*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. That just means that if you purchase through a link, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps keep This Big Wild World up and running!
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.
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.
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
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!
Day 2: Hit the Trails and Explore Downtown 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!
If you’re interested in other options for outdoor adventures in LA, try one of these.
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.
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.
If you have the time, just an hour and a half north of LA is some epic kayaking in Channel Islands National Park.
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.
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.
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.