Southern California getaways to excite outdoor enthusiasts

From sun-kissed beaches to breathtaking outdoor scenery, it’s no wonder Southern Californians enjoy spending so much time in the fresh air. Some of the best parks, beaches, hiking trails, playgrounds and even underwater landscapes in the country can be found here – and we’re highlighting 13 of our favorites. Note that some activities may be limited due to COVID-19 safety measures. Check websites for the latest information.


Bolsa Chica State Beach

Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach is commonly referred to as Surf City USA, home of anything and everything related to the sport.

Once called Tin Can Beach, Bolsa Chica State Beach draws sunbathers plus sports enthusiasts for surfing, volleyball and a variety of other activities. Bonfire pits also are available.

The ecological reserve, where many local animal species dwell, is across Pacific Coast Highway from the beach and is overseen by the California Department of Fish and Game. It’s a wonderful place for families to learn about sea life – and there will be even more to do once the Visitor Center reopens and educational programs return. Both were suspended due to COVID-19 protocols.

OC Great Park

8000 Great Park Blvd., Irvine

Central Park in New York City is likely the inspiration for this huge park. Being developed on the site of the decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, more than 450 acres of this 1,300-acre site have been completed and already the park has become a haven for sports, agriculture and the arts.

Attractions include the Great Park balloon ride, carousel, the Farm + Food Lab outdoor agricultural learning space, farmers market, playgrounds, the Palm Court Arts Complex and 1.5 miles of hiking and biking trails.

Note that some outdoor recreational spaces and indoor facilities may be closed or have modified access, at least for the time being. Check the website for the latest information.


Grand Park

200 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

Grand Park, in the heart of Los Angeles, is said to be the ultimate urban oasis. There are many fun things to experience including the restored Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain with a water feature for wading, the performance lawn, community terrace and the grand event lawn.

While some amenities are closed for now, to ensure social distancing, others continue with some changes. For one, food trucks at Lunch a la Park are available for lunch takeout.

Griffith Park

4730 Crystal Springs Drive, Los Angeles

Griffith Park has appeared in many movies including Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” and the 1950 classic “Sunset Boulevard.” Famous musical acts have performed at the Greek Theater, and perhaps the crown jewel of this place is Griffith Observatory, where the planets and stars rule. The theater and observatory both remained closed at last check; for updates, visit the website.

Also included in the park’s 4,300-plus acres of land are the Los Angeles Zoo as well as the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum, which is dedicated to all things locomotive.

Malibu Creek State Park

1925 Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas

A more than 8,000-acre gem, previously owned by 20th Century Fox Studios, Malibu Creek State Park was the backdrop for many films and some TV shows from the Golden Age of Hollywood through the 1960s. In 1976, the state of California purchased the site, then known as Fox Ranch, and opened it to the public.

Since then, the park has welcomed millions of hikers, bikers and climbers who enjoy exploring its beautiful scenery and trails suitable for all ability levels, including the leisurely High Road Loop and Mott Road.

Hiking options include moderate trails like Crags Road to the “M*A*S*H” trail, the Grassland Trail and Yearling Trail, and the more strenuous Bulldog Road and Mesa Peak Motorway trails.

Outside of hiking, activities include bike routes for all levels, rock climbing, kayaking in a lake feature that’s rare at a state park, horseback riding on scenic trails, 62 campsites and bird-watching walks sponsored by the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society.

While the park is open, high-density areas – including the Visitor Center, Rock Pool and Century Lake – were still closed for the time being.

Polliwog Park

1601 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach

Polliwog Park spans more than 18 acres and is the largest park in the South Bay. Three gazebos are situated in the park – one adjacent to a lovely rose garden, another near the amphitheater and the third next to the picturesque pond which can be reserved for two-hour periods.

There are three separate play areas, including the main one with a large lighthouse. Next to the park is Begg Pool. Check the website for availability.

Will Rogers State Historic Park

1501 Will Rogers State Park Road, Pacific Palisades

Will Rogers was a popular actor, humorist and social commentator. He owned the land that is now Will Rogers State Historic Park, built a 31-room ranch house and invited family and friends to come and relax. In 1941, six years after his death, his wife, Betty, donated the ranch, stable, riding ring, polo field, golf course and riding trails to California State Parks so everyone could enjoy them.

The park is open from dawn to dusk, and bathrooms near the parking lot are available, but at last check some closures remained, including the Visitor Center and picnic tables.

Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden

1402 Avalon Canyon Road., Avalon, on Catalina Island

Catalina Island is known for its beauty and laid-back attitude, and the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden only heightens this experience. Created to pay homage to William Wrigley Jr., who founded the chewing gum company that bears his name, this park features plants native to islands off the California coast – many of them found nowhere else in the world.

The park features nearly 38 acres of beautiful and lush gardens to explore, complete with blue flagstone rock, which is mined on the other side of Catalina Island.

Standing near the monument, enjoy a commanding view of Avalon Bay.


Mount San Jacinto State Park

25905 Highway 243, Idyllwild

Mount San Jacinto State Park invites outdoors enthusiasts to spend the night, within the limits of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Check out part of the Pacific Coast Trail, which spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. There also are environmental campsites, vista points, hiking trails, horseback riding and even geocaching adventures to experience.

Ruth Hardy Park

700 Tamarisk Road, Palm Springs

Ruth Hardy Park spans 22 acres and features tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, picnic tables, playgrounds and grills.

This desert oasis is fun for all ages as it also sits on the cusp of The Movie Colony, a playground for Hollywood stars of yesteryear with its vintage-glam hotels and restaurants, as well as downtown Palm Springs.


Balboa Park

1549 El Prado, San Diego

Originally named City Park, Balboa Park was rechristened by San Diegans to honor Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa as they prepared for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

Beyond its history and Spanish Renaissance architecture, the park has smaller spaces including off-leash dog parks, bird parks and playgrounds. Outdoor activities here include tennis, swimming, golf, lawn bowling, Frisbee golf, cycling, archery and dance classes.

There also are many hiking trails, a 1910 Herschell-Spillman menagerie carousel, 17 museums and cultural institutions, 10 dedicated performance spaces, the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ, several gardens, guided tours and lots of places where visitors can grab a bite to eat.

The website includes up-to-date information about closures and health safety measures.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

12600 N Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla

Located within San Diego’s city limits, the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve has 1,500 acres of land to explore featuring maritime chaparral, miles of beaches, a lagoon that is home to lots of wildlife, and the nation’s rarest pine tree – Pinus torreyana.

Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, be sure to sign up for docent-led hikes on weekends and holidays to learn more about this special place. Also, check the website for the latest info about children’s programs, which are expected to return this year.

La Jolla Cove

1100 Coast Blvd. (at Girard Avenue), La Jolla

This 6,000-acre park includes an ecological reserve and boasts ample wildlife including barracudas, seals, giant sea bass and the orange garibaldi.

What makes this park unique is it’s primarily an underwater park where snorkeling is the main activity. There’s also biking and kayak tours available as well as rentals for those who don’t have the gear.

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