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Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
See L.A. County’s natural wild side at this vast, free-admission park

Think there’s no wide-open countryside left in Los Angeles? Think again. The Santa Monica Mountains stretch for 50 miles across the north western boundary of the Los Angeles basin. Within the range lie more than 150,000 largely undeveloped acres of grassy swales, rock-studded hillsides, tree-shaded glens, and windswept beaches. A mosaic of state, local, and federal preserves protects this land, all managed under the umbrella of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the nation’s largest urban national park.

One of the few mountain ranges in the United States to run east to west rather than north to south, the Santa Monicas can claim big nature bragging rights. Considered to be a “botanical island” in L.A.’s urban corridor, the slopes that run straight down to the Pacific are covered in chaparral, coastal sage, springtime wildflowers, and oak and sycamore forests. More than 20 species of endangered plants and animals thrive here. This is a place where you might see a bobcat stalk its prey, a coyote lope across the grasslands, or a golden eagle fly overhead.

With dozens of possible access points to the area, the hardest part of visiting the Santa Monica Mountains is deciding where to go. The range is bisected by scenic roads, so you can witness some of its charms through your windshield: Cruise along Mulholland Drive and Mulholland Highway from Hollywood west to Malibu, or drive Kanan Dume Road north from Malibu to Agoura Hills.

To enjoy the beauty at a slower pace, get out and take a hike. More than 500 miles of trails lace these mountains, including the 67-mile Backbone Trail, an unbroken footpath that makes it possible to backpack for a week in L.A.’s wilderness. There are plenty of shorter treks, too: From the Circle X Ranch trailhead, climb 3,111-foot Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the recreation area, where the vista from the summit takes in a wide expanse of island-dotted Pacific and a sweep of downtown’s jagged skyline. In Solstice Canyon, take an easy walk along an oak- and sycamore-shaded creek to a picturesque waterfall and the Roberts Ranch stone ruins. At Paramount Ranch, stroll through Western Town, a movie and television set where stars including Bob Hope and Gary Cooper acted out scenes for 1940s classics. At King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas, visit the national park visitor centre for maps and information, then take a short, steep tromp to Inspiration Point for views of Malibu Creek State Park’s volcanic rock formations.

 

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Photo by Ryan Killackey

Southern California

Discover Los Angeles County

See a movie star. Sip a cocktail on a rooftop bar at sunset. Slip on a pair of designer shoes in an ultra-luxurious boutique in Beverly Hills. Play at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, explore world-class museums, or dance the night away in a starlet-filled club. Welcome to California’s liveliest city, entertainment capital of America, with megastar wattage and nonstop activities.

“You know, you’re really a nobody in L.A. unless you have a really big door.”  –comedian Steve Martin

The main hub is the City of Los Angeles, with legendary Hollywood northwest of downtown, the San Fernando Valley to the east, and the inviting beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu to the west.

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"The Squaw Man" was filmed in 1913, and was the first feature-length film made in Hollywood.
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Griffith Observatory

Spotlight: Los Angeles

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Bright lights, A-list celebrities & diverse culture

Welcome to the bright lights and big-city allure of California’s largest metropolis. Here, A-list celebrities really do walk the sidewalks, triple...

January

Welcoming in the New Year with a burst of flower power, this iconic parade in Pasadena is half of the city’s annual one-two punch of parade-and-football game. The parade features a rotating trio...

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Photo by Pauline Cheng/Flickr
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Photo by Neil Kremer/Flickr

Spotlight: Hollywood

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Showbiz, celebrities, & endless possibilities

Tinseltown, where starlets are discovered on every street corner (or at least we like to think they are), and the tinted windows of that...

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Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

La Brea Tar Pits

Find fossils and family-friendly fun at this prehistoric excavation site

Your idea of old may be 100, but that will undoubtedly change after you spend several hours at the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum. You will learn...

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Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

North Hollywood

Experience a different Hollywood just north of Tinseltown

From bustling Hollywood Boulevard, it is less than 10 minutes to North Hollywood’s NoHo Arts District, a happening enclave where live theatre, not...

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SoCal Drive by Laura Flippen

Celebrity Spotting

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Where to see stars in Hollywood

Stargazing takes on a different meaning in Tinseltown. While there’s no guarantee you’ll spy a familiar face when you’re here, there are some...

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West Hollywood

A designer’s dream with shops, architecture, and style

West Hollywood has been dubbed “The Creative City,” and for good reason. Bordering Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, “WeHo” is where fashion and the...

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Roman Konigshofer/Flickr

WeHo Design District

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Get trendy in a fashion-forward neighbourhood

This stylish destination, roughly defined by the intersection of Melrose Avenue and Robertson and Beverly...

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Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Southern California

Beach Towns & Big Thrills
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Your trip begins in California’s largest city. L.A. has nonstop action and things to do, but it can be a challenge to navigate, so planning your trip in advance is a big plus. Start in the coastal city of Santa Monica, with a wide, uncrowded beach, a signature pier topped by carnival rides and...

For me, returning to Los Angeles annihilates the memories of where I have just been with an astonishing speed.
Henry Rollins
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Broad Contemporary Art Museum by Chris Burden

Museums

See masterpieces and innovative contemporary works

With its diverse collection of museums, Los Angeles has grown into one of the world’s great cities for art lovers. From the dramatically modern...

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Rodeo Drive by Sharon Mollerus/Flickr

Los Angeles County Shopping

Go boutique to bargain in one of the world’s fashion (and shopping) capitals

You’ll definitely want to leave room in your suitcase for L.A. shopping.

If you’re ready to whip out the platinum card, head to Rodeo Drive...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Make memories at some of California's family-favorite beaches

Sand, water, and kids—it’s a natural combination for easy family fun. This sandy dozen offers appealing, family-friendly features, such as calm water for new swimmers, tide pools for intrepid...

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Alex Farnum
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Santa Monica by Tom Story

Spotlight: Santa Monica

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Visit the perfect sunny strip for sand, surf, and shopping

Set along a curving shoreline, the neighbouring coastal communities of Santa Monica and Venice Beach blend classic Southern California sand-and-...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini UFOs. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

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Laura Flippen
SPECIAL FEATURE
Check these amazing experiences off your bucket list

Kiss a beluga, see cool movie props, and learn about Walt’s secret hideaway on exclusive and behind-the-scenes tours at California’s theme parks and attractions. Here’s a roundup of worth-the-...

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Photo by Michael Saechang/Flickr
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Beverly Hills Hotel by Myles McGuinness

Beverly Hills

Peek into the land of the rich and famous

Opulent estates. Palm-lined Rodeo Drive. Lavish hotels and stretch limousines. Look around Beverly Hills, and it’s no wonder this city gets its...

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World-class accommodations in world-class locations

Head to the heart of California’s cities for luxurious stays at world-class accommodations. From San Francisco’s historic hotels to celebrity hot spots in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, California’s...

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Lynn Gately/Flickr
SPECIAL FEATURE
Where to release your inner fashionista

Shopping is an art form in California. Whether you are in search of the perfect cocktail dress or an authentic Mexican piñata, you will find it here. Want to...

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South Coast Plaza
SPECIAL FEATURE
Taste the delicious dishes from these amazing California chefs

From a candy-colored pastry shop to Michelin-starred dining rooms, top restaurants run by celebrity chefs dot the Golden State. And even if you don’t know these chefs from the TV...

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Jen Judge

Venice

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Surfers, skateboarders, and stars

Venice is the ultimate L.A. neighborhood where the surf meets the human circus. Spend a day along Venice’s palm-lined, beachfront boardwalk and...

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Discover quintessential sun and fun at these coastal charmers

Take one part water, one part sand, one part sun-soaked coastal charm, and you have the recipe for some of California’s most appealing destinations. The Golden State’s beach towns stand out for...

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Lucas Himovitz
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Aquarium of the Pacific by Harriot Manley

Long Beach

Experience the many sides of a dynamic coastal city

With beaches and marinas along its waterfront and a busy dining and shopping scene on downtown’s Pine Avenue, Long Beach blends big city...

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Disney Concert Hall by Jen Judge

L.A. Architecture

See eye-catching icons and stately landmarks

While Los Angeles is still a young city when compared to places like, say, Rome, it still boasts a unique architectural tradition that spans a...

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Lancaster's Civic Musical Road is the only "musical" or "singing" road in the United States.
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Hands-on fun for all at farms, ranches, and fields statewide

From almonds and olives up north to avocados, oranges, and dates in South, the Golden State has a crop (or 10) for nearly every stretch of terrain. After all, ...

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Tai Power Seeff
February or March

You certainly will not be the only one celebrating the Lunar New Year at this colourful event in L.A.’s Chinatown. Join thousands of revellers lining the parade route as lion dancers and giant...

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Jorge Gonzalez/Flickr
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Unleash the children within at California’s ultimate play lands

From Disneyland classics to beachfront carousels, the Golden State’s best-in-class theme parks deliver something for everyone. Take a tram ride to tour film...

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Lucas Himovitz
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Courtesy of Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood

Warner Bros. Studio Tour

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This classic Hollywood tour lets you see TV and movie history in the making

Hollywood magic still resonates at this huge studio lot in Burbank, where you can witness pieces of cinematic and television history—and also have...

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Chris Putnam/Alamy

Burbank

The entertainment industry’s home base offers a microcosm of stars, shopping, and cool tours

If you come to Los Angeles wishing to see where movie magic gets made, look on the other side of Hollywood—literally.

“I always tell people...

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Courtesy of MasterChef Australia

Great L.A. Food Trucks

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Tacos, grilled cheese, and health food all live in harmony on the streets of Los Angeles

From gourmet chefs experimenting with tacos to funky ice cream sandwiches, you might be surprised by what you can find on the streets of L.A. Food...

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California Dreamin/Alamy

Pasadena

Tour an Arts and Crafts masterpiece and more in the home of the Rose Bowl

Set at the base of the towering San Gabriel Mountains, Pasadena is best known as the home of the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose...

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Photo by Iwan Baan/Courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The Broad

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This private collection sheds new light on downtown L.A.’s museum scene

What began as one couple’s small collection of postwar and contemporary art is now a treasure trove of more than 2,000 pieces, housed in an...

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Courtesy of Marina del Rey Convention and Visitors Bureau

Marina del Rey

Visit this inviting waterfront community near Venice Beach and Santa Monica for laid-back fun on both land and sea

Roughly six miles north of Los Angeles International Airport sits Marina del Rey,...

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Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

The California Questionnaire: Margaret Cho

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The Emmy- and Grammy-nominated stand-up comic, actress, and singer clues us into her love of Los Angeles and California culture

Margaret Cho has been doing stand-up since high school, and her ability to make audiences LOL has afforded her opportunities in all genres—from...

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Zachary Miller/Getty Images

Angeles National Forest

Discover the wilder side of Los Angeles, just minutes from the city in the San Gabriel Mountains

Barely 30 minutes from the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles, and just north of Pasadena, the urban jungle gives way to the forests, rugged...

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Cara Robbins/Getty Images

CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: ZOEY DEUTCH

The up-and-coming actress loves life in the Valley, road trips up the coast, and old-school deli food

For Zoey Deutch, movies are the family business. Her mom, Lea Thompson, starred in Back to the Future, and her dad, Howard Deutch,...