Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
The L.A. River is covered in concrete. Fed by a wastewater treatment plant, it runs through bleak industrial zones on its 48-mile course to the sea. Nevertheless, for decades the Friends of the L.A. River has been on a heroic and half-mad quest to naturalize the channel and open it up to recreation. A year ago, the organization set up the Frog Spot, a visitors center that's open on weekends. Situated at one of the greener stretches of the river, it's well hidden and surprisingly peaceful. You can sit in the shade and have a snack while the cyclists pedal by. In the distance you may see a freight train. The center also hosts yoga classes, nature walks and live music on Saturday nights. The access is via the bike path, which makes it a good spot to pause during a ride. It's also the place where L.A. River Kayak Safari stores its kayaks, which might inspire you to give that a try.
Some of the first things that come to mind when outsiders imagine living in California are sunshine, beaches and wine. Pretty much all Californians while away our afternoons with our feet in the surf and rosé in our cups, right? We wish. But we can prove them right every so often with a quick trip to Topanga State Beach and Rosenthal Vineyards. For just a few bucks, you can skip the Malibu traffic and park at this lovely, generally uncrowded patch of shore. Take in a few rays, then duck below PCH by way of an underground passageway and grab a bottle at Rosenthal, where you can lounge on the lawn sipping wine as the sun goes down. Sure, it sounds like a California cliché, but you'll be too wrapped in contentment to care.18741 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu. (310) 456-1392, rosenthalestatewines.com.
When life burdens you with stress or sadness, Malibu Wine Safaris, on winding Mulholland in Malibu Canyon, has some healthy medicine to soothe your soul. A visit with lovable and friendly wild animals, including a giraffe, zebras, water buffalo, yaks, llamas and alpacas, plus wine tasting and breathtaking views is the emotional equivalent of a full-body massage. Ninety-minute tours include six wine tastings and an opportunity to meet, pet and feed the happy animals — along with the chance to see a cave with preserved Chumash pictographs. Family tours are available without the wine. The open-top vehicle tour of gorgeous Saddlerock Ranch, spread over 1,000 acres, with 800 acres of grape vines, is truly a romantic California adventure, full of heart-expanding natural beauty. You can feel the love here.
If you're looking for a private meditation spot to literally stop and smell the roses, Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks will help you press your internal reset button. Spread over 4½ serene acres, this privately owned park opened to the public in 2001 and offers a charming and quiet tour through the countries of the world. The grounds showcase gardens dedicated to England, with more than 350 sweet-smelling rose bushes; Italy, with a shady grape arbor, cypress trees and fountain; France, with a replica of an elaborate hillside waterfall found at the Palace of Versailles; and Japan, with a koi pond, a pagoda and a romantic reflecting bridge. It also features a California Mission–themed courtyard, and in the center of a green lawn there's a traditional American bandstand, where free concerts are frequently staged. A picturesque pathway, perfect for solitary reflection, connects the different gardens together.
Built on a 3-acre site that once was the garden of a mansion on Pasadena's "Millionaires Row," Arlington Garden is the city's only public garden. Situated between busy Orange Grove and Pasadena avenues, it's easy to bypass, but this hidden treasure is worth a stop. Free to the public, with dogs allowed (on leash), and open 365 days a year, it's a series of garden rooms with a waterwise Mediterranean sensibility. Plantings range from Australian to wildflower, orange grove to Madagascan spiny forest. There's even a classical seven-circuit labyrinth, perfect for meditative walking. Hummingbirds chirp and lizards scurry out of your way as you stroll Arlington Garden's pathways and explore its many nooks and corners. There are benches and chairs everywhere — and they even seemed freshly dusted on a sunny Sunday morning. The whole place is on a small scale, making it perfect for young kids, too.
If you sometimes prefer the company of birds to humans, the Sepulveda Dam Wildlife Reserve is just the place to decompress. The rare evergreen diamond of wilderness smack in the middle of urban sprawl is known to attract more than 200 bird species, from Western scrub jays to great egrets, American coots to pied-billed grebes, song sparrows to spotted towhees, great horned owls to turkey vultures. There's no better pick-me-up than a delicate heron gliding above the ecologically protected terrain. While generally a place for bird watchers and admirers, the reserve also is a good spot to run or walk without being tripped every 10 paces by the ubiquitous L.A. canine corps. Yes, we love our dogs, but sometimes a park should be strictly for the birds.