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The best outdoor activities in Los Angeles: a complete guide

Published

9 August, 2023

Edited

15 March, 2024

California is an ideal destination if you and your family love the Great Outdoors. From the glittering Pacific Ocean to the majestic Santa Monica mountains, from hiking and biking trails to extreme watersports, there is so much to do here for all ages and abilities. The sheer range of outdoor activities in Los Angeles encourages you to get out and discover the local landscapes, whether you're staying in a beachfront apartment in Malibu or close to the canyons in the Hollywood Hills.

In this guide, we'll take you through some of Los Angeles’ most exciting (and some of the more laid-back) outdoor activities, including hiking in the canyons and parks around The City of Angels and surfing along the Pacific Coast.

We’ll also introduce you to some of the family-friendly outdoor activities Los Angeles offers, especially if you have little ones who may not be ready for the rigours of a long trail hike. And if you need something to get your heart pounding and your blood pumping, there are many adventure outdoor experiences in LA for any thrillseekers in the group.

Finally, we’ll answer a few questions that our local concierges are frequently asked about outdoor things to do in Los Angeles. Are you ready to discover the adventure, the wonder and the natural beauty of California? Let’s get started.

Hiking in the City of Angels

Despite The City of Angels' reputation as a 'driver's city', there are plenty of fabulous hiking opportunities that will show you Los Angeles from a completely different perspective. Walking tours allow you to discover secret spots in the city, such as the historic stairscases which once linked houses and neighbourhoods to the city's transit stops and tram stations.

If you’d prefer to be surrounded by natural beauty, the city has plenty of parks and recreational places for you to stretch your legs in. Hiking is a fun outdoor activities in Los Angeles that the whole family can enjoy together. These are our top three hiking trails in LA:

Topanga State Park

Nestling in the Santa Monica Mountains is Topanga State Park. With 36 miles of trails through open grassland and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, it's a gently undulating park that's accessible to everyone. It won’t be too far from your Los Angeles villa either, as the entire park is located within the LA city limits.

Keep your eyes open for marine fossils captured within the rocks and the region's active geology on display. Many of the trails can be accessed from Trippet Ranch, and one of the most popular trails is the Eagle Spring Loop Trail. Head to Eagle Rock for truly spectacular views.

Please note: dogs are not allowed on any of the trails within the park.

Griffith Observatory Hike

The Hollywood Sign may be one of the most iconic landmarks in LA (if not the world), but Angelenos are also proud of their scientific heritage. Griffith Observatory sits overlooking LA and is a working observatory and planetarium filled with fascinating exhibits. It’s also surrounded by one of the best parks in the city and is a great place for outdoor activities in Los Angeles, such as hiking. It’s easy to get to, and there is plenty of parking. It’s also dog-friendly, so the family’s four-legged friend can enjoy a walk in the sunshine too.

The park has a variety of trails, ranging from the easy Boy Scout Trail from Vista Valle Dr. and takes around 15-20 minutes to get to an observation plateau. A further five or ten-minute walk will get you to the Griffith Observatory.

If you’re feeling a little more energetic, there are loop trails that also take in the Hollywood Sign.

Runyon Canyon Hike

If you’re looking for outdoor things to do in LA, a hike through some of the city's canyons is a must. One of the most beautiful and popular is the Runyon Canyon Hike. A variety of trails of between one and two miles take in views of the city, the ocean, and of course, the Hollywood Sign. Expect to see many fellow hikers along the way, as it's a popular spot for visitors and locals alike.

Surfing the Pacific waves

If hiking isn’t your thing and you’re more attracted to the soft sand and rolling waves of the Pacific Coast, there are plenty of things to do outdoors in LA that will take in the joys of the ocean. Intrinsically linked with the California lifestyle is surfing, and thanks to some of the best beaches in the world lining its southern coastline, the state is a magnet for board jockeys of all abilities, from skimboarders and novice bodyboarders to pro surfers practising for that next big-wave competition. If you want to surf the Pacific waves, there are two beaches you should be heading for - Malibu Surfrider Beach and Venice Beach.

Malibu Surfrider Beach

Made popular by the surfing movies of the 1960s and 70s, Surfrider Beach is the place to go for the best surfing experience, regardless of your skill level. With parking, facilities for food and drink, lifeguard cover, showers and restrooms, it's ideal for a family day by the beach. The calm sea within the Malibu Lagoon makes Surfrider equally good for newbies and experienced surfers. Schools teach youngsters and grown-ups alike the art of popping up and making the most of even the smaller waves that lap the shore on a calm day.

Venice Beach surfing

Outdoor activities in LA don't get much better than a day at Venice Beach. Mellow waves that never get too big are ideal for beginners and those who simply want a more relaxed experience. The artificial reef constructed close to Venice Pier produces a great swell for more experienced boarders, but beware that there is a strong rip tide, and this section of the beach is unsuitable for novice surfers. The nearby restaurants serve excellent food, and there are independent stores and boutiques to explore if you fancy a break from the waves.

Family-friendly outdoor activities

Fun outdoor activities in Los Angeles are plentiful if you’re here with the children. From bus-top tours of the sites to theme parks and movie studio tours, LA is a very family-friendly town. If you’re looking for outdoor activities, Los Angeles delivers plenty of variety for children of all ages. Here are a couple of our favourite family-friendly things to do in LA.

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens cover over 130 acres and have been at the heart of the city for nearly 60 years. Today, the focus has shifted towards conservation, and saving wildlife is their primary mission. The zoo’s animals are cared for by dedicated keepers who are only too happy to tell you about the meerkats, the gorillas, and the countless other animals they look after.

Dotted around the zoo are themed botanical gardens, taking you on a trip around the globe. From the Mexican fan palms to the Hong Kong orchid trees, it's an exciting journey that will fascinate children and grown-ups alike. Don't miss the wonderful Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel, which features 64 hand-carved wooden animal figures for children to ride.

Malibu Riders

If you want to see the Wild West from a different perspective, Malibu Riders is the place to go. This long-established operation takes visitors on horseback trails through Malibu and Paramount Ranch, the home of western movies. Explore Zuma Canyon or Malibu Creek State Park. And don’t worry if you’ve never even sat on a horse before, they cater for everyone from total beginners up to experienced riders. It’s a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle and see the raw, natural beauty of the Californian mountains.

Adventure sports in LA

LA and its surrounding countryside are perfect for high-adrenaline activities. And while skydiving may not be for everyone, there are plenty of other adventure sports in LA to challenge all ages.

Skydiving

If you've never experienced the sheer adrenaline rush of jumping out of a plane thousands of feet up, now's your chance. You can do a tandem jump (where you jump attached to an qualified skydiving instructor) that is guaranteed to get your heart thumping. Safety is the number one priority, and skydiving schools in LA will take you through all the safety drills and checks before you get that jumpsuit on and climb aboard your plane for your first jump.

Rock climbing

Thanks to the geology of southern California, there are dozens of canyons and rocky outcrops surrounding LA. That makes this region a perfect place for anyone who likes scrambling up sheer faces or 'bouldering' – climbing on low rocks without a harness. Rock climbing offers plenty of challenges for all ages and is one of the top outdoor things to do in Los Angeles.

Biking

Cycling is huge in LA, and with the advent of E-bikes, it's even easier for everyone of all ages and mobilities to explore the cycling routes throughout the city and its many parks. There are multiple bike hire centres across LA, and there's nothing quite as exhilarating as hurtling down any of the dedicated mountain bike trails in the canyons on a sunny afternoon. If that sounds like too much hard work, a leisurely cycle along the boardwalk at Venice Beach is a relaxing way to spend a few hours.

FAQs

What outdoor activities in Los Angeles are good for avoiding crowds?

Hiking and cycling are at the top of the list, although some trails, particularly around the Hollywood sign, can get busy during the summer. If you want to beat the crowds at the beaches, get there early in the morning.

What is the most popular outdoor activity in LA?

If you're by the beach, then the most popular outdoor activity in LA has to be surfing. Inland, cycling and hiking are at the top of the list.

Where can I go surfing in LA as a beginner?

Surfrider or Zuma Beaches are the most popular and novice-friendly beaches for the entire family in Malibu. Venice Beach, especially Driftwood Beach, is ideal for beginner surfers, with schools that will teach you the basics and ensure you're safe on a board before you duck-dive your first wave. For really gentle waves and soft sand, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach are the places to go.

Are there any family-friendly biking trails in Los Angeles?

There are dozens of family-friendly biking trails in Los Angeles, and cycling is one of the favourite outdoor things to do in LA all year round. The Marvin Braude Biking Trail takes you from Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica all the way down to Redondo Beach. It’s one of the most popular biking trails in LA, and great for younger cyclists are there are no hills or street traffic.

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