You’ve likely heard the iconic 1980s lyrics from Missing Persons that “nobody walks in LA.” Like so many one-liners that resonate, there is some truth to this — Los Angeles was undoubtedly built for cars.
And, while we could argue that the city is a great place for hiking, why not take a drive and enjoy the scenery?
The city of Los Angeles covers an astonishing 500 miles. Within its boundaries you’ll find mountains, the coast, urban density and storied boulevards. Greater Los Angeles encompasses even more varied terrain, all of which is easily accessible from the city.
Whether you want nature, cultural heritage, history, a great city overlook or plain and simple beauty, the city and its surroundings offer a bit of everything.
Southern California generally has great weather year-round, so whatever the season, roll down your windows, start up some jams and head off to one of the most beautiful scenic drives near Los Angeles.
1. Angeles Crest Scenic Byway
Why you should go: Easy access to fresh mountain air, alpine scenery, spectacular views and great hiking.
- Distance: 50 miles, if stopping at Switzer Falls, 66 miles if stopping at Wrightwood
- Drive time without stops: Approximately 2 hours (there and back)
From the town of La Cañada, the Angeles Crest Scenic Byway winds its way through the San Gabriel Mountains, making it a favorite drive for motorists and motorcycles for its curves and incredible vistas. Make sure to stop at one of the many overlooks to take in the canyon and city views.
You’ll also want to stop at the historic Mount Wilson Observatory, considered “the most productive observatory in history.” Depending on the day, you can tour the observatory, grab a bite at the Cosmic Cafe or check out rotating exhibits about astronomy and the historic facility.
If you’d like to make it a full day in the mountains, the Switzer Falls trailhead is also located just off this route at the Switzer Falls Picnic area. The 4.5-mile out-and-back trail takes you through a wooded canyon alongside a mountain stream to reach a 50-foot waterfall.
Related Read: 11 Unique Places to Stay in Southern California
2. Mulholland Drive
Why you should go: Classic Los Angeles drive steeped in Hollywood lore — and even has a movie named after it.
- Distance: 21 miles to the 405 Freeway, or 55 miles to the Pacific Ocean
- Drive time without stops: Approximately 55 minutes
Mulholland Drive is a Los Angeles icon, following the ridgeline of the Santa Monica Mountains through the Hollywood Hills. It was opened in 1924 and named after William Mulholland, the civil engineer who masterminded the scheme to get water into the growing city, allowing it to become the great metropolis it is today.
Mostly residential, Mulholland Drive takes you through some of LA’s most exclusive neighborhoods and showcases superb views of the Los Angeles Basin, the San Fernando Valley, downtown Los Angeles and even the Hollywood sign.
Many of these homes are the residences of celebrities, as well as the directors, musicians and producers of Tinsel Town. The road crisscrosses many of the canyons that give these homes their secluded nature and quirky builds. Fans of the 60s and 70s folk music might choose to drive down Laurel Canyon towards Hollywood, where this scene blossomed.
Access Mulholland Drive off Highway 101 at Cahuenga Boulevard and take it to the the 405 Freeway (for a shorter route) or finish your cruise through rural scenery all the way to the Pacific.
Editor’s Note: The map below is our best attempt at recreating the route on Google Maps, but it is not 100% accurate. Use it as a rough guide for creating an enjoyable day on Mulholland Drive.
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3. California State Route 126 from Santa Clarita to Ventura
Why you should go: Travel through a bucolic valley covered in historic orchards to get a glimpse of Old California.
- Distance: 40 miles
- Drive time without stops: 45 minutes
Everyone needs to get out of the city now and then, and the bohemian LA crowd often looks to the artsy hamlet of Ojai. Take the backdoor route through soft rolling hills of the Heritage Valley.
This rural area beckons simpler times with its historic groves of avocado and citrus trees, still producing today. You’ll pass through the quaint towns of Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru where you’ll find museums, antique shops, bakeries and restaurants, as well as a working vintage train, ranches and produce stands.
Visit a historic Spanish-Mexican rancho at Mulholland Drive and pick up local fruits of vegetables at Prancer’s Farm and Bennett’s Honey Farm. If you’d like to check out Ojai, turn up Highway 150 and stop at the family owned Boccali’s for pizza and fresh squeezed citrus straight from the orchard.
If you continue the 126 to Ventura, you’ll pass through produce fields, many strawberry patches (after all, this is the Strawberry Coast) and the surfing town of Ventura on the Pacific. Wherever you end up, enjoy the slower pace of life in the country.
Related Read: 7 Beautiful Camping Spots in Mammoth Lakes, California
4. Arroyo Seco Parkway to Rose Bowl Stadium
Why you should go: This road is all about history as the prototype for the Los Angeles freeway system.
- Distance: 12 miles
- Drive time without stops: 20 minutes
Connecting Dodger Stadium and the Rose Bowl Stadium is a unique California roadway: the oldest freeway in the state, and the third oldest in the nation. The first thing you’ll notice is that the Arroyo Seco Parkway is far windier than any other freeway you’ve ever driven. It was built in an era when cars weren’t going much faster than 45 miles per hour.
Start in Chinatown and head north on the 110 freeway towards Pasadena. You’ll bypass Dodger Stadium, Heritage Square (where many Victorian homes of the city were moved for preservation) and the trendy neighborhood of Highland Park.
Along this corridor, which follows an arroyo (dry river), one of America’s most important hamlets of artists and craftsmen of the Arts and Crafts movement was born. To see a little bit of what this once looked like, exit at Orange Grove and head north (take a left) to Bellefontaine Street. Hang a left again on Bellefontaine until you hit Arroyo Drive and head north again towards the San Gabriel Mountains.
Follow the tree lined street with historic homes and a cozy vibe. The road passes the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center— home of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the historic Arts and Crafts style Gamble House. You’ll end at the Rose Bowl Stadium, home of the famed Rose Bowl Flea Market and New Year’s Day Rose Bowl.
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5. Griffith Park
Why you should go: Considered the “wild heart of Los Angeles,” Griffith Park is full of history, city icons and natural beauty.
- Distance: 3.5 miles
- Drive time without stops: 15 minutes
For anyone curious about science, space exploration or seeing a Tesla coil, the Depression-era observatory is well worth a stop — and free. Just outside the Art Deco building, snap a selfie with a sculpture of James Dean (honoring a scene shot here for Rebel without a Cause) and enjoy superb views of the city below.
Continue on the drive to Trails Cafe, an outdoor eatery with good treats and a chill vibe in a forested setting. This quiet retreat will make you forget you are in one of the biggest cities in the world. From Trails, check out the 1/2 mile walk in the Ferndell, a lush trail of plentiful shade and tropical plants following a small stream.
6. Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica to Malibu’s Zuma Beach
Why you should go: Think surfers, palm trees and sandy beaches — this coastal roadway epitomizes Southern California’s laid back, beach front lifestyle.
- Distance: 20 miles
- Drive time without stops: 45 minutes
If you’ve never driven the coast from Santa Monica to Malibu, you’ve certainly seen it featured in films, commercials and TV shows.
This classic Los Angeles route takes you up the Pacific Coast Highway — known as the PCH to locals — and straight through the heart of LA’s beach culture. To get in on the action, there are plenty of beaches to stop at along the way.
While you won’t be able to access the beachfront property along the route, the Getty Villa is a world class museum of ancient art and antiquities, housed in a remake of a Roman villa on the Mediterranean coast. Entry to the museum is free, but parking is not and must be reserved.
Two historic piers are along this route, Santa Monica Pier and Malibu Pier, both of which offer fishing (no permit needed), epic views, shopping and restaurants. The Santa Monica Pier, which is the bigger of the two, is also home to Pacific Park, an amusement park with rides, arcades and a Ferris wheel.
Related Read: The Ultimate Los Angeles to San Francisco Road Trip
7. Sunset Boulevard from Echo Park to the Santa Monica Shore
Why you should go: History, iconic stops and famous neighborhoods, with a chance to see the length of Los Angeles in all of its grit and glory.
- Distance: 22 miles
- Drive time without stops: 1 hour 15 minutes
It’s only 22 miles from downtown Los Angeles to the Santa Monica shore, but Sunset Boulevard feels as if it contains the whole world.
You’ll pass through the hip neighborhoods of Echo Park and Silver Lake, the storied institutions of Hollywood, through the heart of the Sunset Strip, past the riches of Beverly Hills and skirt the campus of UCLA before you make it into Santa Monica.
Just like the old Route 66 (which shares some of the same road), Sunset Boulevard ends at the shores of the Pacific Ocean on the famed Pacific Coast Highway. If you are hoping to see some Hollywood icons, such as the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now called the TCL Chinese Theater) and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, pop onto Hollywood Boulevard (to the north) at Hillhurst Avenue and get back onto Sunset at La Brea Avenue (or any of the next few streets).
Related Read: 9 Stunning Hikes Near Malibu, California
8. Palos Verdes Peninsula
Why you should go: Stunning wild coastline, majestic views and a relatively quick drive from much of the city.
- Distance: 14 miles on Palos Verdes Drive from San Pedro
- Drive time without stops: 45 minutes
The Palos Verdes peninsula in southern Los Angeles is a perfect spot to catch a sunrise or sunset.
This wild coastline in the suburbs of Rancho Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills Estates is also perfect for spotting surfers, whales and dolphins, with plenty of stops to pull over and snap some pictures of the stunning beauty. Locals call this enviable area the PV for short, from which you can glimpse Malibu to the north and Catalina Island to the south.
Start in San Pedro at The Korean Bell of Friendship, a gift from Korea to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial, and site of a scene from the 1995 film The Usual Suspects. Head north to West 25th Street, which turns into Palos Verdes Drive when you hang a left.
Stop by Wayfarers Chapel, a simple but stunning Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structure of glass and stone set in a redwood grove. The Point Vicente Lighthouse is up next, where you might be able to see some migrating gray whales between January to April. Continue the drive to any beach to the north (there are many starting from Redondo Beach up to the beaches of Malibu) and make a day of it on the coast.
Related Read: 8 Epic Weekend Road Trips from Los Angeles, California
9. Pacific Coast Highway from Seal Beach to Dana Point
Why you should go: The classic flavor of SoCal with beach vibes, beautiful views and quaint hamlets waiting to be explored.
- Distance: 37 miles
- Drive time without stops: 1 hour 20 minutes
There’s a lot to take in along the 37 miles of the Orange County coastline between Seal Beach and Dana Point, but this route isn’t necessarily about collecting experiences, or — thanks to its traffic lights — getting anywhere fast.
The Pacific Coast Highway in Orange County is all about grooving on the SoCal lifestyle. With so many places to do this, you’ll have to pick and choose your stops. For a nature excursion, check out the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, a 1,300 acre coastal estuary and birding hotspot.
In Newport Beach, Crystal Cove State Park and Beach is a beautiful and historic hideaway with a wide open sandy beach, tide pools, vintage surf shacks and a great restaurant on the shore. Next up you’ll hit Laguna Beach, a charming beach town with plenty of chances to shop, eat and people watch.
At the end of the route is Dana Point, named The Dolphin & Whale Watching Capital of the World® for its fantastic opportunities for sea mammal viewing.
You can hop on I-5 to get home on the fast route, and if you do, check out San Juan Capistrano, home of the old Spanish mission of the same name along with the Los Rios Historic District that surrounds it.
Where to Go Next in California
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