One of Los Angeles’s many perks is the city’s proximity to breathtaking natural scenery. Traffic in downtown L.A. can be heavy but in a rental car, you are never far from an open road with access to wilderness, lush greenery and the Pacific Ocean. Here are some of our favorite routes in and around Los Angeles that transport you through the Santa Monica Mountains, the Palos Verde Peninsula and fantastic beach towns such as Malibu.
Western Canyon Road and Griffith Observatory
Just north of Hollywood you can head into Griffith Park on the Western Canyon Road. This is a much shorter route at just 3.5 miles but includes the Griffith Observatory, the south face of Mount Hollywood and some stunning city panoramas. This drive is especially beautiful at dusk when Los Angeles begins to light up. From the observatory, you can get a close-up view of the Hollywood sign.
Angeles Crest Highway
Take Highway 2 north out of Los Angeles, crossing through the town of La Cañada Flintridge and you can climb straight up into the San Gabriel Mountains. Generally, it is a wild landscape and you will only encounter tourists and others out for a scenic drive, but beware of rush hour traffic at the very beginning of this route. The highway gives you extraordinary views over Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Mountain Range. When you reach the red box picnic area you can opt to take a right turn to reach Mount Wilson, just 4.5 miles off route. The summit stands at 5,710 feet and is only 18 miles from your starting point so prepare for a steep climb! Mount Wilson is famous for its observatory that houses two historic telescopes.
From here you can head back to the junction and take a right deeper into the San Bernardino National Forest. The route is 66 miles long and winds through mountain valleys that are part of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. At Dawson Saddle you reach an altitude of 7,903 feet making this the highest stretch of road in Southern California.
This famous scenic highway will take you from the city to the beach across the Santa Monica Mountains. Mulholland Drive (aka, the Mulholland Highway) has appeared in many films and features all those romantic vistas that have appeared in countless Hollywood make-out scenes. The highway itself is 21 miles long and around halfway you will encounter a section of dirt track fondly known as “Dirt Mulholland”. The starting point is at the Cahuenga Pass. Later you will be treated to spectacular views of the San Fernando Valley and the Hollywood Sign before the culmination of the route at the beautiful Leo Carillo State Park on the Pacific Coast.
This is a fantastic little stretch of road just off Mulholland Drive. You will find an exciting driving route with sharp twists and turns up to Saddle Peak Trail. Along the way you can enjoy fantastic views over L.A., Malibu and the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains. Saddle Peak itself offers hikers some of the best walks in Los Angeles, and we highly recommend the Stunt High Trail that runs along Cold Creek.
The Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway connects L.A. to San Francisco and is 655 miles long. But you can still visit fantastic beaches and sights if you just do a small portion of the route, also known as Highway 1. For surfers, Malibu Surfrider Beach is a must. If you want more tranquil surroundings try El Matador State Beach west of Malibu, or you will also pass the iconic Malibu Pier and palm-lined boulevards. As you leave Los Angeles you can enjoy a rugged, cliff-hugging highway that snakes its way around the Santa Monica Mountains and gives you superb views over the Pacific Ocean.
Palos Verdes Drive
Palos Verdes Drive is 14 miles of California coastal perfection that transports you out of the city onto the Palos Verdes Peninsula. This is another route that transports you to Malaga Cove, Point Vicente Lighthouse, Wayfarers Chapel and Abalone Cove. The drive offers an immense oasis of greenery within a very short distance of the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. Along with taking in the breathtaking Pacific views, there are also countless activities for visitors including surfing, horseback riding and golf. Just southeast of Abalone Cove you should check out the cliffs of Portuguese Bend and Inspiration Point – also great areas for hiking.