Los Angeles is known for its beaches, movie studios, sports teams and congested freeways.
As a long time resident, I totally get those associations. Every time I have a visitor in town, they want to go to Santa Monica, Venice Beach or Hollywood.
As a good host, I take them where they want to go. However, I ask them to give me a chance to show them a different side of the city. And, when I am given that chance, believe me, I end up with happy faces and tons of “when do you think I can come back?”
Today, I am going to show you one of those places that I love to share with visitors. Los Angeles is not associated with awesome natural beauty, nonetheless, we have plenty of bluffs, coves, creeks, mountains and undeveloped beaches.
This lovely place I want to show you is called the Palos Verdes Peninsula, a unique area located about 30 miles south of Downtown Los Angeles.
Having lived close to the area for about 15 years, I consider the peninsula my playground. It is where I go when I need to escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
At this point, I have a good idea of the best Palos Verdes hikes and trails. This is a place close to heart. I have made my best effort to do justice to the place and give useful ideas and information to those who are interested in visiting.
In this guide, when I use the term “peninsula” or “Palos Verdes,” I am referring to the geographical area.
Keep in mind there are four incorporated cities in the Palos Verdes Peninsula: Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates. You may cross one or more of these cities while transiting the area. Parts of San Pedro can be seen as part of the peninsula too.
How to Use this Guide
The following indications will help you to make the most out of this guide:
- This guide will concentrate on describing the coastal Palos Verdes hikes and trails. I will write about several reserves and preserves a bit away from the coast on another occasion
- The coastal hike ideas will be covered from north to south. Most places on the coast are connected by the Palos Verdes Drive
- Even though we are talking about hikes and trails, some of the places described in here require little physical effort to be enjoyed. So, do not get intimidated if you are not a hiker. The ideas in here apply to all levels of physical fitness
- For a day in the peninsula, I will suggest picking 2 or 3 ideas from here and making a full day trip from them
- The places detailed in here are free of charge unless otherwise noted
- I am providing general access information but enter the name of the places in your GPS for more accuracy
Palos Verdes Hikes and Trails
This cove is the extension (some call it the south end) of a stretch of sand passing through Redondo Beach (starts at the pier) and Torrance. It is the area where the cliffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula start to rise. Since there are several patches of sand, people like to sunbathe and swim around here. It is popular with surfers too.
Access to the cove is through the Malaga Cove Trail. Before heading down to the cove, make sure to stop by Roessler Point (marked by a gazebo) to take in fantastic views of the Santa Monica Bay.
For those interested in an extended hike, the trails along the Malaga Creek and Olmsted Creek can be checked out.
- Access: On Palos Verdes Drive W, turn right on Via Almar and then right on Via Arroyo
- Parking: Public lot available at the intersection of Via Arroyo and Paseo del Mar
Pit Stop: Malaga Cove Plaza
If you are interested in getting something to eat or getting picnic supplies, you can stop by businesses such as Yellow Vase, The Cove Café and Malaga Cove Ranch Market in this small shopping complex
A short drive away from Malaga Cove, you will find Bluff Cove. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful coves in the peninsula. The cliffs in here have shades or orange, yellow, gray and green.
Access to this cove is from Paseo del Mar and it is not visible from the street. You are going to know where to park since you are going to see others parked in the area.
Once outside the car, you are going to see views of the cliffs, rocks, and water. To see the actual cove, you will have to take the trail down (easy).
- Access: from Malaga Cove follow Paseo del Mar, from Palos Verdes Drive W, turn right at Paseo del Mar
- Parking: On the street, careful since the road has an incline
Palos Verdes Estates Shoreline Preserve
This small preserve has a half mile (one way), cliffside trail from where you can see the Santa Monica Bay, the Beach Cities and even Downtown Los Angeles. In addition, it is possible to take a look at Bluff Trail from the south.
- Access: From Palos Verdes Drive W, you are going to notice the parking lot at your right
- Parking: Public Lot
Lunada Bay is the biggest cove and probably one of the most popular surfing spots in the peninsula. According to locals, it is a good place to check out tidepools too.
It is possible to get good views of the bay from the blufftop trail but, let me warn you, the “trail” to the bottom is steep and sometimes non-existent. I have never hiked to the bottom of Lunada Bay and I urge you to exercise caution if you decide to do this.
- Access: From Palos Verdes Drive W, you can access Paseo del Mar by turning right at Yarmouth Road or Avenida Mirola. The bay is not visible from the street but you are going to notice people parked in the area
- Parking: On the street
- The Lunada Bay Plaza offers some food options
This is another cove that can be seen in the area. The views from the top are great but, once again, the trek down can be perilous.
- Access: Located at Paseo del Mar and Via Barri. Not visible from the street
- Parking: On the Street
Christmas Tree Cove
I am not sure why this cove has been related to a Christmas tree but whoever came with the idea has a great imagination. This is yet another cove that can be visited. Apparently, it is a good place for diving and tide pooling.
- Access: From Honeymoon Cove, follow Paseo del Mar, otherwise, it is at the intersection of Paseo del Mar and Via neve
- Parking: On the street
Detour: Vista Point
At this point, you have probably gotten impressive views of the ocean and Catalina Island. Nevertheless, I have another idea for you in terms of views. On Hawthorne Boulevard, there is a spot from where you can see red roofs, land promontories, golf courses and turquoise waters. It looks like a postcard straight from the Mediterranean.
If you are lucky, you may see a red-tailed hawk or two flying around. I can’t recommend this view enough!
- Access: Stop a bit before the intersection of Hawthorne Boulevard and Vallon Drive
- Parking: There is space to park next to the street
Pit Stop: Golden Cove Plaza
For those who have developed an appetite while walking and hiking, the Golden Cove Plaza offers plenty of options in terms of restaurants, cafes and snack options. You can have Japanese, Thai or Mexican food on site. Or, you can grab a snack or picnic supplies at Trader Joe’s (supermarket) or 7-Eleven.
Vicente Bluffs Reserve and Golden Cove
If I have to recommend one Palos Verdes hike for the day, I will say “Go to the Point Vicente area.”
This reserve provides access to majestic ocean views, unique rock formations and lookout points (with benches and everything). On top of that, grey whales can be observed from November to April.
Now, the trail network is extensive in here. You can choose to do the Golden Cove Trail by itself or extend the hike by following the Seascape Trail (the scenery from this trail is top notch). Eventually, you will arrive at the Point Vicente Interpretative Center where facilities such as restrooms and water fountains are available.
- Access: From Palos Verdes Drive W, turn right on Calle Entradero. Park on the street and start the Golden Cove Trail. As an alternative, and I prefer this route, access the trails from the Point Vicente Interpretative Center. There is a big parking lot on site
Point Vicente Lighthouse and Interpretative Center
The interpretative center and lighthouse can be seen as part of the Vicente Bluffs Reserve but I am presenting them on their own since they can be visited in that way. You can stop by the center and walk a bit around for photos. Some of you may not be interested in the longer hike.
The Interpretative Center opened in 1984 and presents exhibitions about the flora, fauna (including underwater) and history of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. In addition, it has a green area equipped with picnic tables.
During the grey whale migration period, members of the American Cetacean Society keep a daily count of marine mammals spotted in the area. They are very eager to share their knowledge. Therefore, ask questions if you want to learn more about the grey whales or dolphins.
The lighthouse is closed to the public except for the second Saturday of the month when the grounds and museum are open.
- Access: Signs on Palos Verdes Drive W point to the Interpretative Center
- Restrooms and water fountains available
- Palos Verdes Drive W turns into Palos Verdes Drive S after Point Vicente
This is another of my favorite coves in the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It is so beautiful that it is not rare to find an artist working on a painting on any given day (I have seen them many times).
The good thing is that access is easy since there is a well-marked trail. The bottom of the cove is rocky. Therefore, it is not that easy to walk around. I recommend walking close to the cliffs where there are not that many rocks.
The other cool thing about this place is that there is a rocky promontory next to the cove. You can hike to the top to get great views of the coast.
- Access: From Palos Verdes Drive S, signs will lead you to the park
- Parking: Public lot, if this lot is full you can park at Point Vicente or at the Terranea Resort
- Restrooms available
Terranea Resort’s Trails
From 1954 to 1987, a park called Marineland of the Pacific operated above the bluffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The concept was similar to the more famous SeaWorld.
Once the park closed, the land was developed as a luxury resort. Nevertheless, by California law, access to the coast cannot be denied to residents. That is why the resort developed a series of trails that can be enjoyed by the public.
These are a set of magical Palos Verdes trails. You are going to give me the reason once you see the photos.
The Terranea Trail surrounds most of the coast in the property (and connects with the trail at Pelican Cove). This is a high trail affording views of the cliffs and water.
The resort has a small beach known as Terranea Beach or Terranea Cove. To access it, take the Beach Trail (connects with the Terranea Trail). There is a cave at the south end of the beach. You are going to see people scrambling around the rocks to reach the cave. Once again, this part screams pure Mediterranean charm.
Most people are fine walking these two trails but I will recommend going a little bit further. Go back to the Beach Trail and connect once again with the Terranea Trail. Keep going until you connect with the Vanderlip Park Trail. This is another high trail with “to die for” views of the coast. A friend of mine said a place like this would be a national park in another country.
Oh, do not forget to take a good look at Cielo Point!
- Parking: Use the Pelican Cove lot or from Palos Verdes Drive S, turn right at Terranea Way and park at one of the free lots
- Restrooms are available
- During summer, soft drinks and lemonade can be bought at a concession owned by the resort
- The resort’s restaurants (Nelson’s and Mar’sel) are open to the public
Abalone Cove Shoreline Park and Sacred Cove
This park offers two sandy beaches (Abalone Cove and Sacred Cove), tidepools, blufftop viewing areas (Portuguese Point and Inspiration Point) and several hiking trails.
Most people stay in the Abalone Cove area. There is a hike involved to reach Sacred Cove and because of its seclusion, many people sunbath without clothing.
Even if you are not interested in the naturalist side of Sacred Cove, you may be interested in its sea cave. It can be accessed from Portuguese Point (better if you visit during low tide).
- This is the only place within the Palos Verdes trail system charging an entrance fee ($6 for two hours, $12 over two hours)
- More details found in here
Detour: Wayfarers Chapel
This is a sight you do not want to miss! The Wayfarers Chapel (or as it is known locally, “The Glass Church”) was designed by Lloyd Wright, the son of the famous Franklin Lloyd Wright.
Because of its unique architectural features, this place is very popular for weddings. You will not be able to enter the chapel if a wedding is taking place. Otherwise, you are free to tour the grounds.
Ocean Trails Reserve
The area around the reserve is known as the Trump National Golf Course. Once again, even with the area developed by a private corporation, access to the coastline needs to be provided to residents.
The reserve has more of 4 miles of trails including the Sagebrush, Gnatcatcher and Catalina Trails. Hiking the entire reserve may take 3-4 hours. Plan accordingly.
- Access: From Palos Verdes Drive S, turn right at Trump National Drive or La Rotonda Drive
- Parking: Public Lot
- The beautiful Founder’s Park is located on site
White Point Park
This is an ideal place to do some tide pooling. There is a huge rock bed exposed during low tide. However, everything is not natural in here. Some “rocks” in the area are really ruins of mineral baths destroyed by an earthquake in the ‘30s.
Other activities include picnicking, surfing, diving (there is a reef close to the shore), fishing and even rock climbing.
In reality, you do not have to get active in here. Spotting one (or two) sea stars between the rocks, a group of pelicans soaring above the cliffs or a bunch of cormorants resting over rocks is my idea of having a good time.
- The exact address is 1799 West Paseo Del Mar, San Pedro
- There is a fee to park in the parking lot at the bottom of the bluffs
- To avoid paying for parking, park at one of the free spots (in Paseo del Mar) at the top of the bluffs and walk down Kay Fiorentino Road
- The White Point Nature Preserve and Education Center is located across the street
- There are restroom and shower facilities in the area
- Wear comfortable clothing and shoes
- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunglasses, hats, caps, and sunblock
- It is a good idea to carry water and snacks in the car and while hiking
- Follow the rules on the preserves and reserves. Help us to keep a clean environment
- A lot of the Palos Verdes hikes and trails presented in here involve cliffs. Be vigilant at all times and be careful if you notice unstable areas
- The wind can be strong and deceptive on the peninsula. Be careful when walking along cliffs when strong wind gusts are present
- Rattlesnakes may be present on trails. Exercise caution
Have you experienced any of the Palos Verdes hikes? If not, which place would you like to visit?
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This post is part of Wordless Wednesday at Image-In-Ing, Our World Tuesday, Faraway Files at Oregon Girl Around the World, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, Follow Me Friday at Feet Do Travel and Weekend Wanderlust at Travel Latte.