5 Fantastic Scenic Drives in Greater Los Angeles

While Angelenos are normally complaining about how much time they spend in their cars, there are also plenty of opportunities to drive around the hills and oceanside highways of LA to enjoy the city’s plethora of scenic mountain sights, ocean panoramas, and dazzling city lights.

From the Art Deco architectural wonders of old Hollywood’s Mulholland Drive to the alpine vistas of the Angeles National Forest off of the Angeles Crest Scenic Byway — here are five of the best scenic drives in Greater LA.

[Editor’s Note: As COVID-19 continues to remain a prevalent public health and safety issue, if you plan on getting out of the car be sure to wear a face mask and keep at least six feet from others outside your household at all times.]

Manhattan Beach to Terranea Resort, Ranchos Palos Verdes via Highway 1/Palos Verdes Drive

Start in Manhattan Beach across from its iconic pier, where you can grab a treat such as a scoop of ice cream at Manhattan Beach Creamery or a bakery sweet at Beckers Bakery & Deli which has been an integral part of the Manhattan Beach scene since 1942.

Take Manhattan Ave to Hermosa Ave through Hermosa Beach where you can check out the Hermosa Beach pier and its charming, lively downtown area. Continue driving, and when you reach Redondo Beach you’ll pass the Harbor Yacht Club. Here, you’ll hop over to Highway 1 briefly before you reach Torrance, and then take a right turn onto Palos Verdes Boulevard which connects to Palos Verdes Drive along the Coast — which is where you’ll spend the rest of your journey.

Along the way on Palos Verdes Drive, you can stop at the SS Dominator Shipwreck the Point Vicente Lighthouse (which is a great place for a socially distant picnic). End your drive at Terranea where you can grab a drink at Nelson’s and listen to the waves and crash along the cliffside.

Santa Monica Pier to Point Mugu State Park in Malibu, via the Pacific Coast Highway

This drive along Highway 1 (also known as the Pacific Coast Highway) spans from the Santa Monica Pier to Point Mugu in Malibu, and is an incomparably gorgeous journey. You’ll cruise along Will Rogers State Beach passing the Annenberg Community Beach House which has a great cafe right on the sand, as well as the famous Mastro’s Ocean Club, Topanga Beach, Duke’s Malibu, Nobu Malibu, and the Malibu Pier with its famous Malibu Farm Cafe.

You’ll pass GEOFFREY’S, Point Dume (which is also a great place for a picnic or a hike) Zuma Beach, El Matador Beach, Leo Carrillo State Beach, the famous biker haven Neptune’s Net, and finally Point Mugu where you can climb on the enormous sand dunes of adjacent to the highway, or hike in La Jolla Canyon along the Backbone Trail (pictured below).

Mulholland Drive to San Vicente Mountain Park

This historic road was named after William Mulholland — chief engineer of the pivotal 1913 Los Angeles Aqueduct and a pretty big reason that LA is the thriving city that it is, today. Mulholland Drive itself has been home to countless celebrity estates over this last century.

Begin the journey on the Eastern end of Mulholland, near the Hollywood Bowl Overlook adjacent to the 101. Along the drive, you’ll have about half-dozen valley-facing overlooks (which is why you’re heading in the western direction). This route offers views of the valley to the East, including Universal City Overlook with its top-down view of Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.

You’ll end your journey at the San Vicente Mountain Park with beautiful views of LA in almost every direction (even better if it’s at sunset). On clear days at the peak of the mountain, you can even see the Palos Verdes peninsula and DTLA from the top! You can also hike up to the top of this mountain from Brentwood, which is one of my favorite hikes in the LA area.

Angeles Crest Scenic Byway

This journey spans 66 miles from La Canada-Flintridge to Mountain Top Junction — a low-traffic drive ranging from altitudes of 1,500 feet to 7,900 feet which is both a National Forest Scenic Byway and an officially designated California Scenic Highway.

This road was originally intended to be a fire access road but is now a full mountain highway. The concept for this “most scenic and picturesque mountain road in the state” was originally developed in 1912 and funding was allocated in 1919 but the completed highway officially opened in 1956.

Make sure to “clock out” for the day before you embark on this venture (not that there’s anywhere to get lost — it’s just one road), as cell phone reception is very sporadic and often totally unavailable. This won’t be a problem however, as views are so incredible the only thing you could need your phone for is to take photos.

Tuna Canyon Road > Saddle Peak Road > Stunt Road

This journey takes you up through the mountains of Malibu and away from the hustle and bustle of urban Angeleno city life. Constant views of the Pacific Ocean and canyon scenery offer the opportunity to unwind while you wind through the switchbacks and up in altitude.

You’ll hit the Topanga Canyon Trailhead (pictured above) which is a great place to stop and take in the vistas of the sea in the west and the valley to the east.

You can continue up Stunt Road all the way up to where you’ll end your journey once you hit the Mulholland Highway (different from Mulholland Drive. He was an important Angeleno Dude — he had quite a few things named after him).

What are your favorite drives in the Greater Los Angeles area? Let me know, at hellomollyannobrien@gmail.com.


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