Updated: 17-June-2018

I have a love-hate relationship with Los Angeles. It’s a concrete jungle with a huge price tag, but after living there for four years I fell in love with all that it offers the outdoor adventurer in me.

I’m not going to tell you to go to Hollywood and see the stars or cruise Rodeo Drive. You can do that if you want. This is my advice on how to enjoy the great outdoors in Los Angeles.

Image of me looking out at downtown LA from the trails at Griffith Observatory at sunrise.

Getting Around & Where to Stay

LA is not known for having great public transportation and the places of interest are spread out. If you want to truly experience the city, you need to rent a car. It’s feasible to use Uber or Lyft, but will likely cost you more.

MONEY-SAVING TIP: Pick up your rental car off the LAX airport property.

Image of volleyball net on Hermosa Beach in the South Bay area of Los Angeles.I recently rented a vehicle from Enterprise in El Segundo, which is about a $10 Uber ride from LAX Airport and saved over $100 on my one-way rental to Denver.

I prefer to stay close to the beach so I can enjoy the ocean breeze and sound of the waves. Find an AirBNB in any of the South Bay beach cities such as Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, or Manhattan Beach. If you want a different experience check out rentals in Hollywood or Santa Monica. Be sure to ask about the car parking options wherever you stay.

Day 1: Enjoy the LA Beach Life

Image of cocktail and salad looking out at the ocean from Moonshadows restaurant in Malibu California.If possible, arrive at LAX in the morning, pick up your rental car and drive along Highway 1 (also called Pacific Coast Highway) up to Malibu for brunch at one of my favorite spots, Moonshadows. This restaurant is frequented by celebrities but completely unassuming. It’s on stilts over the water so you can hear the waves crashing and enjoy wraparound views of the ocean. Grab one of the bar seats lining their patio outside. The view goes great with their Lobster Caesar Salad and a glass of prosecco.

From there drive back along Highway 1 (also called Pacific Coast Highway) and head towards one of the South Bay beach cities: Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach or Manhattan Beach. Rent a beach cruiser bicycle and bike along the Strand, which is a paved walkway along the beach that stretches from north of Santa Monica and down to Redondo Beach for 22 miles. Bring your ID, a beach towel and camera so you can stop along the way to enjoy the beach or grab a drink at one of the beach communities.

End your day watching the sunset from the beach or at one of the piers. You’ll find loads of fisherman and, if you’re lucky, you may see some of the seals playing in the water as they try and steal the fish from their fishing line!

Image of bright pink, blue and yellow sky during sunset at Newport Beach in California.

Day 2: Hit the Trails and Explore Downtown LA

Image of empty hiking trails at Griffith Observatory at sunrise in LA.Start your day early by heading to Griffith Observatory just before sunrise. Parking is free before 10am on the weekend and noon on weekdays, however parking is limited. Get there before 8am and you should have no problem finding a spot. 

Enjoy a view of Downtown LA, Santa Monica and the Hollywood sign. After you marvel at the sunrise, hike around the many trails to get your heart rate going. In a city that is so busy, this is one place where you can enjoy some peace and quiet.

After your hike, head to the Getty Museum. Whether or not you enjoy art museums, the views will not disappoint. All you have to pay for is parking! This was my go-to sanctuary in the city. Grab a coffee, bring a book, and lay on the lawn overlooking the city. The rotating Photography exhibit was one I never missed.

Finish your day in Downtown LA. If you’re looking for a budget friendly, unique experience have dinner at Grand Central Market. This bustling market offers cuisine from around the world at a very affordable price. It’s got something for everyone! After drooling over all of the options, I ordered papusas and watched them being handmade!

Image of walkway in Grand Central Market in downtown LA.

RELATED: Southwest US Roadtrip from LA to Denver

Other Options

If you’re interested in other options for outdoor adventures in LA, try one of these.

Surfing

Most of the beach cities will have boards for rent and lessons. If you’re new to surfing, Seal Beach is a nice option because the waves are a bit smaller and less intimidating though it’s a bit of drive. If you want something closer to the city, try Hermosa Beach or Manhattan Beach.

Other hiking trails

Runyon Canyon is a popular hiking destination located in Hollywood. It’s an easy 3.0 mile loop with some vertical gain. If you’re looking for something a bit less crowded and out of the city, the Palos Verdes Peninsula offers several trails as well. This was my favorite place to take my dog hiking!

During my last visit, I hiked at Hermit Falls which is just 25 miles from LA. Plan about 2 hours for this 3 mile hike through the Santa Anita Canyon. If it’s hot, bring a swimsuit and cool off at the base of the waterfall. Just be cautious when parking in the Chantry Flats parking area because you do need to purchase and display a parking pass.

Green trails and waterfalls seen while hiking to Hermit Falls near Los Angeles.

Kayaking

I’ve rented kayaks in both Redondo Beach and Marina del Rey, but they are also available in Long Beach and on the LA River.

Running

The Strand and the hiking trails mentioned are great options for running, but if you want something different go stair running. Popular spots are the Santa Monica stairs and the Los Feliz Height steps. Expect both to be crowded and bring water. If you want something more secluded, check out the La Mesa stairs, which are just around the corner from those in Santa Monica.

Other Beaches

The view will be great no matter which beach you’re at. You just need to decide what type of experience you want. For a taste of Orange County life, drive South for about an hour and enjoy the sunset from Laguna or Newport Beach. Want more of a surfer vibe? Check out Huntington Beach.

Image of a bright pink and blue sky as the sun set behind Newport Beach pier in California.

Los Angeles doesn’t have to be all glitz and glamor.

It’s got so much to offer the outdoor adventurer. I hope this has inspired you to try out the other side of LA. 

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After living in LA for four years, I finally found the "other" side of this city. Enjoy two days exploring the more outdoorsy side of Los Angeles! Where to hike in LA, where to eat in LA, outdoor things to do in LA, and more! #la | #losangelesThink Los Angeles is all glitz and glam? Think again! Explore the unexpected outdoorsy side of LA, including hiking Los Angeles, biking, and other outdoor adventure activities!

8 Comments

  1. Cool you just don’t think of LA as a place for outdoor activities and yet it is such a beautiful area for it and I never realized.

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Yes! Perfect weather, surrounded by mountains and ocean. So many active outdoorsy things to enjoy – it just took me a few years to find this side of LA to connect with 🙂

  2. Perfect. I love outdoor adventures more than city stays. Flights from Australia often stop in LA, and I’ve been considering using the stopover as an opportunity to explore this area. And this looks like a great itinerary! Thank you for sharing!

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Awesome! Yes, an active stop in LA is a great way to break up that long flight from Australia! Glad you enjoyed the post – I’d love to hear if you make the stop and end up trying any of my suggestions 🙂

  3. Yessssss! Sing it, sister! LA has its major issues, but the outdoor life is great. We always loved the hikes at Point Dume (if you’re up in Malibu anyway), Will Rodgers State Park and Temescal Canyon State Park.

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Ha ha yay! Glad to hear from like-minded ladies 🙂 Great suggestions! I didn’t make it to Point Dume (but heard good things). Will Rodgers and Temescal Canyon are awesome stops as well!

  4. So many cool things to do!:) I don’t know anything about L.A., only Hollywood *shame*, so this was super interesting to read! I run and I love outdoor activities, so I’d definitely try most of these!

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Ha ha – yes most people think of Hollywood when they think of LA! There’s so much to do and stay active there though. Glad to hear this gave you some ideas for when you visit LA some day 🙂

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