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Hiking Topanga Canyon

Last Updated on August 9, 2023

Eric orients himself on the hiking trails of Topanga
Eric hiking in Topanga Canyon

When I tell my East Coast friends that I’m going hiking, I often hear silence on the other end of the phone — and not because Cingular has dropped my call again. It’s not simply because most of my Manhattanite comrades are more at home within canyons of steel and asphalt than those of rock and foliage. It’s because most can’t imagine that I’d have anywhere to hike within the LA city limits.

Sure, LA traffic can make a leisurely jaunt to the seemingly nearby smog-shrouded hills into an all-day affair, especially if you’re traveling up PCH on a weekend, but for the most part, nature is never very far away, from most any point in the city. And for back-to-nature rusticity coupled with stereotyped LA looniness, nothing beats Topanga Canyon.

Fittingly enough, I’d just seen Colin Hay, himself a Topanga resident, play at Largo two nights earlier. His wife — a cross between Elvira and Janeane Garofalo — seemed Topanga born and bred, what with her swishy hand gestures and attempt at playing the “air flute” (much more entertaining than it sounds). Hay, whose set was split 50/50 between music and comedic banter, quipped, “I met a woman in Topanga the other day who claimed she wasn’t psychic.” After the chuckles had died down, he added, “Later she admitted she was a little.” That’s as apt a description as any I could come up with for this quirky LA outpost.

And that’s where I went a-hiking with pal Eric last weekend, under perfectly azure skies. The California State Park website claims Topanga is “considered the world’s largest wildland within the boundaries of a major city.” Once you’re inside the park, that boast is easy to believe, as there’s little sign of city life in view, except for the occasional McEnclave on a distant hillside.

Frog statue in Topanga Canyon
Statue outside of Froggy’s in Topanga Canyon

Eric suggested we take the Santa Ynez trail, which, he led me to believe, had an idyllic waterfall at its end. After only five minutes of tramping on cracked earth, I knew he’d said that just to get me to agree to his trail choice, since I’d already groaned for two days prior about not wanting any elevation gain. He admitted that, given the time of year, the only thing at the end of the trail was most likely a “waterfell,” but we soldiered on anyway, enjoying the perfect spring weather and occasional lizard spotting. (If anyone can tell me what kind of lizard this is, I’d be much obliged.)

After our jaunt, which was just under four miles, we met up with Tabitha at Froggy’s, an old-time Topanga watering hole that would fall under “cafeteria” in Zagat’s were it not for the wondrously quaint structure (built in the 1920s), picturesque scenery, and friendly waitstaff (would-be actors these ain’t). When I finally returned to my South Bay nabe just after sunset, I felt refreshed, as if I’d been out of the city limits for longer than just a half day. Try doing that in Central Park.

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