This guide is part of KCET's California Coastal Trail project, which looks at the state's massive undertaking to build a trail over 1,000 miles in length along its whole coastline.
Nobody walks in L.A., right? Correct, they hike. And with countless miles of trails in Palos Verdes, the Santa Monica Mountains, and even bike and walking paths along the beach, who wouldn't?
1.5 miles, easy
The Palos Verdes peninsula has a huge amount of protected land, a welcome refuge in the sprawl of the South Bay and the nearby ports of San Pedro and Long Beach. Its bluffs and rocky shores are fairly rugged terrain, and a patchwork of preserves houses many miles of trails, some blufftop or beachside affairs, others in the adjacent hills. The Seascape Trail is not a bad place to get the lay of the land. The flat, .7-mile trail doles out sweeping views of the ocean and Catalina Island with little effort. It can be picked up off of Calle Entradero; 1.5 miles roundtrip.
Santa Monica Boardwalk
There's hardly a stretch of coast in California packed with more landmarks and people-watching opportunities than here. A paved boardwalk unfolds along Venice and Santa Monica, along the way passing the Venice Pier, Muscle Beach, Venice boardwalk and Santa Monica Pier, all with the Santa Monica Mountains as a backdrop, if heading north. Skateboards, tandem bikes, running shoes, and flip flops are all appropriate for taking in the scenery. Make this trek around sunset, and the florid colors of the sky and gentle hues of the mountains behind the lights of Santa Monica Pier can make you forget about all the freeways and hassles L.A. is sometimes notorious for. It's 7 miles in one direction, and can be done either north-to-south, or vice versa.
7 miles, moderate
The objective of this hike is attaining an incredible lookout point high above the Pacific Palisades, where views stretch as far as downtown Los Angeles and past Catalina Island, much farther out into the Pacific Ocean. There are a few ocean views during the hike, but not many. Even if you never made it to the overlook, it would still be a lovely and challenging hike. But make sure you reach it, the payoff is worthwhile no matter how hot or sweaty the trail may be. There are a few approaches to reaching the pinnacle of this hike at Parker Mesa Overlook, but all are around 7 miles. Check out your options at Modern Hiker, SoCal Hiker, or Hikespeak.
5 miles, challenging
With viewpoints at an elevation of 1,500 feet, Tuna Canyon offers some of the best views of the Malibu coast and Santa Monica Bay. But at five miles long and with 900 feet of elevation gain, you'll have to work for it. Click here for more detailed instructions on finding the trailhead on Tuna Canyon Road.
Corral Canyon resides in a nearly unblighted, 100-acre coastal stretch of Malibu, cleaved by a natural creek draining to the ocean. The main attraction here, the Sara Wan Trail, named for a former longtime member of the California Coastal Commission, is a 2.5-mile loop. It winds through a small marsh and sagebrush before heading to the top of the mesa, where hikers are practically on top of the ocean. Unobstructed views stretch from Palos Verdes to Point Dume. It's a short hike, but the climb -- or the smell of fried delights wafting up the canyon from Malibu Seafood, next to the trailhead -- might stoke your appetite.
Make a satisfying loop by combining the Solstice Canyon and Rising Sun trails on National Park Service land. You get a mellow stroll past a brook, some moderate climbing and dramatic ocean views, and a taste of history at the fire scorched ruins of Roberts Ranch (a short spur trail to a waterfall can be found behind it). Definitely one of the cooler hikes in the area.
The name of the trail, Ocean View Trail, says it all: views of the Pacific from the hills above Point Dume and Zuma Beach. Combine it with the Canyon View Trail for a three mile loop, begining in a dirt parking lot at the top of Bonsall Drive. The trail gains 750 feet in elevation, so be ready for a bit of a workout on yet another of the local National Park Service trails.
The point offers a wilder Malibu beach experience than most. The rocky headlands and secluded soft sand beaches that comprise it are hidden from Pacific Coast Highway. Luckily it isn't hard to get there or to enjoy. For the best views, either park in a 2-hour parking zone off Cliffside Drive, the road closest to the point, or, if there are no spaces, which is common, scour the nearby neighborhood for a spot. Right after stepping from your car, you can meander through wildflowers and gander at the ocean views. The main trailheads out to the bluff face, where a rusted metal staircase leads down to the rocky beach. Continue walking west and the beach is much sandier, except during a high tide, and continue past Little Dume, the next point, to explore another rocky point and sand beach beyond. The hike is two miles roundtrip if you go all the way to Little Dume, but you can turn around at any point for a shorter outing.