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Hidden in Plain Sight: Hiking and Birdwatching in Beverly Hills' Franklin Canyon

In Los Angeles, where rolling down the car window on the 405 is the closest many denizens get to the great outdoors on a regular basis, Franklin Canyon Park offers a little-known opportunity for Angelenos to get away from it all, right in the middle of the city. Tucked into the northern part of Beverly Hills and not too far from popular Fryman Canyon but seeming a world away, the 605-acre park features a lake, various picnic areas, and three hiking trails, the longest of which, Hastain Trail, offers views of L.A. and even the Pacific Ocean when the weather is clear.

Hidden away in the Santa Monica Mountains, Franklin Canyon is also home to a variety of animals, perhaps most audibly the wood ducks and mandarins who live in Heavenly Pond. The area's plentiful chaparral attracts summer-breeding birds like the California Quail, Bewick's Wren, and California thrasher, but birdwatchers in the know frequent the park year-round, occasionally catching winter glimpses of Canada geese, as Franklin Canyon is along the Pacific Flyway migration route. Eagles, owls, and several species of hawks are also part of the park's menagerie, as well as rabbits, snakes, and bobcats. Redwood and walnut trees are scattered throughout the property, as well as wildflowers.

In addition to hiking and wildlife, Franklin Canyon Park also offers free educational experiences. The William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom is a learning center established to inform inner city students about California's environmental resources, and the Sooky Goldman Nature Center is open to all visitors looking to learn more about the park's history, both natural and cultural. Goldman was a conservationist who was instrumental in the 1981 purchase of the canyon by the National Park Service, which saved it from impending plans to develop the land for commercial or residential use. The park's Sam Goldman Amphitheater is named for Sooky's husband and fellow philanthropist.

A day spent outside can be a good excuse to slow down one's fast-paced city life, but for visitors to Franklin Canyon, this decrease in miles per hour is practically an imperative. In 2007, three stop sign cameras were installed along the road to the entrance, and fees for anything less than a full break reportedly approach $200. The cameras have been controversial, with advocates asserting they address speeding problems in the canyon and opponents claiming such an issue never really existed. Regardless, caution is advisable when journeying to Franklin Canyon, lest one of the few free things in Beverly Hills cost you a dinner at Spago.

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