The Palisade cliffs along the Pacific Coast Highway are perfect spots for catching stunning sunset views. // © 2014 Manasi Patel
Feature image (above): Located on Palos Verdes Peninsula, Point Vicente Lighthouse is open for tours on the second Saturday of each month. // © 2014 Creative Commons user jawsnap
For many, a long drive with a view is a chance to temporarily get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. This can be especially true, though difficult to achieve, in a traffic-consumed metropolis like Los Angeles.
Yet beneath its shell of rush-hour gridlocks and construction detours lies a mosaic of cultural landmarks, cinematic history and natural beauty. Whether you crave the invigorating rush of fresh air or the enticing glamour of city lights, LA’s best routes offer drivers a true Californian experience.
Angeles Crest Scenic Byway
Location: From La Canada-Flintridge to Mountain Top Junction
Length: 66 miles
Attractions: Mount Wilson Observatory, Angeles National Forest, vista points
If you’re looking for an opportunity to escape the crowd, then a low-traffic drive on Angeles Crest Scenic Byway is for you. Ranging at altitudes more than 7,000 feet, this route boasts amazing views of the Mojave Desert and Pomona Valley, all contained within the San Gabriel Mountains and Angeles National Forest. The secluded location proved to be an ideal filming site for films such as the cult classic “Donnie Darko.”
From this mountaintop drive, you can see and even descend down to Pyramid Lake and the east fork of the San Gabriel River — one of the most visited sites in the entire National Forest system — for some fun hiking and water sports.
Along the way, try fishing at Fisherman’s Point or go horseback riding near Mount Wilson Observatory. The best part is that the idyllic byway can be accessed near the city (it’s less than 10 miles from interstate 15).
Location: From Ventura to Santa Monica
Distance: 55 miles
Traffic: Moderate during rush hours (6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.) with possible traffic in between; traffic is lowest on Sundays
Attractions: Various vista points, Hollywood Hills, Getty Center, Griffith Park
Out of all of Los Angeles’ scenic drives, Mulholland Drive is perhaps the most celebrated route in the county. Spanning the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, this route is set apart by its spectacular views of Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. It is also a historic road, named after chief engineer of the pivotal 1913 Los Angeles Aqueduct, William Mulholland.
At the eastern end of Mulholland, drivers can explore Griffith Park — one of the largest municipal parks in the nation and Elysian Park, the oldest and second-largest park in Los Angeles.
With its close proximity to the Hollywood sign and many of the city’s urban landmarks, Mulholland Drive has been home to many celebrity estates, including those of Jack Nicholson and Madonna. It has also been featured in numerous songs, films (such as David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive”) and tributes, leaving no doubt that Mulholland is one of LA’s’ most iconic and romanticized drives.
Pacific Coast Highway
Location: From Zuma Beach to Manhattan Beach (in Los Angeles County)
Length: Approximately 40 miles
Traffic: High in the Malibu to Santa Monica stretch during rush hours (6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.)
Attractions: Getty Villa, Santa Monica Pier, Point Dume, beach towns
For the quintessential cruise down the California coastline, Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) the classic choice. It’s the Los Angeles constantly seen in movies, posters and magazines around the world: endless Pacific horizon on one side and luxe coastal estates on the other, all with the laid-back charm of sun-bronzed surfers, volleyball players and beach bums to accent the dreamy landscape.
This drive is probably one of the easiest roads to navigate in Los Angeles as well. Spanning the entire West Coast of the United States, PCH is also known as Highway 1. Drivers need only to be concerned with one direction: forward.
Pull over near Malibu to enjoy the cliffs of Point Dume, once a popular clothing-optional destination in the 1960s and ‘70s. Others might be more interested that Point Dume served as the location of Tony Stark’s beachside villa in Marvel’s 2008 film “Iron Man” and the setting for the pilot episode of television classic “I Dream of Jeannie”.
Further south on the highway, a stretch known as North Sepulveda Boulevard brings drivers even closer to the ocean as it passes through several Southern California beach towns, including Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. For a relaxing evening, enjoy a seaside dinner or dessert on the pier at any one of these picturesque beaches.
Palos Verdes Drive
Location: From Palos Verdes Estate to San Pedro
Distance: 14 Miles
Attractions: Point Vicente Lighthouse, Angel’s Gate Park, Wayfarers Chapel, vista points
If you’re looking for a more unique coastal experience, appreciate breathtaking cliffside views of the Palos Verdes Scenic Drive as you cruise down Palos Verdes Peninsula. Unlike most seaside drives, this route is meant for slow drivers, with a 30 mph speed limit to ensure both safety and appreciation of the immense natural landscape.
Visit the Point Vicente Lighthouse for stunning coastline photos and if you’re lucky, a migratory whale sighting. On the way, visit the picturesque Wayfarers Chapel, a popular wedding venue nicknamed “The Glass Church” that was designed by distinguished architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Also worth a stop is the Korean Bell of Friendship located in San Pedro’s Angel’s Gate Park as part of Fort MacArthur’s Upper Reservation.
You can also hike down from the cliffs to the beach shores to scope out artifacts from the historic SS Dominator, a cargo ship that sunk in 1961, or find filming sites for the Disney film series “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Location: From downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Coast Highway
Length: Approximately 16 miles
Traffic: High during rush hours (6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.) with moderate traffic in between; traffic is lowest after 7 p.m. or on Sundays
Attractions: Koreatown, Museum Row, Beverly Hills, UCLA
If you want to learn as much as you can about Los Angeles in one day, then a drive down Wilshire Boulevard is exactly what you’re looking for. Traversing numerous distinct neighborhoods, this route is a virtual encyclopedia of the city’s diverse cultural roots and architectural evolution.
Beginning downtown, the journey commences with a stunning stretch through LA’s tallest skyscrapers. As you continue down the boulevard, you’ll drive past the Koreatown and Westlake neighborhoods. Park at Langer’s Deli for an authentic taste of the region’s Jewish history via a hot pastrami sandwich, declared as the nation’s finest by The New Yorker.
Farther down the strip, you’ll come across the Miracle Mile — a stretch of Wilshire between Fairfax and Highland that is one of the city’s most densely populated areas. This district is also home to a number of museum sites that make up what is known as Museum Row, including the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles County Museum of Arts (LACMA) and the upcoming Academy Museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The end of the boulevard ushers you to the emblematic Pacific Coast Highway. Pull over to soak up some sun, take a quick dip and reflect on an afternoon of mesmerizing Los Angeles sights.