Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
As the Cold War fades into history, physical reminders of its very real menace still exist here and there throughout Los Angeles. Begun in 1953, Project Nike consisted of rings of Hercules anti-aircraft missile batteries built around major U.S. cities as defenses from Soviet bombers. L.A.'s 16 decommissioned Nike sites have since morphed into everything from a moon rocket test bed (base LA-98, whose "Magic Mountain" nickname was later adopted by the nearby theme park) and prison camp (Conservation Camp #16 on Mount Gleason, which was overrun by the 2009 Station Fire with the loss of two inmate firefighters) to a SWAT team training facility (LA-88, on Oak Mountain north of Chatsworth) and a storied makeout spot (LA-94 Los Pinetos, overlooking Newhall). By far the best-preserved area Nike location is LA-96 on San Vicente Mountain in Encino, which boasts information panels, benches and restrooms. The others can require some serious hiking (or biking), are in decidedly varying states of degradation and/or offer only limited (legal) access. A 13-mile round-trip trudge to the former Magic Mountain fire-control base is rewarded with hulking, graffiti-blighted concrete test stands for 1960s Apollo rocket engines — or, as some conspiracy theorists assert, the remains of faked lunar landings.
More than manicured lawns or stunning views, what really distinguishes a good dog park is the community that congregates there, human and canine alike. Nestled alongside a stretch of the Arroyo Seco River in Northeast L.A., Hermon Dog Park is bucolic yet modest. It features two fenced-in sections with ample room for both large and small dogs to run off-leash, as well as an agility course that offers a playful challenge for more athletic pooches. The ground surface is decomposed granite, helping to eliminate both mud and dust, and plentiful parking means you don't have to waste time circling the block. The park's real charm, however, lies in the unpretentious diversity of people who frequent it — old and young, families and solo visitors — and their four-legged companions. Friends of Hermon Dog Park regularly hosts events, such as monthly Yappy Hours, dog photo shoots and an occasional Howl-oween Costume Contest, which add to the overall sense of bi-species camaraderie. Once your pup's gotten her ya-yas out, the Hermon Park proper makes a great spot for a picnic.
Every beach in L.A. has its own culture, its own vibe, its own rules, from the baby boomer thugs who try to keep outsiders away from the beautiful beaches of Rancho Palos Verdes, to the always surprising mass of weirdos and eccentrics populating Venice Beach. Chances are, there's a beach somewhere that suits you. If you're a nighttime beach sort of person, Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey is ideal. As the sun prepares to slink beyond the horizon, hordes of Angelenos descend upon Dockweiler's cement fire pits, building bonfires, cooking s'mores or grilling dinner, depending on how prepared they came (tip: If you want to grill, bring the round metal grill from your Weber at home). Of course, there's plenty of reason to get there earlier, too. Situated right below the LAX runway, Dockweiler offers a gorgeous panoramic view of the ocean and is easily accessible as a break from Westside traffic; you can park your car right off of Vista del Mar street and the end of Imperial Highway.
Angelenos should be proud that one of the first images that comes up when you Google search "Los Angeles" isn't a picture of the Hollywood Sign (although those show up, too) but a majestic, wide-angle shot of downtown's skyscrapers in the foreground, with the majestic, snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains in the background. This picture — and many a similar photo — was taken from the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Center near Baldwin Hills. Often overlooked by people north of the 10, Kenneth Hahn offers much-needed green space in South L.A. With beautiful views of the city, plenty of picnic tables to hang out at, spaces where California woodland oaks grow, a gentle flowing rock stream and the occasional sighting of a rabbit or a fox, the park is lively but rarely crowded, and a wonderful example of the importance of maintaining open green spaces for all — not just affluent white communities. Oh, and if it's your first time, and something about the park seems familiar, parts of the video for Dr. Dre's "Nuthin' But a G Thang" were filmed there.
Nothing kills the momentum of a run like a traffic light every other block. Escape the delays and the car exhaust with a refreshing waterside run. Park on Pacific Coast Highway anywhere just south of Temescal Canyon Road and you'll see the Strand, a cement path that can be taken as far south as Redondo Beach (with a few brief sections just past the Venice Boardwalk where it's necessary to dip into neighborhoods). If you're on a moderate, three- to five-mile run starting from Temescal, the Santa Monica Pier gives you a nice visual to run toward. The Venice Boardwalk is a great halfway-point marker, and also offers the chance to let a street performer briefly distract you from the aching sensation in your quads. This path is a solid option for marathon or half-marathon training runs, as you can get in as much mileage as you need with plenty of places to easily fill up your CamelBak.
At just over three miles, the loop around the Rose Bowl is an ideal length for those looking to pedal their way to a healthy day. Do it once for a quick, brisk ride, or circle around a few times for a more substantial jaunt. Triathletes can even end the day with a trip to the Rose Bowl's elite-level aquatic facilities for a well-rounded session. The loop is about half uphill and half downhill, which is ideal if you're training for a course with mixed elevation levels. The mountains surrounding the path offer a refreshing view, and there is plenty of people- and dog-watching to keep you entertained. (Just don't stop by on the day of a UCLA football game, or you'll spend most of your ride dodging drunk fans.)
We're all searching for that special somewhere to hide from the daily craziness, and who would have thought there was a secret garden in a hotel that's a favorite hangout for lawyers, politicos and other suits? Hidden atop the DoubleTree by Hilton, the Kyoto Garden is an oasis that's the perfect hideaway — even a place to top up your tan. Inspired by an ancient garden that was established for the 16th-century samurai lord Kiyomasa Kato as a gift to the residents of Tokyo, it's really meant for guests, but walk in casually and take the elevator to — where else — the Garden Level. Then you can let the traffic buzz below melt away as you stroll round a half-acre of fountains, ponds, statues and greenery, then find a quiet corner or grab one of the tables, and maybe even feel the wind in your hair.
Just down the block from Fix Café, past the elementary school, hidden behind a wild and sometimes grassy knoll (drought depending), is a super secret and extra bitchin' slew of stairs that doubles as a shortcut to the backside of Elysian Park, as well as a highly effective ass workout. Known as the Baxter Stairs, the 231 steps cut a zigzag pattern up the hillside and — when summited with consistency and just the right playlist — do wonders for the thighs, booty and spirit. From the top, you can follow the road to the left and then cut through the brush to skitter your way down to the trail, which you'll probably want to follow to the meadow that doubles as an Eastside dog park. There you can stretch and cool down and, if you're feeling really ambitious, get in some crunches, while gloating because you're in L.A., and you're working out for free.
A tranquil, parklike setting called Troutdale, tucked away on a winding canyon road, offers a unique fishing experience for children and beginners, or anyone who wants to take a break from life's hustle and bustle. Two man-made ponds surrounded by rustic wooden benches are well-stocked with trout and shaded by trees to form a peaceful place for relaxation, contemplation and fishin'. Admission to this family-owned business, in operation since 1938, includes a bamboo pole and corn bait, but real-deal fishing poles are available for rental as well. There's an additional charge for each fish you catch, which you can then have cleaned and filleted on premises. A grassy area with BBQ grills and picnic tables can turn your fishing trip into a complete afternoon of old-fashioned fun.
It would be easy to see Highland Park Bowl as a veritable parody of hipster culture, with its fetishization of all things vintage and rather high prices ($60 per hour per lane, though that can be split between six people). However, the bowling alley/bar wins you over with its sheer beauty and astonishing attention to detail. The project, after all, is a restoration of a 1920s bowling alley/speakeasy. “Highland Park Bowl is the oldest bowling alley in Los Angeles,” says co-owner Dimitri Komarov. “We just thought it would be rad to bring it back to its original glory.” If it weren’t for the Neapolitan pizzas coming out of the kitchen and the overhead monitors that automatically keep score, you might actually forget you’re not bowling in the 1930s.
For hikers in Greater L.A. looking for new areas to explore, Santa Clarita Valley offers an ever-increasing number of world-class hiking trails. While this summer's wildfires have affected some of the most scenic canyons in the SCV, fortunately one of the best is still largely intact: Towsley Canyon. The first half of the 5.3-mile loop trail in the canyon's Ed Davis Park heads west along a stream that trickles through some of California's most ancient rock formations. Thousands of shell fossils, some over 5 million years old, speckle the low cliffs of the recently scorched Elder Loop trail on your right, while the bulbous outcroppings of the Towsley formation signal your arrival to the mysterious Towsley Gorge. In this exposed section of the Pico Anticline, marine mammal fossils have been discovered since the 1930s. The trail circles over the mountain into Wiley Canyon, passing oil seeps and remnants of 1920s-era oil wells. Bears, coyotes and deer can be seen in this steep, heavily forested habitat, along with mountain lions, bobcats, foxes and unusual birds. Whether your interest is in wildlife, water-weathered boulders or just working out, Towsley Canyon is an outdoor treasure everyone can enjoy.
It's hard to imagine that the words "sensory deprivation" and "luxury spa experience" could comfortably coexist, but with the aid of 250 gallons of water set at 93.5 degrees and a generous 1,300-pound dash of Epsom salt, Just Float in Pasadena seems to have managed it. The reported benefits of the "deep soak" tub include increased relaxation, heightened creativity and improved visualization, plus reduced insomnia, depression and anxiety. It's also cool if you're just looking for something different as a specially curated mini escape from the sensory overload of daily life. There are several floating facilities in the L.A. area, but Just Float claims to be the biggest, boasting 11 streamlined private suites with showers and dressing areas. The nice thing is that the experience is made to order — you can float in total darkness and silence, or adjust the lighting and soft music to your liking. The cucumber water, hot tea and adult coloring books are nice touches, too.