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A Jaunt in the Santa Monica Mountains

Last Updated on July 23, 2023

(This article originally appeared in 2009 on the former Examiner.com website.)

The best way to rediscover your hometown is to view it through the eyes of an outsider. I was reminded of this fact when I had an out-of-town guest for nine days over the holidays, during which time I drove him through some of my favorite non-beach landscapes. Adrian had come for a visit from London expecting to kick back surfside with a mai tai in hand only to discover some of the most bizarre weather SoCal has had in ages. I used the freakish cold as an excuse to show him a side of my adopted city that few non-residents know about and even fewer explore: the Santa Monica Mountains.

Exterior of Cornell Winery in the Santa Monica Mountains
Cornell Winery is a rustic stopover while winding your way through the Santa Monica Mountains.

As we turned off PCH up into Malibu Canyon, I recalled my first trip down the steep-walled roadway and how shocked I was to find such dramatic terrain so close to the city. Newly returned after spending six months on the East Coast this summer, I fell in love with the topography all over again, causing my visitor a good deal of consternation as my eyes would wander from the curves to take in the landscape. If you’re looking for a quick day drive or just need to get away for a few hours, consider following in our footsteps.

Jenna at the MASH set in Malibu Creek State Park.
Pretending I’m in Korea when I’m actually in Malibu. Same thing, right?

Not long after passing Pepperdine, arguably the country’s most beautiful campus, you’ll soon come to Malibu Creek State Park, a bucolic reprieve filled with 25 acres of hiking trails, its eponymous stream, and even some old props left over from when Malibu doubled for Korea, for the classic television show M*A*S*H. (Learn more about the M*A*S*H set.) Bring a picnic to enjoy streamside or lakeside, then hit the road for the Rock Store, a biker hangout that draws road warriors and bike-loving celebs from all over. (Jay Leno is said to be a frequent visitor.) Open only on weekends, the Rock Store is famous as much for its barbecue as it is for its clientele, so be sure to grab a cold one and some grub.

Exterior of the Rock Store, a biker bar in Cornell, California.
The Rock Store’s history dates back to the time of Cecil B. DeMille, who frequented the establishment when it was a hot springs resort.

Just down the road lies the Cornell Winery & Tasting Room. Although I’ve yet to see this place open (the website mentions something about proper permitting), it’s worth a stop just for the Old West-style architecture and relics lying about the property. After sampling Cornell’s vintages, take a meandering road into Calabasas and you’ll find a quaint little town with a storybook persona, complete with the 1880 historic Leonis Adobe. The town itself has several upscale restaurants where you can wind up your day before either hopping on the nearby 101 or heading back down another canyon to PCH.

Our little jaunt was both refreshing and a reminder that there are so many treasures to be found right in our own backyard. In my upcoming posts, I hope to share even more of them.

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