Bisected by the Santa Monica Mountains and fronted by long stretches of beach, Los Angeles is one of the best cities in the world for nature and sports lovers. Where else can you hike in the mountains, in-line skate along the beach, swim in the ocean, enjoy a gourmet meal, and then take in a pro basketball, soccer, hockey, or baseball game -- all in the same day?
Los Angeles, being mostly flat, is great for biking. If you're into distance pedaling, you can do no better than the flat, paved bicycle trail that follows about 22 miles of state beaches, harbors, LAX, and laid-back beach towns such as Venice, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach. The first stretch starts at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades and runs south through Santa Monica and Venice to Marina del Rey -- about 8 miles. The second stretch -- called the South Bay Bike Trail -- starts at the south end of Marina del Rey and takes you all the way to Torrance Beach. If you want to ride the entire path, you'll have to detour around Marina del Rey, which takes only about 15 minutes. The bike path attracts all levels of riders and gets pretty busy on weekends, so ixnay the time trials. Don't worry about packing food and water -- there are plenty of fountains, snack stands, and public restrooms along the trail. For information on this and other city bike routes, log on to www.labikepaths.com.
The best place to mountain bike in the L.A. region is along the trails of Malibu Creek State Park (tel. 818/880-0367), in the Santa Monica Mountains between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley in Calabasas. Fifteen miles of trails rise to a maximum of 3,000 feet and are appropriate for intermediate to advanced bikers. Pick up a trail map at the park entrance, 4 miles south of U.S. 101 off Las Virgenes Road, just north of Mulholland Highway. Park admission is $12 per car. For more information on mountain-bike trails in the L.A. region, log on to www.latrails.com.
Spokes 'N Stuff has four locations, one of which is 4175 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey (tel. 310/306-3332; www.spokes-n-stuff.com), which is open only on weekends; and another at 1715 Ocean Front Walk, behind Loews Hotel, Santa Monica (tel. 310/395-4748), which is open every day. They rent 10-speed cruisers and 15-speed mountain bikes for about $7.50 per hour and $22 per day. Another good Santa Monica rental shop is Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals (Santa Monica Pier; tel. 310/393-9778). The rates are about the same as those at Spokes 'N Stuff. Be sure to ask for a free self-guided tour map (it's really handy).
In the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga Creek Bicycles, 1273 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga (tel. 310/455-2111; www.topangacreekbicycles.com), rents mountain bikes at $75 for a 24-hour period and $50 for each additional day. Every rental comes with a free tour map, a safety helmet, and a flat-tire kit. Water and snacks are available for purchase.
In the South Bay, bike rentals -- including tandem bikes -- are available 1 block from The Strand at Hermosa Cyclery, 20 13th St., Hermosa Beach (tel. 310/374-7816; www.hermosacyclery.com). Cruisers are $7 per hour; tandems are $13 per hour. FYI, The Strand is an excellent car-free path that's tailor-made for a leisurely bike ride.
Del Rey Sport Fishing, 13552 Fiji Way, Marina del Rey (tel. 800/822-3625 or 310/822-3635; www.marinadelreysportfishing.com), has two deep-sea boats departing daily on half- and full-day ocean fishing trips. Of course, it depends on what's running when you're out, but bass, barracuda, halibut, and yellowtail are the most common catches on these party boats. Excursions start at $35 ($25 for kids under 12) for half-day trips; tackle rental is available for $10 as well. Phone for reservations. Note: Anyone 16 years and up needs a fishing license, which can be obtained at just about any sporting goods store.
No permit is required to cast from shore or drop a line from more public piers. Local anglers will hate me for giving away their secret spot, but the best saltwater fishing spot in all of L.A. is at the foot of Torrance Boulevard in Redondo Beach.
The greater Los Angeles area has more than 100 golf courses, which vary in quality from abysmal to superb. Most of the city's public courses are administered by the Department of Recreation and Parks. A new online reservation system allows any player to book a tee time up to 8 days in advance. The non-refundable, non-transferable cost is $5 per person (https://golfreservation.lacity.org/golferla72). You're also still welcome to play any of the courses by showing up and getting on the call sheet (much easier for nine-hole courses versus full ones). Expect to wait for the most popular tee times, but try to use your flexible vacationer status to your advantage by avoiding the early morning rush.
Of the city's seven 18-hole and three 9-hole courses, you can't get more central than the Rancho Park Golf Course, 10460 W. Pico Blvd. (tel. 310/838-7373; www.rancho.lagolfclubs.com), located smack-dab in the middle of L.A.'s Westside. The par-71 course has lots of tall trees, but not enough to blot out the towering Century City buildings next door. For the money, it's a real bargain (heck, even Bill Clinton golfed here). Rancho also has a 9-hole, par-3 course, as well as a driving range.
For a genuinely woodsy experience, try one of the three courses inside Griffith Park, northeast of Hollywood. The courses are extremely well maintained, challenging without being frustrating, and (despite some holes alongside I-5) a great way to leave the city behind. Bucolic pleasures abound, particularly on the 9-hole Roosevelt, on Vermont Avenue across from the Greek Theatre; early morning wildlife often includes deer, rabbits, raccoons, and skunks (fore!). Wilson and Harding are each 18 holes and start from the main clubhouse off Riverside Drive, the park's main entrance.
Greens fees on all city courses range from $16 to $48 for non-residents; 9-hole courses start at $16 on weekdays and $19 on weekends and holidays. For details on other city courses, or to contact the starter directly by phone, call the Department of Recreation and Parks at tel. 213/625-1040 or log on to the city's parks website at www.laparks.org.
If you're not a fan of crowded city courses, it's well worth the 20-minute drive north to play Robinson Ranch, 27734 Sand Canyon Rd., Santa Clarita (tel. 661/252-8484; www.robinsonranchgolf.com), one of the best and least-crowded public courses in the L.A. region (my golfing buddy loves this place). Golfers can choose between two courses, Mountain or Valley, both of which offer challenging, hilly terrain -- bring extra balls -- and great views of the Santa Clarita Valley. The striking 25,000-square-foot clubhouse makes a nice view as well, and houses a well-stocked pro shop and full-service restaurant. Greens fees for both courses are $87 Monday through Thursday, $117 Friday through Sunday. Carts and practice balls are included.
The Trump National Golf Club, 1 Ocean Trails Dr. (tel. 310/265-5000; www.trumpnationallosangeles.com), recently opened in Rancho Palos Verdes. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the course provides a spectacular view from every hole. Originally designed by Pete Dye as the Ocean Trails Golf Course, the property was purchased by developer Donald Trump, who spent more than $250 million to redesign it with elements such as lakes and waterfalls. Located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, 30 minutes south of Downtown Los Angeles, the course also offers a 45,000-square-foot clubhouse with locker rooms, a pro shop, three dining options, conference rooms, and a grand ballroom. Greens fees at the public course are $275 at peak times, $215 midday, $160 for the afternoon, and $80 after 2:30pm.
Industry Hills Golf Club, 1 Industry Hills Pkwy., Industry Hills (tel. 626/810-4653; www.ihgolfclub.com), has two 18-hole courses designed by William Bell. Together they encompass eight lakes, 160 bunkers, and many long fairways. The Eisenhower Course, consistently ranked among Golf Digest's top 25 public courses, has extra-large undulating greens and the challenge of thick Kikuyu grass. (Kikuyu, even coarser than Bermuda's broad-leaf terrain, is often called "Bermuda on steroids.") An adjacent driving range is lit for night use. Greens fees are $70 to $80 Monday through Friday and $100 to $105 Saturday and Sunday, including a cart; call in advance for tee times.
For more information on regional golf courses, log on to www.golfcalifornia.com.
Up and down the California coast, it's not uncommon to see people poised on the crests of hills, hanging from enormous colorful kites. You can, too. Windsports Soaring Center, 12623 Gridley St., Sylmar (tel. 818/367-2430; www.windsports.com), offers instruction and rentals for both novices and experts. A 1-day lesson in a solo hang glider on a bunny hill costs $120 (Wednesday to Sunday, by advance reservation only). If it's more of a thrill you're looking for, choose the 3,000-foot-high tandem flight for $199, which is offered 7 days a week. Beginner lessons are waterside at Dockweiler State Beach Training Flight Park (near LAX), while tandem flights take off from a San Fernando Valley hilltop. Phone for reservations.
The Santa Monica Mountains, a small range that runs only 50 miles from Griffith Park to Point Mugu, on the coast north of Malibu, makes Los Angeles a great place for hiking. The mountains, which peak at 3,111 feet, are part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a contiguous conglomeration of 350 public parks and 65,000 acres. Many animals live in this area, including deer, coyote, rabbit, skunk, rattlesnake, fox, hawk, and quail. The hills are also home to almost 1,000 drought-resistant plant species, including live oak and coastal sage.
Hiking is best after spring rains, when the hills are green, flowers are in bloom, and the air is clear. Summers can be very hot; hikers should always carry fresh water. Beware of poison oak, a hearty shrub that's common on the West Coast. Usually found among oak trees, poison oak has leaves in groups of three, with waxy surfaces and prominent veins. If you come into contact with this itch-producing plant, you'll end up with a California souvenir that you'll soon regret.
Santa Ynez Canyon, in Pacific Palisades, is a long and difficult climb that rises steadily for about 3 miles. At the top, hikers are rewarded with fantastic views over the Pacific. At the top is Trippet Ranch, a public facility providing water, restrooms, and picnic tables. From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway (Calif. 1) north; turn right onto Sunset Boulevard and then left onto Palisades Drive. Continue for 2 1/2 miles, turn left onto Verenda de la Montura, and park at the cul-de-sac at the end of the street, where you can find the trail head.
Temescal Canyon, in Pacific Palisades, is far easier than the Santa Ynez trail and far more popular, especially among locals. This is one of the quickest routes into the wilderness. Hikes here are anywhere from 1 to 5 miles. From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway (Calif. 1) north; turn right onto Temescal Canyon Road, and follow it to the end. Sign in with the gatekeeper, who can also answer your questions.
Will Rogers State Historic Park, in Pacific Palisades, is also a terrific place for hiking. An intermediate-level hike from the park's entrance ends at Inspiration Point, a plateau from which you can see a good portion of L.A.'s Westside.
For more information on hiking in the L.A. region, log on to www.latrails.com.
Griffith Park Horse Rental, 480 Riverside Dr. (in the Los Angeles Equestrian Center), Burbank (tel. 818/840-8401), rents horses by the hour for guided rides through Griffith Park's hills; no experience is necessary. Horse rental start at $25 for 1 hour (it's more for riders over 200 pounds), cash only. The stables are open daily from 8am to 5pm ('til 6pm in the summer), and you must be at least 6 years old to ride. If you have a rider 5 or younger, you can either opt for the pony rides in Griffith Park or an on-site hand-led ride for kids ages 2 to 5. For private lessons, call tel. 818/569-3666.
Another popular horseback riding outfit is Sunset Ranch, located at 3400 Beachwood Dr. off of Franklin Avenue, just under the HOLLYWOOD sign. Horse rentals are offered daily from 9am to closing (generally, 5pm) for all levels of riders. The ranch is on the edge of Griffith Park with access to 52 miles of trails. Also available are private night rides (very romantic), dinner rides, and riding lessons. Rates are $25 for a 1-hour ride and $40 for 2 hours, not including tip. No reservations are required. For more information, call tel. 323/469-5450 or log on to www.sunsetranchhollywood.com.
Closer to the ocean in Topanga Canyon is Los Angeles Horseback Riding (2623 Old Topanga Canyon Rd., Topanga; tel. 818/591-2032; www.lahorsebackriding.com), a small, friendly outfit that offers guided Western-style trail rides for beginners to advanced riders. It's situated at the top of a 1,800-foot ridgeline -- about a 25-minute drive from Santa Monica -- with panoramic views of the ocean and San Fernando Valley (best seen on one of the sunset or full-moon rides). What I like about this outfit is that, if the guide feels that the group is experienced enough, she'll pick up the pace to a canter. Although same-day reservations are sometimes possible, try to book at least 3 days in advance. Kids 6 and older are welcome, and kids 17 and under must wear helmets (bring a bike helmet, if possible). Prices start at about $60 for a 1-hour, guided ride, plus tip; 2-hour canyon rides and full-moon trips are available as well.
Sunset Margarita Horse Rides
This is so cool. Every night except the Saturday of each month (when they host barbecue nights), the Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables company hosts the Dinner Ride. They saddle you up on a big ol' horse, and then y'all take a scenic 1 1/2-hour ride through Griffith Park -- with the city lights shining far below -- to the Viva Fresh Mexican restaurant in Burbank (dinner and drinks are not included in the price -- plan to eat light since the food is very average). After dinner and a margarita, you ride back to the ranch in the dark. Consider yourself warned, however: Many a sore derriere has wished it hadn't been subjected to 180 minutes in the saddle. $115 for the first person; $85 each additional rider. The ranch is located at the very end of Beachwood Drive off Franklin Avenue, just under the HOLLYWOOD sign. For more information, call tel. 323/469-5450 or log on to www.sunsetranchhollywood.com.
Actress Sheila Kelley has taken the L.A. exercise craze in an X-citing new direction with "the S Factor," a workout regimen inspired by striptease and pole dancing. A 1- to 2-hour (depending on class size) intro course is only $40, but be sure to sign up early as they fill up fast (sorry, guys, it's for women only). Check it out at www.sfactor.com.
Marina del Rey, the largest man made marina in the world, is the launching point for Paradise Bound Yacht Charters (tel. 800/655-0850; www.aaparadiseboundyacht.com). Book Captain Alex's 42-foot sailing vessel for a minimum of 2 hours for $340 an hour for up to six people. The cost covers the services of captain, crew, a hostess, and soft drinks. Food can be catered, or you can bring your own. Touring options include harbor cruises, coastal and sea-life exploration and more. Captain Alex is a retired Navy vet who commanded 4 warships; in the sailing business since 1990, he enjoys "taking care of and pampering his guests."
Sea kayaking is all the rage in Southern California, a simple and serene way to explore the southern coastline. Southwind Kayak Center (17855 Skypark Circle, Irvine; tel. 800/768-8494 or 949/261-0200; www.southwindkayaks.com) rents a variety of kayaks, including sit-on-top, sit-inside, foot-peddled, hand-peddled and doubles, for use in the bay or open ocean at its Newport Beach rental base. Rates start at $50 per day; instructional classes are available as scheduled on the website, and pre-registration is required. The center also conducts several easygoing guided outings, including a $55 Back to Nature trip that highlights the marine life around Newport. Visit the website for more details.
The 22-mile-long South Beach Trail that runs from Pacific Palisades to Torrance is one of the premier skating spots in the country. In-line skating is especially popular, but conventional skates are often seen here, too. Skating is allowed just about everywhere bicycling is, but be advised that cyclists have the right of way. JS Rentals, 1501 Ocean Front Walk, Venice (tel. 310/392-7306), is just one of many places to rent wheels in Venice. In the South Bay, in-line skate rentals are available 1 block from The Strand at Hermosa Cyclery, 20 13th St., Hermosa Beach (tel. 310/374-7816; www.hermosacyclery.com). Skates cost $6 per hour ($18 for the day); kneepads and wrist guards come with every rental.
Segway Rentals in Santa Monica
Those weird-looking upright electronic scooters zipping around the Santa Monica beach scene are coming from the Segway Los Angeles rental shop near the Santa Monica Pier at 1660 Ocean Ave., 1 block south of the pier (tel. 310/395-1395; www.segway.la). Riding these personal transporters is a hoot: lean forward, go forward; lean back, go back; stand straight up, stop. Simple. After the free 25-minute lesson it becomes intuitive, and then you're on your own to scoot about the paved shoreline path around Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. It's the closest you'll come to being a celebrity (everyone checks you out). A 2-hour rental with lesson is $79 plus tax. Guided tours are available for groups of four or more. Note: You have to be at least 18 to rent one solo; the minimum age for kids accompanied by a parent is 12. Note: There's a 24-hour cancelation policy.
George Freeth (1883-1918), who first surfed Redondo Beach in 1907, is widely credited with introducing the sport to California. But surfing didn't catch on until the 1950s, when CalTech graduate Bob Simmons invented a more maneuverable lightweight fiberglass board. The Beach Boys and other surf-music groups popularized Southern California in the minds of beach-babes and -dudes everywhere, and the rest, as they say, is history.
If you're a first-timer eager to learn the sport, contact Learn to Surf L.A. (tel. 310/663-2479; www.learntosurfla.com). This highly respected school features a team of experienced instructors that will supply all necessary equipment and get you up and riding a foam board on your first day (trust me, it's a blast). Private lessons are $120, and group lessons are $75. Another great source for learning to surf is Malibu Longboards (tel. 310/467-6898 or 818/990-7633; www.malibulongboards.com), the official surf instruction for Santa Monica College (don't you wish you'd spent a semester here?). The company offers private lessons for $99 for a single person, about $150 for double, as well as group lessons and 5-day surf camps.
If you want to try it on your own, surfboards are available for rent at shops near all top surfing beaches in the L.A. area. Zuma Jay Surfboards, 22775 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu (tel. 310/456-8044; www.zumajays.com), Malibu's oldest surf shop, is about a half-mile south of Malibu Pier. Rentals are about $20 per day, plus $10 for wet suits in winter. For more information about surfing in Southern California, log on to www.surfline.com.
The Surfing Rabbi -- This is so only-in-L.A.: Surfing instructor and orthodox rabbi Nachum Shifren hosts "Surf and Soul" sermons on the sand in Santa Monica. Not only will the rabbi teach you how to surf, his wise words will empower you to succeed in this competitive world we live in. Yes, even gentiles are welcome (tel. 310/877-1482; www.surfingrabbi.com).
While soft-surface courts are more popular on the East Coast, hard surfaces are most common in California. If your hotel doesn't have a court and can't suggest any courts nearby, try the well-maintained, well-lit Griffith Park Tennis Courts, on Commonwealth Road, just east of Vermont Avenue (tel. 323/662-7772). Call or log on to the website of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (tel. 323/644-3536; www.laparks.org/dos/sports/tennis.htm) to see a long list of free tennis courts or make a reservation at a municipal court near you. Tip: Spectators can watch free collegiate matches at the UCLA campus's L.A. Tennis Center from October through May. For a schedule of tournaments, call tel. 310/206-6831.
Invented and patented by Hoyle Schweitzer of Torrance in 1968, windsurfing, or sailboarding, is a fun sport that's much more difficult than it looks. Long Beach Windsurf and Kayak Center, 3850 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach (tel. 562/433-1014; www.windsurfcenter.com), offers lessons and rentals in Alamitos Bay. A $199 learner's package includes instruction from 8am to noon and use of board and wet suit.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.