3 amazing escapes for outdoor exploration close to Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California, is a metropolis of millions, but it’s also basecamp for many adventures. Just because you’re visiting the city doesn’t mean you have to stay locked in the urban jungle. This Go Guide USA Blog give you some ideas with Free Things To Do near L.A.

1. Topanga State Park
Topanga State Park Eagle Rock
Topanga State Park Eagle Rock

30 min drive from downtown Los Angeles

Hiking, biking, camping

Topanga State Park is an enormous green swath of peaks and valleys that extends into the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s the rippling, scrub brush expanse that separates the Pacific Palisades from Encino. Its network of trails and fire roads is an adventurer’s dream.

You can access the giant park through a network of trails at various entrances such as popular Trippet Ranch. Another good option is to park in or near the Temescal Gateway Park and walk the hillside trails to Skull Rock on the Temescal Ridge Trail and beyond. If you have a bike, park near Temescal or Will Rogers or in one of the neighborhoods surrounding the park and find the quickest route to a fire road.

Topanga is big. Use Google Maps to familiarize yourself with how the trails and rounds wind around the area. At one place you can actually camp in Topanga. Off the Highway 27/Topanga Canyon Road entrance, a primitive eight-person campsite can be accessed by hiking less than 2 miles. Camping 20 minutes from L.A. — amazing!

2. Griffith Park
Griffith Park View
Griffith Park View

15 min drive from downtown Los Angeles

Hiking, biking, viewpoint, wildlife viewing

One of the biggest metropolitan parks in the USA, Griffith is the home to the famous Hollywood sign; many miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails; a gorgeous art deco observatory, several mountain peaks, at least one wild mountain lion and a zoo. It’s a public space par excellence, one of the best Los Angeles has to offer.

Griffith Park can be accessed through numerous parking areas and trails. It envelopes mountainous landscapes that separate Hollywood, Glendale and Burbank, so depending on where you’re coming from, Griffith offers different options for adventure. One favorite is to ride a mountain bike from the Western Avenue entrance up past the Observatory and up Mount Hollywood Road (closed to traffic) over the mountains down into the Glendale area. The main biking route is a restricted access fire road, meaning you’ll only occasionally see a maintenance vehicle. Offshoot trails range from wide, well-packed paths to hard-going coyote trails.

Speaking of coyotes, if you manage not to crash around too much, you’ll probably see a few of these tawny gray, sneaky citizens of the Santa Monica Mountains. At sunset, as the park descends into darkness, their yips and cries of the echo through the park. Beside coyotes, expect to see red-tail hawks, barn owls and shy deer.

Aside from the galvanizing effect of nature in such a densely populated urban area, and the abundance of empty trails and warm breezes, the view of Los Angeles from Griffith Park cannot be beat. At night the cityscape shifts in a mesmeric shimmer of electricity and glass. On the 4th of July, there’s no better place to view the fireworks show.

For the most expansive view, but not the least crowded, walk from the Observatory to the top of Mount Hollywood and take in the panorama that includes Angeles National Forest, the Pacific Ocean, and everything in between.

3. Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands view
Channel Islands view

2 hours drive from downtown Los Angeles

Hiking, camping, kayaking, whale watching, photography

Leaving Los Angeles at 7 a.m., it’s a little over an hour drive to the Ventura Marina, from where you can catch the boat to Channel Islands National Park. Make sure to pack a picnic and plenty of water. If you hike the amazing trails on the islands, you’ll be exposed to the sun much of the time and will need snacks and drink.

Island Packers offers round-trip excursions, cruises, and whale watching tours to several of the Channel Islands. It’s an hour by boat to Santa Cruz Island, during which you’ll see sea lions and pods of cresting dolphins. Arriving at Santa Cruz, you’ll dock at Scorpion Anchorage, where several trails converge. Immediately to the left a little cove enjoys a steadily lapping turquoise surf. There are big views from the 5.6-kilometer trail to Smugglers Cove.