On the Flip Side
Forget the traffic. And the celebrities. And the designer clothes. Instead, dive into the outdoors. A naturalist's guide to Los Angeles.
My first tip - go as far west as possible. The Pacific Ocean and the long, wide strip of sand stretching from Santa Monica to Venice is unforgettable, and you may even get a severe case of beach envy. Proud as we are of our own sandy stretches, they just can't compare to this golden expanse.
There are two options for exploring the coastline: bicycle or kayak. The flat, paved bike path that runs from Santa Monica State Beach to the edge of Marina del Rey is an easy 10-mile round trip, with plenty of cafes and restrooms along the way. If you want to be in the water, not just riding along beside it, get a kayak lesson from a lifeguard in Marina del Rey. You can rent bikes and boogie boards and rollerblades at Perry's, a multi-location area enterprise that also runs cafes on Ocean Front Walk. Perry's even has a beach-butler service: They'll set up your lounge chair, table and umbrella, and bring you a meal. Now that's roughing it, LA-style.
After resting up, try a hike through winding canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains. Located off Sunset Boulevard, just minutes up the Pacific Coast High- way from the beach in Santa Monica, are some wonderful trails in Topanga State Park (parks.ca.gov) - the Los Liones loop is a favorite. On the 3.2-mile moderate hike, you're likely to spot deer, tiny lizards sunbathing on the trail, and lush overhangs of wild lilacs. When you top out on a clear day, you can gaze up the coast to Malibu and out to some channel islands. On the inland side, gawp at the pricey homes perched precariously on the nearby palisades.
A trip to LA isn't complete without a visit to Hollywood. But on this vacation, why not star in your own Western? Several out- fitters offer horseback riding lessons or trail rides, but our favorite is the three-hour dinner ride through Griffith Park, just below the famous Hollywood sign. Sunset Ranch (323-469-5450; sunsetranchhollywood.com) operates a group tour on Friday evenings for $60 per person, but the same ride can also be arranged privately any day of the week. Ride an hour and a half over the scruffy hill trails to Burbank, where you tie up outside Viva Fresh Mexican restaurant. The other diners look like extras in your movie, in their Stetsons and plaid shirts with pearly snaps. Enjoy a margarita and a burrito inside - then return to your horse and giddyap - in the dark. With the moon overhead, and coyotes and rattlesnakes crossing the dirt path, it's hard to believe this is the same city that so many celebrities call home.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
United and American fly direct from Logan to Los Angeles;
New this year, 3 Square Cafe + Bakery (310-399-6504; rockenwagner.com), along Venice's main shopping drag, offers delicious eclectic and healthy California-style lunches, such as avocado fries with your veggie burger. For south-of-the-border gourmands, Border Grill's (310-451-1655; bordergrill.com) marinated pork slow-roasted in a banana leaf is a must-taste in Santa Monica. For a sizzling, thick steak, head to divey Chez Jay (310-395-1741; chezjays.com), also in Santa Monica.
Stay at The Ambrose (310-315-1555; ambrosehotel.com) in Santa Monica for an eco-friendly luxury hotel that offers an on-premises London-style taxi (run on biodiesel) to shuttle you back and forth to the beach; about $250 per night. In Venice, try The Venice Beach House (310-823-1966; venicebeachhouse.com), an incredibly hospitable haven, with ivy-covered walls and a lush garden, just steps from the beach. Breakfasts are home-made feasts, as is afternoon tea; about $145 to $235 per night.
Kayaking in Marina del Rey. Harbor and surf kayaking instruction and tours available at Burton Chace Park Boathouse (310-305-9587) for $35 for a two-to-three-hour session.