Because I live in Santa Monica near the ocean, convenience and habit lead me to do most of my hiking in west Los Angeles. But farther east, closer to Hollywood and downtown, there are plenty of options for quick getaways from the heart of the city. The most obvious is Griffith Park, the destination of 10 million people annually. Located northeast of Hollywood and bordering the Los Feliz neighborhood, Griffith Park is more than 4,100 acres - about five times the size of New York's Central Park - of largely undeveloped, chaparral-covered hillsides on the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Created in 1896 out of land donated by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, a Welsh émigré who made a fortune in gold mining, the park today is home to the Greek Theater, the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, and the stunning art deco Griffith Observatory, where scenes from James Dean's Rebel Without a Cause were filmed. But it also has 53 miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding. Located in the heart of the city, Griffith Park has a more urban feel to it, particularly on weekends when large crowds come to picnic and hike.
This is just the way Griffith envisioned it. When the park was originally dedicated, he hoped that it would become "a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people." Nowhere has that vision been more obviously achieved than on the rewarding three-mile round-trip hike from the parking lot at Griffith Observatory to the summit of Mount Hollywood, which, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, is always bustling with activity. The wide, well-traveled dirt path from the Charlie Turner Trailhead to the 1,625-foot summit is a route with ever-improving views of the city below. At the tip of one of the switchbacks, the iconic Hollywood sign on nearby Mount Lee is literally at eye level.
At the top of Mount Hollywood are arguably the best views of the city - on clear days, downtown looks so close that you feel like you could reach out and touch it - and of the entire geography of the L.A. area, including Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank, Long Beach, and Catalina Island. Elsewhere in the park, it's possible to get the same sort of solitude so easily found in Topanga. In the southwest corner of the park are the Bronson Caves, familiar to anyone who watched the 1960s TV show Batman as the Bat Cave.