There’s no shortage of hiking trails and scenic overlooks in Los Angeles, but finding solitude amid the concrete isn’t as easy. Here are seven places that will make the sprawl and the skyscrapers fade away, if only for a moment. The best part? All but one are free.
Downtown has its patches of green, but they pale against the lush landscaping of the Kyoto Grand hotel’s Garden in the Sky. The half-acre garden, on a third-floor terrace, seems a world away from the traffic below and the steel-and-glass high-rises to the west. Every turn along the paths offers a surprise, from the shady forest of sweet gum and camphor trees to a meandering stream and waterfalls. » 120 S. Los Angeles St., Little Tokyo, 213-629-1200.
The small scale lends a homey feel to the gardens surrounding the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple, which is a respite from the cold jumble of the Kaiser Permanente buildings. The shaded areas in the rear are the most inviting and feature a lily pond and a gazebo with stained-glass windows and marble benches. » 4860 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, 323-661-8006.
When the producers of the Star Trek franchise needed a location to depict a future of (mostly) peaceful exploration, they found it near the 101 and 405 interchange. At the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, the Japanese Garden may once have been Captain Kirk’s alma mater, Starfleet Academy, but it’s still home to six-and-a-half acres of waterfalls and lakes chock-full of carp and tilapia. On weekends tour guides in red kimonos wait on you in the teahouse. The breeze is a little briny at times, thanks to the adjacent facility (the garden was originally designed to show how reclaimed water can be used), but that only helps the park live up to its name, Suiho-en, which means “garden of water and fragrance.” » 6100 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys, 818-756-8166; admission, $3.
Most of the asphalt trail around the Hollywood Reservoir—also known as Lake Hollywood —is closed to the public because of landslides, but still open is a memorable 40-minute walk that loops around the northern tip of the lake to and from the Tahoe Gate. A nine-foot-high chain-link fence seems to disappear before the emerald green water, the massive Mulholland dam, and banks of fir, sumac, and eucalyptus trees. Access is limited to 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and sunup to sundown on Sundays. Pet owners, take note: Dogs are not allowed. » 2600 Lake Hollywood Dr., Hollywood, 323-463-0830.
Is it just us, or does watching the ebb and flow of passengers at Union Station from a leather waiting room chair come close to a religious experience? Sure, the place is a 21st-century hub, but soaring wood ceilings make the Spanish colonial revival structure feel like a cathedral. The station, with its inlaid marble and terra-cotta tile, has remained more or less unaltered since it was built in 1939. For more tranquillity, head outside to the small gardens on either side of the main hall. » 800 N. Alameda St., downtown, 213-683-6875.
What was once Busby Berkeley’s beaux arts estate is today the site of the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens, a serene spot with commanding vistas of South L.A. Walk the hand-carved stone labyrinth, then follow the sound of rushing water to the three-tiered garden hugging the side of the slope, where Asian-inspired fountains break up the landscape and benches are perfect for lingering. » 3500 W. Adams Blvd., L.A., 323-737-4055.
Finding the entrance to the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary can be a challenge—and signs provide little help. Once you’re inside the postage-stamp-size space, however, majestic oaks create an atmosphere of repose, while chirping birds drown out honking horns. Here you’ll find the resting places of dozens of Hollywood luminaries, including Dean Martin, Eva Gabor, Natalie Wood, and Marilyn Monroe, all sandwiched behind an inky row of office towers lining Wilshire Boulevard. » 1218 Glendon Ave., Westwood, 310-474-1579.