While most L.A. tourists head over to the theme parks, the museums, TV show tapings, and Hollywood attractions, there are tons of wonderful natural attractions that most people are sadly missing out on. Of course, visiting some of the best beaches in the country will likely be on your itinerary. However, there is also a wonderful 20+ mile long coastal bike path, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and endless preserves and parks to enjoy while you are in the area.
So, if you need a break from the man made attractions & tourist clutter, consider breaking out a sweat at any of the 5 natural areas featured below. Entrance to all the attractions listed below is free (there may be a small parking fee). If anything, you will save a few bucks and also get to see a bit of the natural side of L.A.!
Griffith Park trails
Most tourists make their way over to Griffith Observatory at one point or another to take in the incredible vista of the Hollywood sign. While the view is definitely the best in the city, even better are the miles of free hiking trails which most tourists simply skip over. In 1896, industrialist Griffith J. Griffith donated 3000 acres of his property to the city. Today, Griffith Park stands as one of the country’s largest urban parks. Hiking the trails at Griffith is a wonderful tourist experience. A great workout, amazing scenery, and plenty of fresh air – it’s the best bang-for-your-buck experience in the city.
There are more than 50 miles of trails here, so really it’s an option for everyone whether you are seeking a quick glimpse of the Hollywood sign or an all day outdoor adventure. The mountain scenery is so pretty, the views of the L.A. skyline are incredible, and the view of the Griffith itself is nothing short of mesmerizing. While the Griffith itself gets overloaded with tourist traffic, surprisingly these trails remain relatively peaceful. Griffith is a great place to enjoy a day out in natural surroundings, all while still sightseeing!
The most popular hiking area in L.A. is definitely Runyon Canyon, due to its’ convenient urban Hollywood location and frequent media coverage. Tourists flock here to spot their favorite celebs and locals come for the great uphill workout. Despite the heavy foot traffic, the views really are outstanding. If you can get out here on weekday, chances are you will enjoy a much more peaceful hiking experience. To take up the relaxation a notch, look into the free yoga classes.
From the trails, numerous points of interest stand out including the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, plenty of million dollar homes, and the L.A. skyline (on a clear day). There are numerous trails to choose amongst, mostly uphill in nature and definitely not for the faint of heart. The scenery is fabulous, so if you are up for a challenge, do put a Runyon Canyon hike on your nature to-do list. While this is considered to be more of a trendy “see and be seen” instagrammable hike and not really the best place for solitude, it’s still one of the most picturesque and accessible hiking areas in Los Angeles.
The Strand bicycle path
Cyclists, joggers, and beach lovers will want to plan for a ride on the iconic Strand bicycle path. The Stand, officially named the Marvin Braude Bicycle Path, travels 22 miles in between various L.A. Beach towns. As you can imagine, the scenery is beyond fabulous. Really this is the best way to take in all the trademark beauty California has to offer. The path was completed in the late 80’s, and has since then received much praise for being one of the country’s top bike paths. Endless people watching, iconic landmarks, sunshine, beach views, and a great workout – can it get any better?
You will find plenty of detours along the way including famous sights like the Manhattan Beach Pier, the Venice Beach boardwalk, and the Santa Monica Pier. At any point, simply lock up your bike and explore. Whether you feel like sunbathing, taking part in a volleyball game at Redondo, or hopping on the roller coaster a the Pier, a full day of fun-in-the-sun awaits you.
For endless hiking options, check out Topanga Canyon State Park, an easily accessible hiking area for anyone not looking to travel too far. 36 miles of trails range in difficult from relatively easy nature trails to hard core all day adventures. All feature incredible views of the Santa Monica mountains. The massive 4000+ acre park is considered to the be “the largest wildland located within the boundaries of a major city.”
Numerous trails feature spectacular views of the coast. Los Liones is the perfect option for anyone in decent shape. The hike is not too hard, yet still intense enough that you will get in a fantastic workout. This trail is great because it has a number of turn around points, so you can go out to your comfort level. The trek to the ending point, Parker Mesa overlook, is pretty difficult with a 1500 foot elevation gain. Don’t worry, you can simply make your way up to the first overlook and still enjoy stunning vistas of the coast.
Long Beach Bike Path
Often overlooked, the Long Beach bike path is a wonderful laid-back recreational gem in LA. county. This path is super flat with barely any elevation gain, thus making it a perfect exercise & sightseeing combo. If you are not looking to get in a major workout, but still want to enjoy pretty scenery, ample people watching, and simply being out in nature, then the Long Beach bike path is for you. Compared to the Strand, this path is much shorter, easier, and less congested, although parking can be hard to find.
The path is just 3 miles each way, so a great choice if you are looking to keep it short. Starting in Alamitos Bay, the paved path continues on to Shoreline Village. Along the way, you will take in beautiful views of the beach, The Queen Mary, and the Long Beach lighthouse. Shoreline is a wonderful entertainment destination with plenty of shops and restaurants to choose amongst. Shoreline offers nice coastal views, beautiful landscaping, and overall just the perfect summer ambiance. There are number of fun waterfront restaurants, lots of touristy shops, and several cruises which depart from the village.