Walk this way: The best hiking trails in LA
Not all Los Angeles hiking trails are created equal. Whether you’re looking for stunning ocean views or critter-filled tide pools and climbs to thrill kids and canines, our expert guide has a trail for you. | By Tanvi Chheda | August 24, 2022
From the Santa Monica Mountains down to Rancho Palos Verdes, choose the best hike for you and your crew and marvel in the vast beauty surrounding LA. Take a walk on the wild side with a:
Picture-perfect outing: Grab your friends and take in panoramic views of Los Angeles, including the Hollywood Sign, from the Mount Hollywood Trail
Romantic rendezvous: Head to Malibu with your love and spot pelicans and sea lions sunning on rocky outcroppings at Point Dume
Family adventure: Scramble up rocks with your family at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park and observe marine life in tide pools at Abalone Cove
For a romantic rendezvous: Point Dume Nature Preserve
As you drive into Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll notice a jagged promontory jutting out into the ocean. This is Point Dume, part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and the perfect setting for a picturesque sunset walk with your love. During the spring months, poppies and wildflowers put on a beautiful display. Walk hand-in-hand down the Point Dume stairs and head toward the secluded Dume Cove Beach below. The gorgeous views, plus opportunities to see pelicans and sunbathing sea lions, make this a truly memorable hike. Afterward, replenish yourselves with a romantic picnic for two at Malibu Farm Cafe. Share a delicious mushroom and goat cheese wrap or hearty salad of fruit, Burrata, greens and grains. Oh, and don’t forget to leave room for dessert — one salted caramel ice cream cup (with two spoons, of course) coming up!
If you're still yearning for more heart-pumping views, stop by Escondido Falls — just a 10-minute drive from Point Dume and an excellent choice for any level of hiker. One note: the route to upper Escondido Falls can be quite slippery, so be sure to wear proper footwear.
For friends who want to post on Insta: Mount Hollywood Trail from Griffith Observatory
With phenomenal views of Los Angeles and the iconic Hollywood Sign, this trail around Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park makes for some great Instagram-worthy shots, especially around sunset. Start from the trailhead behind the Griffith Observatory parking lot and gradually climb, gaining 500 feet (150 meters) in elevation over a mile or so, taking in sweeping views of downtown, the surrounding hills and the Observatory, as you go. On clear days, it’s even possible to see as far as the ocean. Trust us — if photo ops are your thing, then this is the trail for you. Just look at your camera reel at the end of your hike and you’ll think you’ve captured a quintessential “Visit LA” postcard.
Round trip, the Mount Hollywood Trail is about a 2.5-mile (4 kilometers) loop back to the observatory parking area. Parking can be challenging, especially on weekends, so if possible, consider doing this hike on a weekday. There’s no shortage of great Los Angeles eateries around the Griffith Park area, but a 12-minute drive will bring you to Pine & Crane, where the sharing-friendly dishes include delicious dan dan noodles and mapo tofu.
For rock-climbing families: Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park
Though it requires a 30 to 40-minute drive to northern Los Angeles County, the otherworldly rock formations at Vasquez Rocks, reminiscent of Joshua Tree National Park, are perfect for active families or any hiker in search of an easy-to-moderate hike. Wander the trails at the base before scrambling up the inclined sandstone slabs formed over millions of years thanks to seismic activity and erosion. Want to impress your trivia-loving kid? Make sure to mention that the 930-acre (375 hectares) park — a favorite for horseback riding — was named for a bandit, Tiburcio Vasquez, who used the rocks as one of his many hideouts.
Pack a lunch to enjoy under the picnic shelter or drive 15 minutes to a nearby In-N-Out Burger — a Southern California fast food institution — for a fix of everyone’s favorite animal-style fries (French fries topped with secret sauce, a slice of melted cheese and chopped grilled onions).
For families who want to spot sea stars and crabs: Abalone Cove Shoreline Park
Arguably some of the best tide pools in Los Angeles, Abalone Cove in Rancho Palos Verdes is a favorite of families for good reason. Follow a well-marked 1-mile (1.6 kilometer) trail (from the parking lot) along the coast down to the cove where anemones, sea stars, brittle stars, crabs, violet-colored sea urchins and even large, slimy sea hares can be spotted during low tide. (Tip: Check the tide chart beforehand to ensure access to the tide pools.)
From Abalone Cove, it’s a quick drive to nearby Terranea Resort, where lunch or dinner at Nelson’s — not to worry, picky eaters will love the grilled cheese and chicken tenders — comes with spectacular vistas. The oceanfront trail along the perimeter of the resort with views of Catalina Island in the distance, is open to the public and perfect for sunset views.
For Fido and friends: Runyon Canyon Park
Located along a mountain ridge in the Hollywood Hills, Runyon Canyon trail is one of LA’s most popular hiking spots, and a favorite of celebrities and their pets. The well-maintained 3-mile (5 kilometers) loop will give you and your dog a great workout as you take in views of the surrounding hills. Dogs must be leashed on the trail, but you’ll find a 90-acre off-leash dog park that will give your four-legged friend plenty of space to run and play. A large portion of Runyon Canyon Park is exposed, so be sure to bring enough water for you and your dog to stay hydrated. For refills, water fountains can be found along the trail for people and pets.
Word to the wise: Street parking is the best option at Runyon Canyon, just be sure to read signs carefully. Keep an eye out for the famous Hollywood Sign, which you can spot from several places along the trail as well as a bird’s-eye view of downtown Los Angeles. For some post-hike sustenance, head to The Cat & Fiddle, which has treats for you and your pup (no, really, they have an actual menu for dogs) to enjoy.
With so many different options to enjoy, the only question left is: which hike will you try first?
Tanvi Chheda is a travel writer and family travel expert based in Los Angeles. From taking her daughter to Peru at the age of 2 to visiting several U.S. National Parks with her family, she loves seeing new places through her kids' eyes and encourages other families to do the same. A former Travel + Leisure editor, Tanvi has written for The New York Times, AFAR.com, Robb Report, Virtuoso Life and Ciao Bambino, among others.