As I sit in an endless line of traffic to merge on to the 405, I find myself looking out longingly to the mountains ahead. The mind-numbing hell scape that is Los Angeles’s gridlocked streets and freeways seems to test me in new ways every day of my life. And while finding alternative means of transportation may sometimes partially abate this disdain for congestion, occasionally you have to escape the city itself to find peace.
And how do I do that? I run.
What makes LA so tolerable and in truth extremely enjoyable is how easily you can sneak off into nature before that 9am meeting in West Hollywood. Beaches, trails, mountains, and endless stairs wait for you to attack them with the fury that only bumper to bumper traffic can bring.
So, if you are looking for new spots to run, hike, or walk, look no further for you have found David’s BEST spots to run in LA.
This is without a doubt the most popular hike in LA, and possibly southern California. Runyon Canyon is tucked up in the hills above West Hollywood and snakes through the canyon for a 3-mile roundtrip excursion. While the crowds here somewhat defeat the purpose of escaping the buzz of the city, the hike’s many paths and trails allow people of all fitness levels to enjoy themselves.
Personally, I love to go to Runyon when I’m in a rush, the shorter loop makes it an efficient morning workout. This being a dog friendly zone, my dog and I take on the large asphalt hill that leads to the summit of the park. It’s not an easy run to the peak, but once you’re there the view of LA is unmatched. It’s truly the best way to see the city in its entirety. Side note, if you have friends coming to the city for the first time, take them here. It’s around a ton of other things to do and gives them the best view of their surroundings and lets you appreciate how truly MASSIVE this city is.
Hollywood Sign Hike:
The second most frequented hike in LA but still just as enjoyable is the Hollywood Sign Hike. There are many routes to get up behind LA’s iconic signage, personally, I like to start at Brush Canyon. Easily accessible and chalk full of parking, taking Canyon Dr. to the Brush Canyon trail, is the easiest way to start this journey.
Once you’ve parked, it’s a 6.4 mile trek to get up and down this well managed and somewhat strenuous Hike. To get a great workout in but not throw up, I like to run from the base to the first summit (about 1.25 miles up) and take a break as I enjoy the view. This first section is a beast to run and a nice stroll to hike. Once you’ve gotten here the next sloping section is an enjoyable and easy run full of horses, dogs, and since it’s LA… PEOPLE. Once you finish this section you arrive at an asphalt hill that can take you up behind the sign for a gorgeous view of the city, and a unique perspective on 9 letters. Be warned, this section is rough. Strenuous to walk and screw you I’m not running this. If you’re like me and have been behind the sign, I like to continue the sloping section and stop at a great view directly in front of the sign.
This hike is rad but can get packed in peak seasons. Wake up early and knock this one out before the tourists get there and the sun tries to kill you. SIDE NOTE. If your Dad is in town and you want to impress him cause your career isn’t, take him on the small side trail by the parking lot to show him the tunnel to the Batcave from the Adam West era Batman.
The Culver City Stairs:
Fuck you Culver let me bring my dog with me.
Sorry, had to get that out there. ANYWAY…. The Culver City Stairs are a brutal ascent up the side of a 400 ft hill at the Baldwin Hills scenic overlook. Again, this location is crowded night and day, so you don’t get to escape those damn people, but if you want your legs feeling like jello in a short amount of time, this is your spot.
The stairs make for an awesome workout, with steps varying in size from 1 to 3 ft high, you get a BLAST to your lower appendages. And once at the top you can take in a new view of LA. With most popular hikes being on the northern side of LA, the Culver City Stairs provide you with a great and uncommon perspective of LA from downtown to the sea.
Personally, I like to take the stairs up and run down the backside trails to the start for each round. This keeps me from walking down these monster stairs which I’m sure I will one day fall on.
Way up north, just off the PCH sits a small un assuming parking lot. After leaving your car here without knowing if this is the right spot or not you walk up an asphalt road. After meandering through palatial Malibu homes, you finally arrive at the entrance to Escondido Canyon Park. While the walk through the neighborhoods is not exactly a nature romp, it is an awesome look at the Malibu lifestyle that I will never be able to obtain.
Once you make it to the park entrance the hike in is easy, flat, and gorgeous. With the entire hike being 3.8 miles roundtrip, this hike is fun for all. When you reach the end, you find yourself at either a flat dry canyon wall, or if it’s the right time of year, a fantastic waterfall thundering down to earth. And if you’re looking for a bit more adventure, you are able to climb up a difficult but doable hillside to get to the upper falls. This climb requires the use of roots, ropes, and your acceptance of getting dirty.
Escondido Falls is an easy hike or run with a terrific payoff at the end. The drive up PCH is a long one, but if you have to be driving, Highway 1 is the best place to do it.
Temescal Canyon Loop
Right of Sunset in the Pacific Palisades, Temescal Canyon beckons you away from the water with the promise of beautiful views and a satisfying workout…and what does she do? She delivers. This loop is one of my favorite hikes or runs in LA. Its terrain allows you to stretch this from a 2 mile trot all the way up to a 5 mile trek if you’re “feeling dangerous” – a quote by the savior of football, Baker Mayfield.
I like to park on sunset to avoid paying park fees, because I like keeping my money and the city of LA gets enough of it with their damn meters and tickets. From the street simply stroll your way through the parking lots and tuck into the canyon as soon as you see a trail. Once you land on the main trail it’s a steady climb to the peak. If you can run this whole thing I will take you out for a beer. If you’re like me and alternate between a jog and a run on hills like this, it will be an awesome challenge but one you can do.
Once at the top you will have a panorama view of Malibu and West LA. This hike gives you the best and most expansive view of the west side, since anything near Hollywood will be so drenched in smog that you can’t see past century city.
I highly recommend this hike to novice LA explorers who are trying to break out of their Runyon Canyon ruts. This spot is not too far out of the city, not too difficult, but will prepare you for the more advanced Angelino adventures.
Ocean Front Run
Now this next one is pretty obvious, but necessary if you are an LA runner. Directly down the street from Temescal Canyon is the parking lot for Will Rodgers State Beach. You can park your car here for a small fee and pull up directly to the Ocean Front Walk, a curving, flat, paved walkway that ambles its way from the Palisades all the way to Marina Del Rey.
Why I like to come all the way up to the top of this path to start this run, is that it provides you with the entire scenery of LA’s beaches. Obviously, this doesn’t include Malibu and Hermosa and all the fantastic So Cal beaches nearby. But here, as you run you go from the state beach, to Santa Monica, under the pier, through Main street’s beaches, you dodge in and out of performers and scared tourists in Venice Beach. It’s a snapshot of LA’s beach culture and you get to take it all in just by running.
I like to stop in Venice Beach and run back, anymore and you are pushing 10 miles. And since I have the knees of an 80 year old baseball catcher I am not doing that shit.
MOUNT BALDY MOTHER FUCKER! This hike is intense with a capital I. Wait, should I have just capitalized the i? Who cares we’ll let my editor Jared deal with that mess. Mount Baldy is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains and will kick your ass from top to bottom. Since I am not insane like some people, I merely hiked this daunting mountain (which is also just a ski resort in winter? So, you are hiking a ski resort…super easy). The picturesque hillsides and stunning greenery make you almost forget about your burning quads.
Mount Baldy is about an hour drive from LA with no traffic, so leave early. I left at 6:30am and pulled up to parking lot packed to the gills. Luckily, we got a spot and the hike is so huge that groups space out, allowing for you to hike without the annoyance of others (side note, if you are one of those people that hike with a speaker so everyone else can hear your music, please stop it). Make sure to get a nature permit for the day at the Ranger station in town, if you don’t you’re going to need to drive allllll the way back down a long circuitous hill to get it. Which I would have had to do if it wasn’t for a random woman that provided me with an extra, you are my angel and I will never forget you.
Baldy is an 11 mile hike that should take you 7 to 8 hours. There are death defying narrow trails, views unmatched by any other peak in So Cal, and trees so pretty you’ll want to kiss them. Also, if you skip the loop and double back the way you came, you can stop off at the ski lodge for some beers, which after a hike this hard will be well deserved.
Baldy is my favorite hike in LA County. It’s a tough one, and somewhat of a drive to get to, but if you are craving an escape, this is the place to get it.
West Ridge Trail Head
Mount Baldy may be my favorite hike in the county, but this is the best run in the city.
The West Ridge Trailhead leads to a rollercoaster of undulating trails over and back the tops of mountainsides that cascade through the Westridge-Canyonback wilderness. These trails and views are almost unbelievable in their grandiose beauty. And the best part about it, only true locals seem to know about this hike. I always park on the street as the lot is tiny, but it’s free either way.
This hike has everything you want from an LA escape. Its easily accessible through a short drive up the Brentwood Hills, it’s dog friendly, there are routes difficult and easy, it’s gorgeous, and best of all… it’s quiet. Unlike all other hikes I have found in LA, this one is the most consistently empty. While you run the trails and explore each new ridge, you find yourself sinking into relaxation. Every curse word yelled at you by drivers on your way here seem to dissolve from your mind, all the stress of the city below seems to melt away. This is the place to truly get away from the rat race that is LA. This trail is more than a great run, it’s a reset button for you.