Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
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.
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.
Renewed interest in a more natural L.A. River has led to a push to make it more fishable. On Sept. 5, Friends of the L.A. River (FoLAR) organized the second annual fly-fishing competition on a foliage-filled section of the river in North Atwater Park. While the steelhead trout have long been missing, several species of bass, tilapia and carp are thriving and very catchable, with the first-prize fisherman reeling in a four-pound carp and three small bass. The real winners, however, were the local residents who packed into the recently upgraded park to enjoy a river that's been neglected for half a century. Montana it is not, but with marshy bushes, 212 species of birds and a view of the lush humps of Griffith Park, you might just feel as if you're in a less concrete kind of wilderness.
If you don’t have a rich friend with a beachfront estate and sparkling pool, the Annenberg Community Beach House is the next best thing. There’s not much but the marble-tiled pool left of the historic, five-acre compound built in the 1920s by William Randolph Hearst for actress Marion Davies, but a new beach house and sun deck have sprung up around it. You can further the illusion of your own private getaway (or at least get away from howling toddlers) at the adults-only sunset swim. And if you’re suffering from a case of off-season blues, fear not — from October to May, you can still swim on special pop-up pool days (follow ACBH on Facebook or Twitter to receive three-day advance notice of those).
Did you know there's a lake high above L.A., on a trail offering views of downtown and Pasadena? Well, you're not alone. Ernest E. Debs Regional Park occupies 300 acres of old ranch land in Monterey Hills, a tiny neighborhood bordered by El Sereno, Montecito Heights and the equally tiny Hermon. Trek up the hill and you'll find the small but stunning hidden lake, which has clear waters, ducks and turtles as well as strategically placed benches around its perimeter. Though you can't swim in the lake, you can fish in it, and the surrounding five-mile loop trail is perfect for a run or hike. The trail also offers a great vantage point for watching the sunset.
There are more than 70 miles of coastline in L.A. County, much of it facing west and offering numerous vantage points to watch the sun slip into the Pacific. Seeing the ever-changing light show of vibrant colors — smog-infused oranges and lurid hot pinks fading into an ephemeral shimmer of purplish blue over a gray-black ocean — is even grander and more powerfully elemental when you're standing on a cliff above it all. Seriously dramatic cliffside views extend from Palos Verdes to Santa Monica and aptly named Pacific Palisades, but Point Fermin Park in San Pedro is in an especially enchanting location. Cabrillo Beach's tide pools and the graffiti-enshrined landslide ruins of Sunken City lie just around the southern bend, while to the north unfolds a series of beautiful coves ringed by dangerously steep cliffs that give way to only the barest strip of rocky beach. When the sun goes down, it feels like the current, the strong wind, the clouds and the kaleidoscope of colors churned up by the sun are all converging at once.
Officially, it's called the Betty B. Dearing Trail, which begins in Wilacre Park. But everyone calls it Fryman Canyon. The simple 3-mile loop on a fire road offers sweeping views of the San Fernando Valley and the occasional rattlesnake. It's not difficult, but it offers access to other trails that can make it more challenging. (The downhill portion of the hike goes through a residential neighborhood; if you look closely you'll see the trailhead for the Rainforest Trail, a more secluded hike also worth checking out.) There's not much shade, but about halfway along there's a shaded picnic table with views of the mountains to the east. But perhaps Fryman's virtues are best understood in contrast to Runyon Canyon. Unlike Runyon, it's not crowded with celebrity spotters, and hikers generally clean up after their dogs. There is also parking, which used to cost $3 but is now free.
Park just south of Griffith Park at the three-way intersection of Cadman Drive, Shannon Road and Griffith Park Boulevard. Walk north on Cadman, past some mansions built on the leafy hillside, and enter the woods. Keep walking and discover a path up a grassy hill overlooking the L.A. River and Interstate 5. Make your way up to a summit with water for humans and horses and picnic tables perfect for a breather or a bottle of wine. You may run into a hiker or two, but you will mostly have it all to yourself. Beacon Hill's 2- and 4-mile loops, with about 500 feet of elevation change, are every bit as challenging and scenic as Runyon's but without the crowds. This hike, the easternmost in the Santa Monica Mountain Range, really is the secret garden of Griffith Park hiking.Shannon Road and Cadman Drive, Los Feliz.
Haunted legends surround this peaceful-looking park and hiking trail in Pasadena's Arroyo Seco. Beneath a craggy boulder, shaped by Mother Nature into the undeniable profile of a horned devil, lies a bubbling brook and a flood control dam. Devil's Gate Dam's historic reputation as a portal to evil goes back to the first settlers here, the native Tongva tribe. Strange occult rituals were documented at the site as early as the 1940s, and the disappearance of at least four children in the 1950s fuels the sinister vibe. The entrance is through a foreboding, dark cement tunnel on Oak Grove Drive, which leads to a dirt trail descending into the canyon. The hike itself is beautiful, if you can get past the gnawing feeling that something is watching you. But we all know that's part of the fun.End of La Cañada Verdugo Road, Pasadena.