If there is one thing we all did more of last year, it was getting outside and exploring our local gems. We Angelenos are certainly lucky for our easy access to a great diversity of outdoor recreation across the city. As there is always more to explore, we’ve gathered five family friendly hikes in and around L.A. and paired them with some yummy nosh to inspire you and your littles ones to hit the trails this summer.
Waterfall, frosty drinks and jazz
Located in the Los Angeles National Forest above Altadena, Millard Canyon Falls Trail is an easy and relatively flat 1.2-mile hike and is great for all ages.
After a short walk toward Millard Canyon Campground from the lower parking lot, this easy, but rewarding, trail begins — one of the many hikes in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains that ends at a waterfall. This is a great hike even for young children, who can enjoy some water play along the stream the trail follows and look for the local California newts and frogs that inhabit the area. Shade is plentiful and several other nice hikes, including Sunset Ridge, Dawn Mine and Echo Mountain, are in the area for more experienced hikers.
After your hike, stop in at Perry’s Joint, a beloved local Altadena eatery that perfectly blends ice cream, coffee, sandwiches and jazz. To cool down, try the signature Sherbet Freeze, a frosty concoction of sherbet and 7UP, or opt for the blended root beer and ice cream. But the real treat here is a sandwich (all jazz-themed, of course), loaded up with all the fixings to fill even the most ravenous post-hike appetite.
Steady gains and a ‘SnakeDog’
Head to Hollywood’s backyard to explore the West Observatory Trail in Griffith Park. The loop trail is a 2.5-mile uphill hike from the verdant Fern Dell to the top of Mt. Hollywood and the Griffith Observatory. While the grade up to the top is relatively easy on a wide walking path, it does have a 580-feet elevation gain, so is probably best for kids 5 and up.
After trekking along a stream, you’ll come upon The Trails Café (which you can hit later or grab a snack for a picnic at the top), bathrooms and a play structure. Head up toward the trail on the east side (on the right) of the play structure and take the left trail up the path to the observatory (either trail will take you there). If you can, time the hike so that you reach the top when the observatory is open. Free for visitors, the museum offers hands-on science, architectural beauty, a remarkable history and a stunning view of the city. Be prepared with water and sun protection, as the trail up the mountain after Fern Dell offers little shade.
Whether The Trails tempts you pre- or post-hike, expect a morning rush, especially on the weekends. Open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., this rustic retreat has a rotating menu of homemade morning pastries, cookies, slices of pie and, especially for the kids, the SnakeDog (a pastry-wrapped hot dog.) Any of these pair nicely with their range of espresso drinks made to order. Behind the structure, you’ll find bales of hay that kids can ramble on and plenty of seating to spread out.
Gentle hills and fancy eats
Tucked deep in the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu wine country is Rocky Oaks Trail, an easy two miles offering gentle hills, shady oaks, a seasonal pond and beautiful vistas. This verdant hike is perfect for all hiking levels.
Park in the lot at 107 Kanan Dume Road and loop around the pond for a half-mile mini hike. To prepare for a longer hike, free hiking maps are available at the Calamigos Guest Ranch and Beach Club lobby across the street, or check out options on a hiking app.
To make a day of it, return to the ranch after your hike for some vittles at the onsite Malibu Cafe, a sprawling outdoor restaurant compound designed for relaxation and fun. Dishes are pricey, but the vibe is low-key with giant chess and Jenga sets to play with, multiple lounging areas and a pond where you can watch the ducks or take a spin on a paddle boat. Grab some lemonades and a shareable platter and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. Heads up: The Malibu Cafe is open Thursday through Sunday, and parking at the restaurant will put you back $14.
Rock pool, cinnamon rolls and peacocks
Malibu Creek State Park is an outdoor wonderland for hikers, bikers, campers and rock climbers. The Grassland Trail to the Rock Pool and/or Century Lake here is a two-mile loop to Rock Pool (for 5 and up) or 4.4-mile round trip to Century Lake, great for ages 8 and up.
The two-mile roundtrip hike to Rock Pool is a great option for families with younger children, as the road is wide and flat and the end of the trail brings you to a beautiful oasis surrounded by reeds, trees and the outcroppings of volcanic rock. Although it gets crowded on weekend afternoons, this is a great stop for a family picnic.
Many hikers opt to take a refreshing dip in the water, but rangers discourage this, as the water can be stagnant and polluted with runoff. Those who would like to hike further can continue on another mile to visit the Century Lake (another great picnic spot) or further along to the “M*A*S*H” set, where jeeps and buildings from the 1970s and ‘80s TV show are still visible.
Through the coastal mountains, just off Mulholland Highway, is the little town of Cornell where you’ll find Old Place, an oasis of rustic charm. Come on a weekend for the homemade cinnamon rolls served up in a skillet pre-pandemic (check ahead to see if this delight is back) and stay to explore the quirky, sprawling outdoor spaces. You’ll encounter vintage trucks, cozy table nooks, an old-time milliner’s workshop, a small nursery, a general store, an elegant wine tasting patio and local peacocks. Bookmark this place for an adults-only dinner or wine tasting, as you’ll want to return again to enjoy the ambiance.
City views and Creole flavors
It may not be a walk in the woods, but the Community Trail along the ridges of Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area gives you just the dose of green and open air you need to feel refreshed without ever officially leaving the city. This well-loved urban trail meanders through a Japanese garden, fishing pond and stunning outlooks, including those of downtown and the San Gabriel Mountains.
The entire trail is a relatively easy 2.5 miles (great for ages 7 and up) and follows a circle around the limits of the park. We suggest looking the route up on Hikespeak.com or Alltrails.com to ensure you are on the right path, as there are numerous trails. Only select portions of the trail are suitable for strollers.
A skip, hop and jump away is Orleans & York Deli on Slauson Avenue, which has some of the best po’ boys in the city. Whether shrimp, salmon, catfish or fried oysters are your thing, be prepared to be transported to a Cajun and Creole nirvana. For the ravenous, add some link sausages to the heap.
If it’s a cool down that you need, stop by The SnoBall Shop right next door for a haven of New Orleans-style shaved ice. Try out the whole rainbow of flavors. You won’t be sorry.
Elisa Parhad is a travel and lifestyle writer and photographer based in L.A. Her work has appeared in L.A. Parent, the Los Angeles Times, Delta Sky magazine and Faces, and she is the author of the board book “Los Angeles Is…”