Behind the scenes in L.A. - 10 awesome outdoor activities

July 15, 2015                 6m read time
Clare Varellas

Los Angeles might be known for its shiny surfaces and hellish traffic, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a city rich in history, culture, and—perhaps surprisingly—nature. We asked 10 L.A. locals where they go for a slice of heaven in the City of Angels. The verdict: skip Hollywood for a hike, explore some lesser-known museums, and don’t leave town without stopping by Alfred Coffee & Kitchen.

Malibu Creek State Park ZOZI

Malibu Creek State Park



Go natural in Malibu Creek State Park

In his twenty-plus years teaching yoga in Hollywood, Steven Metz, aka Earth, has attracted his share of screen stars, including Penelope Cruz and Renee Zellweger. His studio, Earth’s Power Yoga, is also known for its big screen rooms, or Yogascapes, where panoramic video of marine life, forests, and other natural scenes are projected onto studio walls and ceilings.

When Metz wants to immerse himself in some real nature, he visits Malibu Creek State Park. “This place is amazing. They shot the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ rock wall scene here and many others,” he says. “If you like to hike, rock climb, or swim this is the place.” If you go, Metz recommends asking the rangers at the gate for directions to Rock Pool, a swimming hole surrounded by granite cliffs and sycamore trees.

Caffeinate at Alfred Coffee & Kitchen

Alfred Coffee & Kitchen, has both the best and the “most stylish” coffee according to Jennifer Maanavi, co-founder of Physique 57, a barre-based studio with locations in Beverly Hills, the Hamptons, and other cities around the world.

At Alfred’s three chic black and white shops in Los Angeles and West Hollywood visitors can sip on freshly brewed Stumptown Coffee and munch on pastries from Farmshop. To feel like a real insider, order the edible chocolate-dipped waffle coffee cup off the secret menu. Two more shops will soon open in Silverlake and Studio City.

Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino Joseph Sohm / 

Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino

Joseph Sohm / 


Stop to smell the roses at Huntington Botanical Gardens

“I love the Huntington Gardens in San Marino,” says Mariko Fujio-White, operations manager of Learn to Surf LA. “It's best to go on a Saturday to check out their succulent greenhouse. The variety of colors and textures is seriously out of this world.”

A short drive north from downtown L.A., the gardens are part of the larger Huntington institution, a 96-year-old research and educational facility. The 120-acre gardens are divided into more than a dozen individual sections. Favorites include the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, which features waterfalls and a 1.5-acre lake, and the Rose Garden, where more than three thousand individual rose plants bloom.

A stall selling Mexican wrestling masks on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles Kent Kanouse

A stall selling Mexican wrestling masks on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles

Kent Kanouse


Wander through L.A.'s historic heart

An East L.A. Latin Flavors Tour with Melting Pot Tours is an easy and incredibly scrumptious way to experience L.A.'s finest Latin culture and food all in one go. From tasting Tres Leches cake and pupuserias to a stroll through a tortilla factory, you're guaranteed to leave the tour with a full belly and more insider L.A. knowledge than most locals. Art Palacios, owner of L.A. Cycle Tours, which offers a popular street art tour and a taco tour, frequently routes his bicycle groups through Olvera Street, the historic root of L.A.’s metropolis. “Olvera Street, also known as ‘El Pueblo,’ was the birthplace of the city of Los Angeles,” Palacios. “There are a few museums that work on a donation system near there: the Chinese American Museum, L.A.’s first Firehouse Museum, The Avilla House (L.A.’s oldest house), Urban Art Museum, and a bunch of small shops that sell traditional Mexican goodies, snacks, and foods.”

Peruse the stalls selling pottery, leather goods, and Mexican folk art along Olvera Street’s tree-shaded block and then stop at La Noche Buena Restaurant, a favorite of Palacios, for a plate of enchiladas.

View from Mount San Antonio, or Mount Baldy, in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles mikeccross

View from Mount San Antonio, or Mount Baldy, in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles



Hike and dine on Mount Baldy

When Dave Allen, president of Auto Club Speedway in nearby Fontana, needs a break from the track, he heads for the hills. “Drive up to Mount Baldy [aka Mount San Antonio] and take a scenic chairlift ride for lunch at Top of the Notch restaurant in the San Gabriel Mountains,” recommends Allen. “There are a variety of hiking trails for all levels, and you can spend the entire day enjoying unbelievable views, especially on a clear day when you can see all the way to Catalina Island.”

Dance it out at Hot 8 Yoga

It’s true that Omar Lopez, a dance teacher at Beverly Hills’ Hot 8 Yoga, is Jessica Alba’s trainer. But that’s not the reason Audra Skaates, owner of the downtown L.A. exercise studio, The Main Barre, is so fond of taking his classes. “He is an amazing teacher and person. When I need to feel really inspired, he’s who I go to.” Well-known for their seamless combination of yoga, dance, and martial arts, Lopez’s classes are said to encourage power through both physical strength and rhythmic self-expression.

Fair warning: “His dance class is packed; it’s almost 40 people,” says Skaates. “Even at 6:15 in the morning, it’s sold out a week in advance.”

Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, California ZOZI

Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, California



Sip wine in the Santa Ynez Valley

“I hear so many tourists tell me how they wasted a day going to Hollywood, so I love getting to tell them other things to do,” says Kristy Dinsmoor, a manager at the surf shop ZJ Boarding House.  

Her favorite tip? Wine tasting. “No one thinks of coming here to go wine tasting, but I highly recommend a visit to the wineries in Santa Ynez Valley,” says Dinsmoor.

“For the most scenic route, take the hour-and-a-half drive up the Pacific Coast Highway or the 101 Freeway. Just north of the Valley the drive gets pretty and stays pretty,” she says. “There are winter and summer wine tasting passes which you can purchase through the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Association for about $40 each, which usually gets you about 16 tastings. The wine is good, the wineries are nice, and the towns are cute.”

Some highlights of the tour, or perhaps places to visit on their own: Gainey Vineyard, which offers a 20-minute wine tour, and Rusack Vineyards, an ideal picnic location. For killer Pinot Noir as well as a sampling of delicious olive oils and vinegars (blood orange olive oil, anyone?), make a stop at Sunstone Winery.

View of Marina del Rey Fisherman's Village from the water ZOZI

View of Marina del Rey Fisherman's Village from the water



Stand-up paddleboard in Marina del Rey

The air temperature in L.A. may be notoriously mild, but the waters of the Pacific can be tempestuous. For calm waves year round, Tim Sanford, stand-up paddleboard instructor and guide at Paddle Method, takes his paddleboard to Marina del Rey.

“It’s the one place in L.A. where you can paddle morning, noon, or night,” says the ZOZI merchant. “Beginners go there to learn, and advanced paddlers go there to train or practice on a new piece of gear. Sunset paddles are especially beautiful. There are sea lions, dolphins—we even had a grey whale.”

After your SUP outing, Sanford suggests heading to the nearby Beachside Cafe at the Jamaica Bay Inn for happy hour from 3:30 to 7 p.m. “The fish tacos are awesome. They do two-for-one drinks, and they give our paddlers a 10 percent discount.”

Mix it up at The Corner Door

Kathy Jimenez, an employee at Rainbow Acres health foods store, has lived in Los Angeles her whole life, but it wasn’t until she found The Corner Door restaurant and bar in Culver City that she found her home during happy hour. “I absolutely love this bar,” she says. “I tend to prefer beer over cocktails but coming to The Corner Door just makes you appreciate a great cocktail.

“I randomly stumbled upon it one night while I was walking down the street (walking in L.A. isn't as rare as people think it is) and have been going back ever since. The head bartender, Beau, makes amazing cocktails and continues to win awards for it. They have great food here, too, and the happy hour from 5-7 is totally worth it.”

Jimenez recommends ordering the Moscow Mule, a mix of housemade ginger beer, vodka, and lime juice. If you’re feeling more adventurous, order off the seasonal cocktail menu; this year’s summer list features a bourbon, apricot liqueur, lemon, and habanero honey concoction called Miner Incident.

For the dinner experience, come on a Sunday for Burger R&D night; a different specialty burger is served every week with fries and a beer.

An old airplane on the airfield at the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Camarillo, California Edward Conde

An old airplane on the airfield at the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Camarillo, California

Edward Conde


Dive into aeronautical history

When Skydive Coastal California instructor Leon Roullard isn’t jumping out of airplanes, he enjoys wandering through the WWII Aviation Museum at the Camarillo Airport. "It has one of only five remaining B25 bombers and a bunch of the friendliest aviation fanatics you can hope to find,” says Roullard.

The Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), an all-volunteer organization dedicated to preserving U.S. combat aircraft used between 1939 and 1945, operates the museum. Members lead guided tours of its 12-plane exhibit, eight of which are still flown at air shows. Visit Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to watch volunteers at work restoring planes in the hangars, or call ahead to schedule a Saturday airplane ride.

Clare Varellas

ZOZI editorial intern Clare Varellas recently finished her first year at Northwestern University, where she studies journalism and computer science and attempts to continue running outside during the long Chicago winters. She loves reading and walking in pretty places, but usually not at the same time.

Subscribe +

Get the best stories and activities, personalized just for you. Go on, get out there!

You might also enjoy: