Video: Getting Outdoors in South Los Angeles

This video and article was produced in collaboration with Eddie North-Hager, publisher of Leimert Park Beat and a current California Endowment Health Journalism Fellow at the University of Southern California.

There are a lot reasons to head to South Los Angeles and hiking probably isn't at the top of your list. As home to nearly one million people, the region is one of the densest areas, but also the most park poor.

There are 92 parks and recreation areas in South Los Angeles totaling about 1,200 acres. That translates to 1.2 acres for every 1,000 people, significantly less than the national standard of 6 acres. (Read the report, Green Visions Plan for 21st Century California).

Of what's available, here are a handful of accessible areas of significant size that offer a chance to get back to nature and beauty within the city -- with a physical challenge, of course.

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Stocker Corridor Trail (map)

This linear park winds its way almost two miles up from Presidio Drive to La Brea Avenue with Stocker Street below and million-dollar hilltop homes above.

The trail, which opened in 2006, begins a few blocks west of Crenshaw Boulevard near the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall. You can park on Presidio Drive in the unincorporated View Park neighborhood.

The trail marks the beginning of what will one day will be the Park to Playa Trail that will one day be a continuous path to the ocean.

Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area (map)

Kenneth Hahn Park has more than seven miles of trails in the hills and canyons bordered by La Cienega Boulevard and La Brea Avenue to the east and west, and Rodeo Road and Stocker Street to the north and south.

Opened in 1983, trails in the the park are still being developed today. The Burke Roche Trail and the Rim Trail are the most recent additions. The trails, some built by the Sierra Club, weave in an out of native coastal sage scrub habitat and offer glimpses of Century City and the downtown skyline, Palos Verdes Peninsula and Catalina Island.

Along the way, there is a fishing lake, lotus pond, Japanese garden and waterfall. There's also the Olympic Forest with 140 trees, a different tree for each county that participated in the 1984 Olympics.

The park was once covered with oil wells and was home to the Baldwin Hills Reservoir. In 1963, the reservoir's dam collapsed and emptied 300 million gallons of water into the neighborhoods below. KTLA used a helicopter to film the events, the first live aerial coverage of a disaster.

The outline of reservoir's empty bowl, now a great lawn, is still visible.

In addition to the main entrance on La Cienega, a new entryway has been created on La Brea, which you can reach by parking at Norman O. Houston Park.

Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook (map)

This state park's young trail is on a trajectory to rival the dunes in Manhattan Beach, the stairs in Santa Moncia and hills of Hollywood's Runyon Canyon as a destination for a challenging workout.

"We finally have one of our own landmark," said David McNeill, executive director of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy.

The overlook trail only ascends 511 feet in less than a mile. But the oversized steps climbing up the peak are visible for miles around and peer over Culver City and Cameo Gardens like an ancient pyramid.

The park's signature look was inspired by the Mayan Chichen Itza. The large, uneven steps were created from the remnants of a building on the site that had been built by Howard Hughes.

"It could have been symmetrical but this is an adventure," McNeill said. "We wanted to embrace the hill's flaws. The primal instinct is to climb to higher ground to get closer to the sun or god."

At the top, in addition to a modern yet unassuming visitor center and a guide to flora and fauna, are some of the best views of the entire county. The 360-degree-vantage point is also one of the best places to watch all the fireworks shows in Los Angeles at once.

There's also a more traditional trail that uses switchbacks to navigate the hilltop.

Culver City Park (map)

Next door to the Baldwin Hills Scenic overlook, this 42-acre park is packed with amenities. It is home to the Culver City Skate Park, the Boneyard dog park, ball fields and more.

It's also home to one of the more unusual nature hikes, an ADA accessible interpretive nature trail. This wood-planked, ramped path of switchbacks can take 20-minutes up a tree-dotted hillside to a giant sundial.

Say hello: "Like" SoCal Wanderer on Facebook and follow @SoCal_Wanderer and @JacobSoboroff on Twitter to talk about latest in outdoors with other enthusiasts.

About the Author

Jacob Soboroff is the host of SoCal Wanderer for KCET. He is also the founding correspondent of AMC News, hosting specials and reporting from film festivals and other industry events for the award-winning network. In 2010, Jacob c...
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Great piece! I am part of the design team working on the Park to Playa Trail Feasibility Study. I wanted to let your readers know that there will be a public workshop to release the study this Wednesday 11/2/11. For more information please see the flyer posted on the Baldwin Hills Regional Conservation Authority webpage http://smmc.ca.gov/BHRCA.asp