In addition to the two excellent examples of urban parkland below, check out Pan Pacific Park, a hilly retreat near the Farmers Market and CBS Studios, named for the Art Deco auditorium that, unfortunately, no longer stands at its edge.
Griffith Park -- Mining tycoon Col. Griffith J. Griffith donated these 4,107 acres to the city in 1896 as a Christmas gift. Today Griffith Park (tel. 323/913-4688) is one of the largest urban parks in America. There's a lot to do here, including 53 miles of hiking trails (the prettiest is the Fern Dell trail near the Western Ave. entrance, a shady hideaway cooled by waterfalls and ferns), horseback riding, golfing, swimming, biking, and picnicking. For a general overview of the park, drive the mountainous loop road that winds from the top of Western Avenue, past Griffith Observatory, and down to Vermont Avenue. For a more extensive foray, turn north at the loop road's midsection, onto Mount Hollywood Drive. To reach the golf courses, the Autry National Center of the American West, or Los Angeles Zoo, take Los Feliz Boulevard to Riverside Drive, which runs along the park's western edge.
Near the zoo, in a particularly dusty corner of the park, you can find the Travel Town Transportation Museum, 5200 Zoo Dr. (tel. 323/662-5874; www.traveltown.org), a little-known outdoor museum with a small collection of vintage locomotives and old airplanes. Kids love the miniature train ride that circles the perimeter of the museum. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6pm; admission is free.
Will Rogers State Park -- Will Rogers willed his private ranch and grounds to the state of California in 1944, and the 168-acre estate is now both a park and a historic site. Visitors may explore the grounds, the former stables, and the 31-room house filled with the original furnishings, including a porch swing in the living room and many Native American rugs and baskets. Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, hid out here in the 1930s during part of the craze that followed the kidnapping and murder of their first son. There are picnic tables, but no food is sold.
Who's Will Rogers, you ask? He was born in Oklahoma in 1879 and became a cowboy in the Texas Panhandle before drifting into a Wild West show as a folksy, speechifying roper. The "cracker-barrel philosopher" performed lariat tricks while carrying on a humorous deadpan monologue on current events. The showman moved to Los Angeles in 1919, where he become a movie actor as well as the author of numerous books detailing his down-home "cowboy philosophy."
The park (tel. 310/454-8212) entrance is at 1501 Will Rogers State Park Rd., in Pacific Palisades, between Santa Monica and Malibu. From Santa Monica, take the Pacific Coast Hwy. (Calif. 1) north, turn right onto Sunset Boulevard, and continue to the park entrance. Admission is $12 per vehicle. The park is open daily from 8am to sunset; the house, Thurs-Fri 11am-3pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4pm; and guided Ranch House tours are offered every hour, on the hour, up until one hour before closing
It's not always easy to get a good city view in Los Angeles. Even if you find the right vantage, the smog may keep you from having any kind of panorama. But, as they say, on a clear day, you can see forever. One of the best views of the city can be had from Griffith Observatory. The view of Santa Monica Bay from the end of Santa Monica Pier is also impressive.
Los Angeles is the only major city in the world divided by a mountain range, and the road on top of this range is the famous Mulholland Drive. It travels 21 miles along the peaks and canyons of Hollywood Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains, separating the Los Angeles basin from the San Fernando Valley. The winding road provides amazing views of the city (particularly at night) and offers many opportunities to pull over and enjoy the view 1,400 feet above sea level.
Completed in 1924, it's named after William Mulholland, the engineer of the aqueduct connecting L.A. and the Valley. Yes, there are celebrities up in them thar hills -- Leonardo DiCaprio, Paris Hilton -- but you'll never find them, as most of the mansions are well hidden. You don't need to drive the whole road to get the full effect. From Cahuenga Boulevard (near the Hollywood Bowl), take the Mulholland Drive turnoff heading west. After about a mile, you'll see the scenic view area on your left (look for the black iron fence). Park at the small paved parking lot (which closes at sunset), ooh and aah over the view of the L.A. basin, and then drive a few miles farther west until you spot the other scenic view area on your right (dirt this time) overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The whole trip should take you less than an hour. Tip: Don't drive here after 3pm on the weekdays -- the rush-hour traffic in this area is horrible. Also, no matter what your map says, there is no Mulholland Drive exit off U.S. 101; you have to get on at Cahuenga Boulevard.
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.