.A. is a trove of Japanese eats and Asian-influenced pop culture—all prime for an afternoon of exploration. Start at Sushi Tsujita, south of La Grange Avenue on the east side of the street (the same owners sling tasty ramen down the block). Show up between noon and 2:30 p.m. for the $15 Chirashi Bowl lunch special (warm sushi rice with fresh sashimi), a wallet-friendly alternative to the joint’s pricey omakase menus. Afterward pop into GR2 Gallery, a brick-and-mortar tribute to alt-culture zine Giant Robot. Peruse the work of artists such as Takashi Murakami, and buy collectibles (say, Sawtelle Japantown pins). Feeling ambitious? Rent a studio at Max Karaoke for only five bucks during happy hour (1 p.m. to 8 p.m.).

Cross to the west side of Sawtelle at Olympic and walk north. Grab a sweet pick-me-up at Honeymee, which doles out soft-serve crowned with a chip of gooey honeycomb, then press on for sartorial experiences both hyperlocal and painfully hip. Black Market sells goods like JOYRICH streetwear and Herschel Supply Co. accessories; next door, GR2’s sister shop, the Giant Robot Store, stocks Totoro plushies and Uglydoll apparel. Finish up the day with a cold beer at Plan Check, at the intersection of Sawtelle and Nebraska. —MARIELLE WAKIM


5. Parks of Frogtown

Distance: 4 miles one way
Difficulty: Simple stop-and-go

Frog12

12:30 p.m.
I take off with two pals in the early afternoon, when the sun is partly blocked by trees. After leaving a vehicle at the endpoint (Los Feliz Cafe Eatz), we park a second car at Oso Park, cut east to the river about three minutes away, and follow the bike path upstream. I notice Frank Romero’s Juan Bautista de Anza Trail mural on the opposite bank, a reminder that the Spanish explorer walked this route in 1775. It probably wasn’t as easy with 385 Texas longhorns in tow.

River31:03 p.m.
Swallowtail butterflies flit through the air. The path runs up against overgrown backyards, where fruit trees and bougainvillea spill over chain-link fences. We duck under the railing to get closer to the river.

Rover42:08 p.m.
We come upon Elysian Valley Gateway Park, one of many pocket parks on the route. This one has a fun tree swing. A few doors down is Spoke Bicycle Cafe, with Coolhaus ice cream, free lattes, and a bike shop—welcome news for the kid who discovers he has a flat tire as he rides by.

River62:37 p.m.
Back on the path, we see the greenery dwindling. In another half mile—as if on cue—we reach Marsh Park, a well-tended dell with climbable wildlife sculptures (bonus: immaculate public restrooms). We doze on the grass before exiting through the back gate and cutting through a tiny skate park, where we spot a lawn strewn with workout machines. Obviously my friends and I have to try a few—because walking four miles isn’t enough exercise for one day.

River103:14 p.m.
We pass the new River House apartments, continue under the 2 freeway, and cross beneath Fletcher Drive. I’m struck by the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge; the nearby pilings supported Red Car tracks until the line was shut down in 1955.

River923:47 p.m.
A three-way fork: on the right, a pedestrian bridge with locks à la Paris’s Pont des Arts; on the left, a walkway to Griffith Park. We stay straight and end our trip by crossing over the Alex Baum Bicycle Bridge. —THOMAS HARLANDER

 

3- to 4-Hour Walks

Dedicate the better part of your day to Mother Nature’s canyon landscapes and rich greenery.

6. Escondido Canyon

escondido
Distance: 3.5 miles round-trip (lower falls) or 3.8 miles round-trip (upper falls)
Difficulty: Piece of (prepacked) Cake or precarious, depending on your ambition

Full disclosure: if you visit Malibu’s Escondido Canyon this summer, chances are its most famous feature—a pair of waterfalls—may look more like drippy faucets (thanks, drought!). But press on. The walk offers classic California vistas and well-maintained trails so mild, a toddler could handle them (not an exaggeration—I saw a two-year-old on my hike).

Punch 27807 Pacific Coast Highway into Google Maps. Once you arrive, turn east on Winding Way Road, a private lane just north of Geoffrey’s restaurant. Pull into the free lot on the left and proceed on foot to the well-marked dirt trail that runs east alongside the street. After nearly three-quarters of a mile (complete with stellar views of several massive estates), you’ll crest a hill and drop down into the canyon identified by a large sign, where the path cuts through a field of mustard and fennel before leading into a forest. Make a left at a marked fork and gently ascend for about a mile until you reach the shady base of Lower Escondido Falls. It’s peaceful and beautiful—even sans cascades. Bring a picnic and enjoy a snack before turning back, or savor the summer weather on a swing lassoed to a sturdy branch.

Tack on about a third of a mile by scrambling up to Upper Escondido Falls via an unlabeled path to the right of the Lower Falls. To maneuver this steep climb, I had to grab hold of rocks, branches, exposed roots, and a length of rope tied to a tree. The footing is loose, and despite sturdy hiking boots (a must), coming down is treacherous and slow. I may or may not have made it to the top (without the raging waters, it was hard to tell), but I was rewarded when I returned to the bottom: My Fitbit sent me an e-mail celebrating my first-ever Ferris Wheel badge. “Whee!” it said. “You’ve just climbed 75 floors.” —AMY WALLACE


7. Hermosa Valley Greenbelt

The South Bay's Hermosa Valley Greenbelt
The South Bay’s Hermosa Valley Greenbelt

Photograph by Kyle Alexander

Distance: About 6 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Child’s Play

Those who want to squeeze in some nature-centric cardio before a beach day could drive to Griffith Park, dust up their Nikes, and then sit in westbound traffic for an hour—but here’s a better idea. Veterans Parkway (aka the Hermosa Valley Greenbelt) is a lush 3.9-mile trail, only a quarter mile inland from the Pacific, that stretches languidly through the oceanside cities of the South Bay. For nearly 100 years the strip of land served as a Santa Fe Railroad line, connecting the three wharves between Redondo, Hermosa, and Manhattan beaches; in 1986, the tracks were pulled up and the walkway was converted into the green space it is today.

Consider splitting this jaunt into two sections—one part greenbelt, one part strand—with a carby brunch in between. Set out for the south end of the trail, at Herondo Street and Valley Drive in Hermosa Beach (park adjacent to the path in the free lot on Valley between 11th and 8th, just north of Herondo). Jog or walk along the wood-chip trail, which is lined on both sides with pungent pepper and eucalyptus trees as well as ice plant. The landscaping ensconces the trail from passing traffic on Valley Drive and Ardmore Avenue. The topography of the course caters to children both in strollers and out; if kids are in the mix, stop off midway at Valley Park, which is outfitted with bathrooms (in case of emergency) and a playground (in case of boredom).

Once you reach 13th Street in Manhattan Beach, about 2.6 miles into the walk, cut left off the trail and cruise west to Highland. Refuel with a stack of banana-nut pancakes at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, and ride out the sugar rush by meandering down to the shore and soaking up some rays. Follow the strand south to the Hermosa Beach Pier before looping back up to the greenbelt and your car by way of Pier Avenue. —THOMAS HARLANDER

4-Plus Hour Walks

You’ll hit 10,000 steps and then some traversing the oak savannas of the Simi Hills or surveying the architecture of Wilshire Boulevard.

8. Double Shot: Two Downtown Bar Crawls

barcrawls

Spend a few happy hours on these DTLA bar crawls, each featuring famous gin mills from the silver and small screens. Shed all of the drunk tears on the blue DRAMA route, or laugh it up on the red COMEDY route—the choice (and the hangover) is yours.

DRAMA
Tony’s Saloon
2017 E. 7th St.
Kick things off at this restored saloon, which appears in the Ray Donovan episode “Breakfast of Champions.” Abby (Paula Malcomson) pays a visit to Kelly’s Place, her family’s Boston-area bar, but—psych!—the Beantown watering hole is played by this friendly Arts District alehouse. Stop in for Ping-Pong or pool (and of course a craft cocktail).

Villains Tavern

1356 Palmetto St.
The moody space, festooned with racks of embalming bottles, is the backdrop for an episode of American Horror Story called “Spooky Little Girl.” Tucked-away tables and a bar flanked by a dramatic stained glass window set the scene for Hayden McClaine (kate Mara) to confess an illicit crush over cocktails.

King Eddy Saloon
131 E. 5th St.
Coworkers Quinn (Katie Lowes) and Huck (Guillermo Diaz) drink and make up at this old-school bar in the Scandal episode “Yes.” Opened in 1933, King Eddy is rumored to have been a popular hangout for Charles Bukowski.

Cole’s

118 E. 6th St.
A downtown stalwart, Cole’s has been mixing drinks and serving French dip sandwiches since it opened in 1908 (when it was still the main Red Car terminal at the Pacific Electric Building). The landmark canteen stands in for a New York taproom in Forrest Gump (1994). Forrest (Tom Hanks) and Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) sit at the 40-foot mahogany bar and discuss shrimp boating while ringing in the New Year in 1972. Across the street you’ll find J&J Sandwich shop, aka the Night Owl Café from L.A. Confidential (1997).

Pattern Bar
100 W. 9th St.
It’s at this chic Fashion District bar that Threat Assessment Unit lieutenant Beth Davis (Maggie Q) realizes her best friend, Tracy Wright (Tara Summers), is dating a dangerous criminal on the series Stalker. The sleek establishment fits in well with its trendy surroundings, from the themed decor (you’ll spot vintage sewing machines on shelves behind the bar) to the specialty cocktails named after legendary designers (The Chanel, The Karan, The Lagerfeld).


COMEDY
BAR9
333 S. Figueroa St.
Start at the L.A. Hotel Downtown, where Christopher Walken dances his way through Fatboy Slim’s 2001 Weapon of Choice music video. In one scene Walken soars over BAR9’s two-story lobby lounge.

Redwood Bar & Grill
316 W. 2nd St.
This pirate-themed alehouse—with decorative masts, ship helm chandeliers, and more skulls than a goth kid’s wardrobe—is where Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd) spend a night out in Bridesmaids (2011). The bar also shows up in (500) Days of Summer (2009): tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) performs a drunken (but rousing!) karaoke rendition of the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man” for his office love interest, summer (Zooey Deschanel).

Perch
448 S. Hill St.
Veer south toward this rooftop bar known for its views of the city, the same one where Billy (Sam Rockwell) and marty (Colin Farrell) have a tête-à-tête in the dark comedy Seven Psychopaths (2012). Billy provides Marty, a struggling screenwriter, with an idea for a script over drinks; those suffering from Marty’s fate ought to try Perch’s Writers—Block cocktail, made of vodka, St. Germain, lemon, and sparkling wine.

Gallery Bar & Cognac Room
506 S. Grand Ave.
You don’t eat mixed nuts at a bar—everyone knows that. Or so says risk assessment analyst Reuben
feffer (Ben Stiller) in Along Came Polly (2004), who explains the hazards of communal bar nuts to polly prince (jennifer aniston) at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel’s signature lounge. Fellow germaphobe Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) sits at the bar during a disastrous first date in the Monk episode “Mr. Monk and the Blackout.”

Mas Malo
515 W. 7th St.
The Cal-Mex restaurant’s upstairs lounge is transformed into the Pawnee Smokehouse for the Parks and Recreation episode “Animal Control.” Puffing on the premises is a no-no in real life, but you can emulate cologne mogul Dennis Feinstein (Jason Mantzoukas) and Rent-a-Swag founder Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) by sipping some suds as you wax philosophical about fox hunting.—LINDSAY BLAKE


9. Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

The Anza Trail in the Simi Hills
The Anza Trail in the Simi Hills

Photograph by Ryan Young

Distance: 14 miles one way
Difficulty: Slow and sweaty

Six years before 44 settlers and four soldiers founded Los Angeles in 1781, a team of about 240 Spanish colonists, led by Juan Bautista de Anza, journeyed 1,200 miles from Nogales, Arizona, to San Francisco. This segment, which snakes through the Simi Hills at the Los Angeles city limits, spans 14 of the 500 miles open to the public today. Don’t let the route frighten you off: For a long-distance hike, this one skews Zen thanks to mostly flat terrain. (That’s not to say it’s a cinch, but other treks in the area—Mount Wilson, San Gorgonio—are certifiable thigh grinders.) Expect off-the-radar charm with minimal suffering.

The trip can be hard to navigate, even with markers. To maximize ease and safety, tackle it with friends and two cars, one parked at the end of your hike on Lang Ranch Parkway and the other at the beginning, off Vanowen Street and Valley Circle Boulevard. Be sure to bring plenty of water and a map—Tom Harrison’s Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyons map covers the entire Simi Hills trails system.

Start at El Escorpion Canyon Park, known for its access to the Cave of Munits, in West Hills. The formation is worthy of spelunking—especially when combined with a climb to Castle Peak, which provides sweeping views of the San Fernando Valley—but save that for another visit. Follow El Escorpion Trail for a mile as it bends southward, until you reach the end of Victory Boulevard, at Moore Canyon Road. If you’ve ever been enamored with the Joshua trees in the Mojave Desert, take note of Southern California’s coast live oaks. With their gnarled branches and towering statures, the trees are breathtaking and photogenic, particularly when a milky fog blankets the peaceful oak savanna in the early morning. Veer west through rolling hills, down East Las Virgenes Canyon, for about one-and-three-quarter miles before horseshoeing a mile and a half to Bell Canyon Fire Road. Pick up a connector path to the three-mile Cheeseboro Ridge Trail, and keep an eye out for wildflowers; in the spring the area is rife with fiddleneck, blue dick, Indian paintbrush, Hubby’s phacelia, and grape soda lupine.

The ridge trail comes to a junction in an area known as Shepherds’ Flat, where you’ll go west on the Sheep Corral Trail. Continue on as the path turns into the Palo Comado Fire Road, ending at the beautiful China Flat, an oasis once owned by Bob Hope. Proceed north past a small cave to the Albertson Fire Road, and follow it west to a sight for sore legs—your car—on Lang Ranch Parkway. —ZACH  BEHRENS


10. 100 to One Wilshire

Distance: 16 miles one way
Difficulty: Demanding but worth it

ZeroMILE 0
I leave my car in a Santa Monica public lot and meet friends at 100 Wilshire, at Ocean Avenue. With its clean white design, the 1970s office building has earned a nickname: the Refrigerator.

roissantMILE 2
A 16-mile walk requires some sustenance, so we stop by Milo & Olive in Santa Monica before Wilshire bends around the VA and under the 405. We leave with handfuls of flaky pastry and hot cups of Caffe Luxxe coffee for the road.

bandaidMILE 4
It’s early, but I’m ready to throw in the towel. My shoes are too small, a realization that sets in as I hobble past Charles Luckman’s Federal Building and the staid high-rises of Westwood’s Wilshire Corridor.

cameraMILE 6
Each new block has me ogling a beautiful facade (and reaching for my camera). The stretch through Beverly Hills takes us past a series of midcentury institutions: Welton Becket’s Beverly Hilton, Edward Durell Stone’s Perpetual Savings and Loan building, and some of Millard Sheets’s banks, with their famous mosaic murals (don’t miss his first major bank project, at 9245 Wilshire Boulevard). Architecture buffs: be sure to check out the LA Conservancy’s online guide Curating the City: Wilshire Boulevard before leaving home.

NikeMILE 7
Our path goes straight to the Nike store, at Wilshire and Camden. Fifteen minutes and an impulse-purchase later, I’m a new man, courtesy of comfy sneakers.

mile10MILE 10
We make a cultural pit stop in the Miracle Mile, touring Ace Gallery in the art deco Wilshire Tower (above). Berlin-based gallery Sprüth Magers or LACMA are good bets, too.

mile11MILE 11
We scope out Sheets’s Scottish Rite Masonic Temple (above), which will house the art collection of Guess’s Marciano brothers. Just east is the Harbor Building (the original Getty Center), built for J. Paul’s Tidewater Oil Company in the 1950s.

mile12MILE 12
By this point stomachs are rumbling and our feet need a rest. A short detour into Koreatown leads us to Beer Belly for a Modern Times tall boy and fried chicken.

mile14MILE 14
I love the bustle of MacArthur Park, and the scene is busy when we arrive at dusk. We grab some elote and look up at the pastel sky over the American Cement Building, a 1960s ode to the formal beauty of concrete.

mile16MILE 16
We cross the 110 as the sun dips below the horizon and arrive at One Wilshire, at Grand Avenue downtown. Built in the 1960s, it contains one of the world’s largest Internet fiber-optic centers. —ROBERT J. KETT

 

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