The Ultimate Southern California Adventure Bucket List

Eight of the region’s most iconic hikes, climbs, paddles and runs

July 2, 2020 12:41 pm
Outdoor Adventures LA
This region is home to some of the best outdoor adventures in the country.

Forget, for a moment, all the traffic and the crowds and the people and the ambition and you have, in L.A., one of the most beautiful natural spaces on Earth. Running, climbing, paddling, cycling: It’s all here, and within spitting distance (just, uh, leave before dawn). 

For this list of the region’s best outdoors adventures, we reached out to some of L.A.’s leading outdoor types. Together, they came up with a slate of experiences — from Santa Monica to Coachella Valley — that’ll power your Instagram right through 2021. 

Get adventuring, everybody. 

And in case you missed it, we talked to some of the Bay Area’s most devoted outdoorspeople to come up with a Northern California Adventuring Bucket List earlier this year.

Best L.A. Run: 2 Lakes, 2 Loops

Selected by Erik Valiente, BlacklistLA

“Whether it’s geese crossing the paved path, pedal boats shaped like a Swan or a TV production team shooting a commercial, you’re bound to find excitement at Echo Park Lake — and along this solid 10-mile run that explores two lakes and a bit of the city.

After finishing a warm-up mile around Echo Park Lake, you’ll run west on Sunset toward Silver Lake Blvd, passing colorful murals and bike lanes with cyclists heading toward Downtown Los Angeles. On the next segment, you’ll climb a gentle and steady incline for about one mile, until you reach the base of the Silver Lake Reservoir. As a bonus, you’ll see our furry friends chasing tennis balls inside the dog park. 

By now, you’ll be warmed up. Jogging on dirt paths, passing a lushes meadow, and a steep 100M hill, you’ll collect about 4.5 miles looping the reservoir twice. The hard work is done, so hydrate at the water fountain and then start your descend back to Echo Park Lake. Depending on the time of day, you might see people commuting home, Dodger fans heading toward Chavez Ravine, or locals walking toward various bars along Sunset Blvd. Be sure to snap a pic of the mural that says ‘Welcome to Los Angeles,’ or the giant Obey street art near the Short Stop Bar. Finish up with a final victory lap at Echo Park Lake, and you’ll end with a double-digit run.”

Best Crag: Malibu Creek State Park

Selected by David Potter, SoCal Climbing

“My personal favorite crag is Malibu Creek State Park — and my personal favorite routes at Malibu Creek are Monkey Sang, Monkey Do 5.11c TR and The Drifter 5.12a Sport. They are epic, infamous and prized accomplishments.”

Best Hike: South Lykken Trail

For our money, no Coachella Valley trail is superior to the South Lykken in offering that just-right Goldilocks mix of accessibility, natural beauty and unique terrain — plus the chance for hiking alongside (or at least within view of) big-horn sheep. We like to start at the south end and hike north to Tahquitz Canyon; the first section is windy and up-up-up, with the bare minimum of shade — you can find it by ducking behind a rock; you’ll likely be sorry if you don’t bring water. The reward: endless views of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley beyond. Key bonus: If you’re staying in Palm Springs, you won’t need a car — just the willingness to add on the mileage through town walking from your hotel to the trailhead, or a reasonably brief Uber. 

Best Paddle: Painted Cave

Selected by Sarah Scrivano, Santa Barbara Adventure Company

“Paddling into the Painted Cave — one of the world’s deepest sea caves, in Channel Islands National Park — is the ultimate adventure. This sea cave kayak tour only happens in the summer (that’s when we get the best weather) and we’ll get into a few large sea caves before ending the tour in the deepest cave. This area of the island typically has sea lions and other marine life. On the boat ride, you’ll stop for whales — it was my first time seeing a blue whale! 

The Channel Islands are an incredible area. Nicknamed the Galapagos of North America, they’re home to a high level of biodiversity, and the paddling is top notch. While you’re there, you might also want to see Scorpion Anchorage, where there are several sea caves of varying sizes to paddle through. The kelp forests are incredible, and the wildlife sights are exciting!”

Best Multi-Day Backpack That You Really Can’t Do in the Summer: California Riding and Hiking Trail

There’s a brief window every year after the start of the wildflower bloom at Joshua Tree and before it gets insufferably hot — and that is the time to tackle the California Riding and Hiking Trail, a 37-mile one-way trail from Black Rock Canyon campground to the eastern terminus south of Twentynine Palms. Expect cold nights, sandy trails and spectacular sunsets; most reasonably done as a three-day hike, you’ll need to cache water along the way, and budget about $40 if you’ll be Ubering back to the start if you’re traveling with one car.

Best Hike: Eaton Canyon

Selected by the co-founders of LA Hike Club

“For the last two years, LA Hike Club led groups of 50 Los Angelenos up a different trail around Los Angeles every month, exploring all kinds of hidden hills, caves and valleys, and learning all about how these places fit in within LA’s vibrant history. Out of all the trails taken so far, Eaton Canyon quickly proved to be our favorite SoCal outdoor adventure. This can’t-miss-gorgeous Pasadena hike is a 3.5-mile full-body workout with 436 feet of elevation gain, ending with a breathtaking waterfall that’s straight out of a movie. Think The Beach with Leonardo Dicaprio, but before anything bad happens. 

You can’t escape getting tons of cardio in as you climb over the San Gabriel Mountains’ big boulders, bending under sycamore tree branches, hopping and crossing logs over fern lined-streams, and finally reach your reward, the 40-foot-tall waterfall. Rest easy in the shade under a tree, watching and listening to the splash of the water if you please, but chances are you won’t be able to resist jumping right in to the waist-deep wide pool (we definitely couldn’t.) We recommend making a daycation out of it! Wear a bathing suit, pack a little picnic, and don’t forget to invite your pooch on this adventure.”

Best Cycling: The Strand

There’s nothing quite like this leisurely, brunch-y ride. Our favorite section is from Redondo Beach to Manhattan Beach, though the southern start is in Torrance, and you can keep heading north to Pacific Palisades. Take a break to get in the water, stop for beachfront beers along the way, or just keep an eye out for a house for sale: This is the L.A. lifestyle they sell in the travel magazines. If you want to gut it out on your bike for a few hours, head up Mount Wilson or to the San Gabriel Mountains. If you just want to enjoy life, though, grab the beachcomber and take the rest of the day off. 

Best Trail Run: Ray Miller Trail to Mugu Peak Loop

Selected by Ann Ongena, Trail Runners Club

“The Ray Miller Trail is the most spectacular trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, always well maintained and with the perfect grade to run the switchbacks up or down. Located at the western end of this local mountain range, it’s a great starting and end point for any run as short as 5.5 miles (run up and down the trail) or as long as 69 miles (run the entire Backbone Trail). 

One of our favorite routes is a 16-mile lollipop loop starting and finishing at the Ray Miller Trail, with a total of 2,500 feet of elevation gain, spectacular ocean and mountain views, and a variety of terrain. The paved parking lot is right at the trailhead with water, picnic tables and restrooms — welcome sights following the run. As our founder, Stan Swartz said: ‘If you can only run two trails in Southern California, one should be the Ray Miller Trail and the other should be the Ray Miller Trail in the opposite direction.’”

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