I love how a city that gets shit on all the time for being a surging, sprawling, mass of concrete because LA actually has some truly beautiful parts. Though they are certainly not the only things to do nature-wise in this city – the canyons that cut deeply into the Santa Monica Mountains right in the center of Los Angeles provide welcomed respites from LaLa Land.
Some are completely free of houses and urban sprawl while others aren’t but both are pleasurable as the residential canyons contain some wonderful homes.
Starting in Beverly Hills there are three main canyons – Benedict, Franklin, and Coldwater. The first and last of these canyons are residential streets leading up to Mulholland Drive from Sunset Blvd. These you should see for the homes. Some are tucked away behind walls or hedges but some are right against the street – many modern creations but some very old Hollywood classics. Occasionally there is a hidden driveway that leads up to a much more impressive home or two. Looking up the sides of the canyons – there will be houses teetering on cliffs with fantastic views.
The middle canyon – Franklin Canyon – is the one to check out if you wanna boogie with nature. Take Beverly Drive up until it veers off to the left. Go into the canyon (there’ll be lovely houses on either side) and veer to the right onto Franklin Canyon Dr. This will take you up and out of the neighborhood and suddenly put you against cliffs dropping off to the canyon floor below. Even though I don’t think you’d do it – I don’t suggest driving whilst impaired here. The windy drive will take you down to the bottom and fork at the old abandoned stone building. If you make a right – then you’ll end up taking trails up to the front peak of the canyon with views looking out to the LA Basin – these are more strenuous than the ones in the back of the canyon. There are some great photo op points, though – make you feel very ‘LA.’
If you make a left at the fork – you’ll end up at the lake (actually it’s a reservoir). This scenic lake, with surrounding pine forest and mountains will make you feel so far removed from LA. Like – you wouldn’t have any idea.
Things to do around this lake:
– Say hi to the ducks. There are so many. They will come to you if you get close to the edge – they want food (but you can’t feed them…)
– Realize that this is where they filmed Salute Your Shorts (and the Andy Griffith Show intro and many other classics).
– Check out the little pond next to the lake – more ducks. There are also turtles and koi fish. Also crazy trees (and sometimes screaming children).
– Scale the left side of the canyon and you’ll be at Beverly Park – in the backyards of the uber rich and famous.
Now in the hills above West Hollywood – the next canyon is Laurel Canyon. If there was ever a more iconic place. This place has a great story. First developed about 100 years ago, it became part of the city of Los Angeles in the 1920’s. An important cut through to the Valley, a freeway was going to be built through the canyon that was actually stopped because of the amount of famous people living in the canyon who went into an uproar. During the 60’s – this was the place to be. Every musician and young, cool, celeb lived here. Many of them still live in the canyon – giving the area a very bohemian and mountain vibe in the big city. There aren’t too many stores or restaurants (only ones of note: the Canyon Store and Pace). Most of the roads off Laurel Canyon Blvd. go to nowhere – just small offshoots.
One canyon over is one of my faves: Nichols Canyon. Many people who have spent their entire lives in LA have never heard of this great neighborhood (and cut through from Hollywood to Mulholland). It starts as the northern continuation of Genesee above Hollywood Boulevard and immediately starts a tight and curvy ascent to the top of the Hollywood Hills. At one of the hairpin turns is parking for the Trebek Open Space (named after yes, you guessed it, Alex Trebek). If you're looking for the views of Runyon without the people of Runyon - check this place out. It may not be as rigorous of a workout but it gets an A+ for easy parking, views, and you can actually walk to Runyon from the Trebek Open Space via Solar Dr.
Runyon Canyon is directly east of Nichols Canyon. A spot made for Instagram before there even was Instagram.
There are three main entrances to the park – one on top, two on the bottom. If you want to just check out the views without too much physical exertion – drive along Mulholland and park at the upper lot. The two entrances at the bottom are at the tops of Vista and Fuller. If you take the Vista route, be sure to check out the Wattles Mansion and the urban vegetable garden – one of the largest. Immediately through the gates of the Vista entrance – make a left and go up the steep incline. This will take you on ‘the hard hike.’ If you enter from the Fuller entrance you will walk through the bottom of the canyon and then start to incline to the right. This is more leisurely minus a few parts that involve steps.
Interesting things to know about Runyon:
– The house with a shiny trailer outside of it – the director of Grease lives there.
– The second to last owner – Huntington Hartford (heir to the A&P fortune) tried to give it to the city as a gift – and LA SAID NO. Angrily he sold it off to Jules Berman for a low price. Berman made his money importing Kahlua and wanted to build a development in the canyon. Then the city decided to care and it became a park in 1984.
– The canyon was visited by many a famous person back in the day. A home once located on the sprawling 160-acre property was owned by Irish tenor John McCormack who had the likes of John Barrymore and Charles Boyer over.
– Huntington Hartford had enlisted Frank Lloyd Wright to plan and build on the site.
– There’s wildlife – particularly in the morning.
– From its highest vantage point – you can see both into The Valley and also the LA Basin.
– Once one of the world’s largest neon signs – The Outpost sign that stood on the right crest of Runyon was an earlier version of the Hollywood Sign. The metal scraps of it are still there on the right of the path right before the peak.
Now really in the Hollywood Hills we have the Cahuenga Pass, the Hollywood Dell (and Lake Hollywood), Beachwood Canyon, and Bronson Canyon.
– The Cahuenga Pass – nothing to mention here apart from the Hollywood Bowl – definitely go to a show here. Apart from that this is the horrific location of the 101. A cut through since Tongva times, the Pass has always been an important commercial corridor between the LA Basin and the San Fernando Valley. Too bad now it's just known for car exhaust and trash.
– The Hollywood Reservoir – a nice place to walk around and take some Hollywood sign pics. You can’t get close to the water though which kinda sucks. Make sure to walk on the Mulholland Dam!
– Beachwood Canyon – like Laurel Canyon, Beachwood has a storied past. This residential canyon was developed in the 1920’s and was home to many stars of the early cinema. If you want perfect views of the Hollywood Sign – go here. Beachwood deserves its own post FOR SURE! (Coming soon.)
Bronson Canyon is the very last canyon of the Hollywood Hills until we head east and into Griffith Park and Los Feliz. I lived in this canyon for years and fell in love with it. Unlike its more famous neighbor (Beachwood), Bronson is a well-kept secret. The amount of Ubers I used to take home and the driver would remark, "where are we?"
Full of historic homes and little winding streets - it's a fun place to take a drive (just watch out for the locals who whip around corners).
Down at the foot of the canyon is Franklin Village. This little commercial area is shared with Beachwood and has a few restaurants (including one of my favorite places: The Oaks) as well as Gelsons. This Gelsons is actually one of the best people watching supermarkets in the city.