Hidden behind a high school, a soccer field and hilly streets of cracked pavement and aging homes, the 10.5-acre Vista Hermosa Natural Park is an oasis of grassy meadows, winding dirt paths, gurgling streams, picnic tables, dozens of oaks and native plants, such as white sage and coyote bush. Downtown's skyscrapers present a stunning backdrop but seem worlds away. The morning glories smell so lovely, you'd never guess Vista Hermosa sits atop a former oil field. Edward Doheny discovered oil nearby in the late 1800s and turned the land into California's largest oil producer. A hundred years later, L.A. Unified School District discovered toxic gasses underground at the very spot where it planned to build a school. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy offered a solution: Build a park. Vista Hermosa has pumps that safely release methane into the atmosphere, preventing an underground buildup that could cause an explosion. The kids racing through the grass would never know it. —Daina Beth Solomon
100 N. Toluca St., Echo Park, 90026. (213) 250-1100, lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=672.