Let’s be clear: every day in L.A. is a good day for adventure. But certain spring days seem to be made for playing hookie, when instead of vegging out on the couch and binge watching a yet-to-be discovered Netflix series, many prefer finding adventure within their own city, and the L.A. River may be the place to find it.
In Los Angeles, about 100 diverse neighborhoods sprawl out among dusty, rugged mountains, rolling green hills and the Pacific ocean — all bathed year-round in that sunny Southern California weather. And although these insanely varied landscapes may not make much sense separetely, the L.A. River is the seam that pulls them all together. And luckily for us, along the river, these landscapes overlap, making it easier for us to see more without having to travel too far.
To make the most out of this, we’ve put together a list of things to do along the river, from where to get your morning coffee, to where to catch an epic sunset, and we’ve broken it up by what vibe you might be feeling that day. You can enjoy a nature walk in the middle of the city or see graffiti right next to the river, all with plenty of options for picnics, restaurants and beer along the way.
If you’re feeling zen today and really want to get lost in some green, the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk is ideal. The walk/bike path that trails the river offers views of the river’s wildlife and is short enough to fit into one morning. This is a soft-bottom area of the river with plenty of vegetation, so coming here is like taking a trip out of the city without actually having to leave the city. Hit up Los Feliz Cafe, next to the Los Feliz Golf Course, beforehand for some munchies and coffee to go and enjoy it on one of the many benches in the park.
If you would rather pack up some a lunch and adult beverages to enjoy on a picnic among some tall sycamore trees and oaks, the Bette Davis Picnic Area in Griffith Park is perfect. There are plenty of tables, but also large open grassy areas to lay out a blanket.
If a long bike ride is on your list of things to do on your day off and you want to see something epic, you can take the L.A. River bike path to where the river empties out into the ocean. It’s actually mesmerizing if you think about it: that is where 51 miles of river that reaches as far as the Valley through Downtown and South L.A., ends. And although biking the entire length of the river has proven to be tough because of the breaks in the bike path, the LARIO bike path is roughly 29 miles and runs along the river from Vernon to Long Beach and out toward the ocean.
If you would rather celebrate today with a sesh, then a game of pick-up soccer, you can hit up the field at the Rio de Los Angeles State Park in Cypress Park. There is also a riverwalk, the perfect place to have a snack and catch a post-game sesh.
If you are one of those people who don’t get glued to the couch and actually get the urge to work out, cheers to you. If you wanted to work out by the river on this holiday, Marsh Park in Elysian Valley has a bike/walk path for runners, as well as exercise stations.
If you’re looking to explore L.A.’s urban jungle, the river near Downtown has the most to offer.
The historic bridges that cross the L.A. River bridge two distinct neighborhoods, both with great food and drinks, like El Tepeyac in Boyle Heights and Cafe Gratitude in the Arts District. Apart from food and great views of Downtown, the bridges are covered in some amazing graffiti.
The best bridge for seeing graffiti is the Seventh Street Bridge that crosses from the Arts District into Boyle Heights. It was built in the early 1900s and houses a hidden atrium underneath the upper deck of the bridge. It is closed to the public, but if you’re looking for adventure, this hidden gem may offer you a not-so-serious risk with a chance to see some graffiti exclusive to those who are daring enough to make it in there.
Graffiti also covers the concrete that lines the river and creeps up the base of the bridge. It can also be seen from on top of the bridge on the trains and warehouses that line the river.
A little bit removed from Downtown, in the San Fernando Valley, is half-mile long historic mural called the Great Wall of L.A. by Chicana artist Judy Baca. This mural gives viewers a history of the ethnic communities in California, from prehistoric times to the 1950s. It was painted in the 70s by Baca and more than 400 youth and has gone through numerous restorations. It can be found in the Tujunga Wash in Valley Glen.
If all this urban exploring makes you a little thirsty, the also historic, but not as attractive, First Street Bridge can take you from the Angel City Brewery in the Arts District for some perfectly hoppy Angel City IPA in the afternoon, across the river to Boyle Heights’ Eastside Luv wine bar, for a spicy michelada and some dancing to Maná and Snoop Dogg that’ll last into the night.
However you end up spending your day, try not to miss the sunset from the First Street Bridge. With a view of the L.A. River in all its industrial glory to the east and a view of Downtown to the west, you get a real sense of what this river was and what it’s becoming. You can ponder on how the river has played a role in forming communities in the past and how it’s changing communities today. Then behold, facing west, the sun burning out like an ember, as it disappears behind the skyline of the city.