This piece originally appeared as part of our Be A Tourist in Your Own Town guide, in the December 2017 issue of Los Angeles magazine.
Anyone in search of a prototypically dazzling view of the city can cruise Mulholland Drive and stop at an overlook. But sweating for your supper is about as L.A. as you can get. Plenty of trails wind above Malibu and its glittering coastline, though few can match the trek up to Mesa Peak (which you can’t drive to, so don’t even try). Your legs—and lungs—will know that they’re getting a workout on this 6.5-mile round-trip hike, complete with roughly 1,500 feet of climbing.
From the time you pick up the Backbone Trail at the Piuma Trailhead in Malibu Creek State Park, you’re going up, first on a section that works its way through a stand of chaparral and then more steeply once the route joins a wider fire road. Use 1,713-foot Brents Mountain, the triangular peak with the cross, as your gauge: You’ll eventually be above it near the high point on this voyage.
So take your time. Coast live oaks, boulders, and clusters of ferns form Zen grottoes along the trail before you round a bend and get your first look into Malibu Canyon, perhaps one of Southern California’s most unsung topographical wonders. (After all, how many metropolitan areas are cut by a 2,000-foot deep gorge?)
There’s more climbing until you reach the high ridge above Malibu, where the panorama opens up: Point Dume, Santa Catalina Island, the silhouetted skyline of Long Beach, and the San Gabriel’s rising back to the east. Considering you may end up looking down on red-tailed hawks riding the thermals, it’s a better-than-bird’s-eye view.
Mesa Peak, by the way, is that tempting little knob you’ll see by peering down a side trail. But truth is, you might as well save the steps and stay a while longer on the fire road. Amble onward to find one of the world’s most perfectly placed picnic tables overlooking the coastline. Sit and drink in the view we so often take for granted before the long downhill return.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.