This park is named after the film star who reportedly lived in one of the large houses along Rancho Avenue, across from the park. This 2.1 mile walk is in the upstream end of the Glendale Narrows, a favorite stretch of the L.A. River because it retains a soft, earthen bottom. It is home to birds, trees, turtles, lizards, a great historic bridge, a stretch of the Glendale Narrows section of the L.A. River Bike Path, and a pleasant picnic area with tall sycamores and oaks.
Bette Davis Picnic Area, intersection of Riverside Drive, Victory Boulevard, and Sonora Avenue.
DIRECTIONS TO START
BIKE: The start is at upstream end of the Glendale Narrows L.A. River Bike Path.
TRANSIT: Take the MTA Bus 96. Get off at the corner of Zoo Drive and Riverside Drive. Walk north to the bridge.
CAR: Exit the 5 Freeway at Western Avenue in Glendale. Go southwest on Western. Turn Left on Victory Boulevard. In three blocks you will see the Bette Davis Picnic Area, located at the corner of Victory, Sonora Ave, and Riverside Drive (at this point Victory becomes Riverside). Park on Riverside Drive (south/west side only) either straight ahead on your right, or turn right onto Riverside and park along the park on your left.
Begin at the intersection of Riverside Drive, Victory Boulevard, and Sonora Avenue. If you arrived and parked on the upstream (west) side of Victory and Riverside, cross to the east side and walk along Riverside to the Riverside Drive Bridge. This is one of at least five Riverside Drive Bridges in the area (three over the L.A. River), so it's generally called Riverside/Zoo or Riverside/Victory. Completed in 1938, this beautiful Merrill Butler bridge is one of the later examples, smaller and somewhat more streamlined than those downstream. The ornamentation below the lighting standards is best viewed from the bike path.
At the end of the bridge, turn left onto the bike path. Note that the bikeway is a shared bike/pedestrian facility, so please walk to one side to allow bicyclists to pass. The soft bottom channel on your left features tall willow trees and plentiful birds. Walk downstream on the bike path, crossing beneath the 5 Freeway, and along the Ferraro Soccer Fields. Note the native California Sycamore and Oak trees, on your right, which were planted by North East Trees (NET), a nonprofit dedicated to urban forestry and watershed restoration.
As the river and bikeway turn south, the channel walls become vertical, and the riverbed is paved for a short stretch. Beneath the 134 Freeway, the channel widens at its confluence with the Arroyo Verdugo (also called the Verdugo Wash), which is the last name of one of the early families of the region.
The Arroyo Verdugo watershed drains most of the city of Glendale. It is a relatively steep tributary, historically known for excellent steel-head trout fishing until it was confined to a concrete channel in the 1950s.
Here, you'll see the sharpest corner in the 51-mile river. The river is leaving its east-west trajectory through the San Fernando Valley and making a right turn into the coastal plain. On a clean day, you get a good view of the distant Downtown Los Angeles skyline.
For a 2-mile walk, turn around beneath the 134 Freeway. For a longer walk, follow the bikeway downstream to Los Feliz Boulevard (3.1 miles from the start) and beyond.
Retrace your steps to the end of the bike path at the Riverside Drive Bridge. At this point, the dangerous part begins as you try to cross the street next to the freeway off-ramp. The safest way is to turn left, toward Griffith Park. Watching out for cars, turn right to cross Riverside at Zoo Drive. Then turn right on Riverside, walking back towards the river. Cross the freeway off-ramp.
Now cross the bridge and go through the first gap in the low fence on your left to descend the sloped footpath into Bette Davis Picnic Area. Walk upstream about 50 yards and enter the river right-of-way by turning left at an equestrian ramp. The ramp is unmarked, but recognizable by its uneven cobblestones. At the river, turn right and walk upstream on the asphalt maintenance road.
The turnaround point is where the soft-bottom river ends, about a half mile upstream from Riverside Drive. Retrace your steps back to Bette Davis Picnic Area.
Historically, in this area, the riverbed formed the border between the city of Los Angeles' Griffith Park and the city of Glendale. When the course of the river was straightened, a small remnant of L.A. land was stranded on the north side of the river; this land became Bette Davis Picnic Area. Originally Griffith Park- at 4000 acres, one of the largest urban parks in the US - included over three miles of riverfront. This important habitat linkage was severed in the 1950's with the construction of the 5 and 134 Freeways (mostly atop what had been Riverside Drive).
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