I have a particular fondness for Temescal Gateway Park in Pacific Palisades. Not only does this park have it all (restrooms, picnic grounds, water fountains and more), park pathways quickly leave it all behind.
Temescal Canyon is an ideal Santa Monica Mountains sampler. You get an oak-and sycamore-shaded canyon, a seasonal waterfall and terrific views from the ridge crest.
You’ll escape civilization but not other hikers; the canyon is a very popular place to hike.
Sidewalks, picnic grounds, and an intermittent greenbelt along Temescal Canyon Road might tempt intrepid hikers to stride the mile from the beach to the trailhead.
Temescal has long been a canyon that inspired nature lovers and enlightenment-seekers. During the 1920s and 1930s, the canyon hosted Chautauqua assemblies—large educational and recreational gatherings that featured lectures, concerts and stage performances. The canyon was purchased by the Presbyterian Synod in 1943 and used as a retreat center until 1995 when the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy acquired it.
Check out the SMMC’s nature themed presentations held in Temescal Canyon—very much in keeping with the Chautauqua tradition.
From Los Angeles, head west on the Santa Monica Freeway (10) to its end and continue up-coast on Pacific Coast Highway. Turn north (right) on Temescal Canyon Road and drive 1.1 miles. Just after the intersection with Sunset Boulevard, turn left into the lower parking area (fee) for Temescal Gateway Park. You can also locate free parking along Sunset Boulevard or along Temescal Canyon Road and walk into Temescal Gateway Park.
Walk up-canyon on the landscaped path past the restrooms. The footpath takes on a wilder appearance and soon crosses a branch of Temescal Creek via a wooden footbridge.
At a signed junction, save Temescal Ridge Trail for your return route and continue through the canyon on Temescal Canyon Trail. Travel among graceful old oaks, maples and sycamores to the “doggie turnaround” (no dogs beyond this point) and enter Topanga State Park.
The path ascends moderately to another footbridge and a close-up view of the small waterfall, tumbling over some large boulders. Leaving the canyon behind, the path steepens and climbs westward up Temescal Ridge to a signed junction with Temescal Ridge Trail.
(I always enjoy heading uphill on this trail a half mile or so to distinctly shaped Skull Rock, a good place to rest, cool off, and admire the view.)
As you return to the trailhead down Temescal Ridge Trail, you’ll get excellent views of Santa Monica Bay, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Catalina Island, and downtown Los Angeles.
The path descends steeply and tunnels into tall chaparral. Continue past junctions with Bienveneda and Leacock trails and follow the narrow ridgeline back to a junction with Temescal Canyon Trail. Retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Interested in more hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains? Check out my guide “Hike the Santa Monica Mountains Pocket Guide” at the Trailmaster Store.