Will Rogers hike photo gallery
Hiking the Punch Bowl

By Sasha Jones, 18, Crossroads School (Santa Monica)
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Sasha’s friends (from left to right): Poppy Jackson, Alex Givner, Jessica Breslow and Emily Hacker, all 17 from Crossroads School.
Photo by Sasha Jones, 18, Crossroads School (Santa Monica)

Los Angeles is not exactly the ideal city for nature excursions. There are days when the only greenery I come across are weeds poking out of the cracks in the pavement and yellowing grass framing the sidewalks. On those days I find myself craving a cool grove of trees and a tall, thick meadow.

But Los Angeles has its secrets. If you know where to go, there are beautiful pockets of hiking terrain just beyond the streets and highways. Luckily, I’ve been raised in an outdoorsy family—on vacations, we pack into the minivan and escape to the mountains for a couple days. I’ve grown up discovering the hidden, woodsy corners of Los Angeles, and on one recent afternoon, my friends and I set out to explore Will Rogers State Historic Park, off of Sunset Boulevard in the Pacific Palisades.

Before setting out, there are a number of essentials for a day hike. Los Angeles is a desert, so it’s likely to be hot and dry. I filled up a large water bottle and slathered myself with sunscreen, SPF 45. I chose to wear shorts instead of light pants to avoid overheating. This isn’t a strenuous hike, but the L.A. heat can be overwhelming no matter what you’re doing. Now that I was properly equipped, I set out to meet my friends and leave behind the city.

At the end of a slightly narrow, windy road off Sunset, I chatted with the parking attendant, only to find out that the parking fee was $7. I didn’t have enough money with me, so the attendant directed me to free parking just down the hill on side streets; I chose Villa Woods Drive. There is no fee for being dropped off or walking in. It is possible to take the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, Line 9, but odds are you’ll be worn out from the walk up the hill before you reach the park. My friends and I met in the parking lot, just above the polo field. A cool breeze inspired us to hit the trail right away.

The hike begins with a slight uphill with shady spots for water breaks. Five minutes into our hike, we spotted a couple deer in a nearby meadow. We stopped to watch them munching in the grass, enjoying seeing wild animals in a somewhat natural habitat. Continuing on, the trail became a little steeper, but we kept hiking without much difficulty. While we all have hiking experience, it hadn’t been recently, so we had regressed to beginner status. We walked at a relaxed pace, with occasional water breaks. After about 25 minutes, we made it with energy to spare up the one and a half miles to Inspiration Point, the highlight of the hike.

Sasha Jones, intrepid hiker.

Photo by Alex Givner, 17, Crossroads School

Inspiration Point is a plateau overlooking Los Angeles and the ocean. After walking up a dusty trail surrounded by chaparral and other desert plants, we had an overwhelming view of downtown, the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding mountains. Luckily, it was a fairly clear day, so we could see the ocean without too much smoggy haze. We stood there for a while, refueling on trail mix and contemplating the view. Looking out from Inspiration Point, it felt like we were on an island, an oasis of natural landscape being edged in upon by the bustling city. The plateau, the ocean and the mountains seemed to be waging a war against the urban sprawl, bravely defending their right to exist. We rested a while longer, savoring the gentle wind. There are other trails stemming off from the Inspiration Point path, but unfortunately, my friends and I didn’t have time to explore them deeper. Overall, we spent an hour and a half on the trail, walking at a leisurely pace.

Back down at the parking lot, we felt energized and eager to discover other hiking spots to build up our endurance. Inspiration Point is perfect for the rookie hiker, a mild trail that will prepare you for more rigorous hiking. So grab a water bottle, slap on some sunscreen and get inspired!

To find hikes throughout Southern California check out localhikes.com.

Click on the "Hiking the Punch Bowl" link above Sasha’s story to read about a more advanced hike you can try in Ventura County.