The Recreationalist’s Guide to Los Angeles
The City of angels and year-round sun is no stranger to recreation.
Los Angeles is home to some of the most iconic cityscapes and outdoor phenomenons in American popular culture — local or not, there’s always bound to be something you haven’t yet checked off your list. With the Pacific Coast Highway and Pacific Ocean anchoring the west, and the Los Angeles Forest marking the east, Los Angeles is a wonderland for Recreationalists as much as it is for starving artists.
The Recreationalist’s Guide to Los Angeles takes you through all the spots that make you fall more in love with the city each time you visit, plus some that you might not have thought to explore yet. Contributed by musician and artist Madge, with extras by Hike Clerb founder Evelynn Escobar-Thomas, this is our exhaustive guide to the best sides of Los Angeles. (Spoiler alert: She looks good from all angles.)
Los Angeles Forest
In featured Recreationalist Madge’s words, “the Los Angeles Forest is super underrated because not many people think of LA as being in the mountains, but it’s literally our backyard.” From shortest to longest drive from LA proper, here are the best spots to hit, hike, and chillllll out.
“If you just want to go to the forest on the fly, Colby Trail is your spot,” says Madge.
Situated just 20 minutes outside of east LA, Colby Trail offers a bit more strenuous of a hike than inner city trails like Griffith Park.
An old abandoned railway system turned hiking trail, Mount Lowe is unique in its scenic, outdoor museum-like views. Hike alongside “old relics of the LA railways” like rickety train tracks and preserved tunnels for an ocean top view that’s worth every minute. You know you’ve reached the top when you can spot the elusive Mount Lowe Observatory.
When you’re looking to really block out the city noise for a weekend, reserve a camp spot at Table Mountain. Madge says that driving in, “you feel like you’re in a fully different state. All of a sudden, you’re surrounded by pine trees and big rocks and snow in Southern California.”
Welcome to Madge’s home neighborhood. Authentically LA in its diverse pockets of Armenian, Korean, and minority-owned shops, with lots of affordable hidden gems for young people, Glendale gets our vote in the infamous west vs. east LA debate.
Oakmont View Park
We’re revealing Madge’s number one best-kept secret in LA with this ode to Oakmont View Park. “Nobody knows about this neighborhood park at the very top of a hill.” With a big grassy lawn, three public tennis courts, and a trail that gives you a 360º view of LA’s valley, forest, and downtown skyline, we get why Madge has kept their lips tight on this one.
I like to wake up early and play tennis with my thrift store racket. my friends started a “quarantine social tennis club.”
Madge at Brand Park in the Nimbus 1/4 Zip and RecTrek Pants. Shop their look at Outdoor Voices.
The Seven Trees Trail is kind of a brutal hike … so I call it the seven steps of Mordor like “Lord of the Rings”.
If they had to pick one absolute favorite spot in LA, Madge says this park would take the cake. A sprawling 31 acres, Brand Park comprises of the Brand Library & Art Center, the park’s namesake Doctors House Museum, and the Shoseian Teahouse and Japanese Friendship Garden.
If you’re looking for a challenge, hike the Seven Trees Trail in Brand Park all the way up to the lookout point with seven big trees, obviously. “It’s kind of a brutal hike, so I call it ‘the seven steps of Mordor’ like Lord of the Rings.”
This one edges a bit into East Hollywood territory, but it’s still an easy drive from the heart of Glendale. Of all the classically known Los Angeles landmarks, Madge thinks Griffith Observatory is actually worth your time.
Pro Tip! Avoid the crowds by parking near the Greek Theatre. Take the Boy Scout Trail all the way up the backside of Griffith Observatory and you’ll get a perfect dose of Recreation and crowd-free views in one.
If you’re craving affordable and authentic Korean, order onigiri rice balls and all the side dishes your heart desires from Gam Tu Bop.
The best croissants in the city live at Proof Bakery. “I can’t explain it,” says Madge, “but having a good pastry a few times a week is really important for my mental health.” We hear you there.
Before you head westward for the beach (keep scrolling for Madge’s oceanfront guide), grab a cup of Highlight Coffee for the road. “You need something for the drive — especially if there’s traffic.”
If you have a spare afternoon, spend some time in the neighboring Atwater Village. Madge’s favorite music store Jacknife Records & Tapes stocks “anything you’ve ever wanted” in cassette form. Straight from a musician’s mouth: “Cassettes are so good because they carry different frequencies. There’s a slight amount of fuzz, so they literally sound warmer and fuzzier to give you feelings of happiness and nostalgia.”
While you’re there, check out Dune for some great Mediterranean baklava and falafel.
THERE’S A SLIGHT AMOUNT OF FUZZ TO CASSETTES, SO THEY LITERALLY … GIVE YOU FEELINGS OF HAPPINESS AND NOSTALGIA.
The street art around Atwater Village is worth a visit. Madge wears the Sweatee T-Shirt and RecTrek Pants, available at Outdoor Voices.
Trendy, young, and brimming with creatives working on their next big idea, Silver Lake is definitely worth the occasional splurge.
Situated on “the cusp of Silver Lake and East Hollywood,” Virgil Village is particularly perfect for a quick Recreational break because of its scattered assortment of miniature public parks. (Picture that episode of “Parks and Recreation” where they’re literally municipalizing a patch of grass.)
Madge always looks forward to a light stretch after a busy day at Bellevue Recreation Center.
If you’re in the area on a weekend morning, Madge suggests grabbing brunch at Jewel before a nice window stroll down Hoover Street. Stop by Vinovore, a “feminist wine shop, which is the most Silver Lake thing ever,” for a bottle of Madge’s favorite Meinklang orange wine.
If you’re up for a drink or two, stop in at Melody Wine Bar for some patio time. “Right now they have different food pop-ups every week!”
For all of our non-meat eaters, check out Flore Vegan for Madge’s favorite vegan mac and cheese.
Hike Clerb founder Evelynn Escobar-Thomas recommends Monty’s Good Burger in nearby Echo Park for great Impossible burgers and “tator tots that win the whole game.”
If I’m feeling a bit more boujee, I go to Silver Lake. There’s this area called Virgil Village that has the best miniature parks for stretching after a busy day.
Everyone knows of Hollywood, but its neighboring cousin Beachwood Canyon is more of a move — if you’re craving a taste of glamour without all the fuss.
“Beachwood Canyon is maybe what Hollywood used to be before it became Hollywood,” says Madge. Take an afternoon to just stroll around this “funny little neighborhood,” complete with old Tudor style homes from Hollywood’s Golden Age.
When you’re ready for lunch, head over to the Beachwood Cafe for a retro restaurant experience fit for a movie.
West Los Angeles
If you find yourself in on the westside for an afternoon or two, our favorite trail buddy Evelynn Escobar-Thomas, founder of Hike Clerb in LA, has the best underrated hike routes to share.
Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area
Over by Culver City, check out the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area for a more relaxed, meandering hike. There’s also a Japanese garden and quiet pond areas tucked away that remind Evelynn of “the creek in my childhood neighborhood.” Very wholesome.
Eagle Rock at Trippet Ranch
Now open at limited capacity, Trippet Ranch in Topanga State Park is an easy afternoon hike that generously rewards in the form of oceanside views and general endorphins. Look out for caves embedded in Eagle Rock that are great for refueling. “There’s one obvious main cave — that’s where I like to chill,” says Evelynn.
After you’ve tired out, go northeast to Highly Likely Cafe or southeast to Grilled Fraiche for fresh Cali-Caribbean food. Evelynn recommends the veggie tacos or salmon plate. “It’s one of those places that not many people know about, but they’re obsessed after trying it once.”
To Madge, “Malibu is still the king of beaches.” Known for its small time town feel and big time celebrity names, Malibu Beach is easily one of the most loved oceanfront stops along the Pacific Coast Highway. Starting from east Los Angeles, where Madge is based, to the westside coastline, here’s how to make your Malibu experience a little more earthy.
Kanan Dume Road
Though it makes the drive to Malibu Beach a little bit longer, Madge adores taking Kanan Dume Road for the last stretch of their westward route. “You drive through an area of Malibu with fancy mansions and vineyards, and then it spits you out onto the Highway.”
Post up at Staircase Beach (“it’s on an inlet so it’s less busy, and it’s one of the few beaches that allow pets”) for a thorough Vitamin C soak. For lunch, pick up some infamous Fish & Fries at Malibu Seafood.
On your way home, take the scenic route again and look out for the fruit stands along Kanan Dume Road. They’re totally local and nowhere online, but according to Madge, “you know you’re approaching when you see these big painted fruit signs posted DIY-style on the side of the road.” After a long day at the beach, a big bag of passionfruit or some mangos on a stick will hit the spot.
Before you head off to the City of Angels, buff up your cultural index right from the couch. Head to wildsam.com for the full Field Guides collection.
1967 cult-classic “The Graduate”. Read the original review here.
Classic LA hip hop on 93.5 K-DAY. Stream here.
“Nancy Silverton’s Breads”. Buy the cookbook here.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s online concert series. Watch here.
Editor’s Note: Given the current state of the world, The Recreationalist does not encourage long distance travel to any particular region. Instead, these guides were crafted to pay homage to the local people, communities, and cultures that have kept these cities strong for generations, and perhaps even for learning a new thing or two about the place you call home.
This guide was written and edited by Joanne Xu, with contributions from Madge and Evelynn Escobar-Thomas.
Featured photos by Madge, unless otherwise stated.
Culture list and illustration by WILDSAM.
Did we miss anything? Let us know what LA spots you’d recommend below.