Charmlee Wilderness Park
If you’re looking for some of the best ocean views in Southern California, you’re looking for Charmlee Wilderness Park. Most trails in Los Angeles take hard work and sweat to arrive at the views, but the hikes at this 590-acre park are unlike the others. After a 15-minute walk on an easy trail, you arrive at a dramatic overlook of the Pacific Coast. This allows visitors to spend an entire day exploring the park or simply drop by after a long day at the office to watch the sunset over the sparkling ocean.
Charmlee Wilderness Park offers plenty of longer trails as well. With 8 miles worth of interwoven hikes, it’s possible to build your own hike of 4+ miles or opt for the popular 3.25-mile loop to explore the park.
The hikes range from easy to moderate intensity, making the park accessible to hikers of every level and their dogs. Additional amenities include a trail kiosk for park maps, the Oak Grove Picnic area, and placards along the trails detailing botanical exhibits.
The trails at Charmlee Wilderness Park offer a welcome respite from the city and spectacular ocean views year-round, but winter and early spring are the best times of year to enjoy the local nature. The rainy season turns the park a delectable green with lush vegetation, complementing the blue of the Pacific with a sublime spread of color.
Park open all day, every day. Parking fee is $4 per car.
You’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it. A cluster of parked cars near a thin trail through the thick foliage doesn’t look like much, but it leads to one of the most spectacular hiking experiences in Malibu. Its unassuming entrance and lack of facilities keep the crowds away and allows the hikers to enjoy Tuna Canyon in relative solitude.
After walking through the dappled shade of a small forest, visitors ascend a small bluff to access a spectacular, 360-degree view of the area. Below, the ocean meets the jagged edge of the Malibu coastline, with the legendary Pacific Coast Highway snaking above it. Turn around, and you'll see the dramatic peaks of the Santa Monica mountains. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Santa Monica, 14 miles away, but fog brings its own beauty as well. Hiking along the rustic trails through the mountains in the mist provides an otherworldly and restorative experience.
The highlight of Tuna Canyon is the mystical stone labyrinth down Heart Tank Motorway trail. Likely constructed by a park visitor, its true origin remains shrouded in mystery. The spiral shape of this labyrinth leads to a pile of rocks in the center, decorated with mementos and other personal effects left by other hikers — anonymous letters, photographs, and painted rocks. Consider arriving at Tuna Canyon with something meaningful you wish to leave behind as well.
Open all day, every day. Free. Access located at 2807 Tuna Canyon Road, Topanga, CA.
Malibu Creek State Park
The trails crisscrossing Malibu Creek State Park are unique on this list, as they are not on the mountain flanks descending towards the ocean. Despite the absence of ocean views, Malibu Creek State Park is a fantastic visit with swimming and camping opportunities and a plethora of cinematic history.
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable features of the park, especially in the hot summer months, is its rock creek pools. Located in the shadow of towering rock formations, this body of water feels like a protected oasis and offers many creeks and piles of boulders to explore.
For camping, the park offers a full experience for its 63 sites. Both trailer and tent camping facilities include flush toilets, showers, fire rings, and picnic tables. Visitors can spend a few days exploring over 15 miles of trails at this park, traversing the nearby mountains and streams. Additional outdoor activities include mountain biking and horseback riding.
With its proximity to Hollywood and easy accessibility, this site was a site for numerous film and television shoots before it was opened to the public as a park. Some of the most famous examples include M*A*S*H, Planet of the Apes, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Open from 8 am to 10 pm. Parking is $3 per hour or $12 per day. Reservations for camping can be made online.
Saddle Peak Trail
Featuring the sixth-highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains, Saddle Peak Trail boasts breathtaking views from 2,805 feet in the air. Nothing clears the mind and the senses quite like sweeping panoramas of the coast, Malibu, Los Angeles, and Orange County on a clear day. The hike to get there is surprisingly easy, and most visitors make it to the summit in thirty minutes or less from the trailhead.
Three miles inland and at a higher elevation, hikers enjoy a varied selection of local wildlife. In the spring months, salmonberries bloom, bringing a sweet smell to the refreshing ocean mist. Yellow and red wildflowers dot the lush field of yellow grasses, and thickly wooded areas provide welcome shade from the sun during the warmer months.
Although the trail is gentle enough to accommodate all ages and skill levels, dogs and bikes are not allowed. Horses are permitted for an enchanting equestrian experience but are advised to be on the smaller side to fit through narrow stretches of the trail.
Open all day, every day. Free.
We end this list with the most adventurous hike of the bunch. This four-mile round trip hike over rocky terrain, streams, and alongside a road arrives at a spectacular finish: a three-tier waterfall. On a hot day, be sure to pack your bathing suit.
Parking is located on Winding Road, just off of the Pacific Coast Highway. From there, it’s a short walk along a paved road through the Malibu hills. After passing several impressive mansions with huge estates overlooking the ocean, you’ll arrive at the trailhead. The half-hour hike to the falls has the rare advantage of being mostly shaded, and you’ll feel miles from civilization.
The arrival at the falls is spectacular. Especially during the rainy seasons of winter and spring, the cascading water is beautiful to look at, and the thick spray causes lush vegetation and moss to grow on the sides. It’s worth packing a picnic to enjoy the scene for a few hours while taking dips into the freshwater.
For the more ambitious, hikers can climb up the steep slopes next to the waterfall to reach the landing above, where they can take incredible views of Malibu and the ocean. You can even step behind the waterfall for a fully immersive and transcendent experience.
Open all day, every day. Parking is $12 per day at Winding Road.
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