Things to do in Santa Monica

Santa Monica Hikes: A Trailblazing Adventures Awaits

Step into the great outdoors with these Santa Monica hikes! Santa Monica Mountains hiking trails offer inspiring views and unforgettable adventures.

When compiling your list of things to do in Santa Monica, don’t forget to include the beautiful hiking trails in the nearby Topanga State Park and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. With glorious views of the ocean and mountains, these Santa Monica hikes are waiting to be discovered!

Most Popular Hiking Trails

Discover the allure of the great outdoors with our roundup of the most popular hiking trails near Santa Monica. With diverse landscapes, waterfalls, and miles of trails to enjoy, these routes are local favorites. If you’re looking for outdoor things to do in Santa Monica, these hiking trails deserve a place on your list.

1. Los Leones Trail

Let’s dive into our first adventure, the Los Leones Trail. It’s only a 15-minute drive from Santa Monica, so it's one of the most popular trails in the area.

Despite its proximity to civilization, this trail offers a challenging ascent that will have your calves burning. Fear not! The breathtaking views are worth every drop of sweat. The trail is tough but short at only 1.3 miles in length. We suggest giving yourself a couple of hours to appreciate your surroundings and snap a selfie or two.

The hike is free. Note that some people have had issues with car crime in the parking lot, so we recommend leaving valuables at home or bringing them with you on the trail.

2. Paramount Ranch

Many famous movies and TV shows have filmed at Paramount Ranch, including Westworld and American Sniper. You can tread in the footsteps of big-name actors when you visit this site, which also features many scenic trails.

One easy and popular hiking trail in Paramount Ranch is the perimeter loop trail, which is just over 2 miles long and has relatively easy terrain. Most people complete it in less than an hour.

Paramount Ranch is free to access and located conveniently close to Santa Monica. Depending on traffic conditions, you should be able to complete the 24-mile drive in about half an hour.

Photographer: shornwood

3. Point Mugu State Park Trails

There are many miles of trails crisscrossing Point Mugu State Park, providing visitors with great views and the chance to spot all kinds of critters.

Our favorite? The Sycamore Canyon Fire Road, which winds through the bottom of the canyon between Newbury Park and the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a gentle hike without any steep sections, although you'll have to cross a shallow stream.

At nearly 9 miles long, it’s a great trail if you want to spend a few hours exploring the great outdoors. Don’t worry about nature’s call. There are bathrooms at the Satwiwa Native American Indian Cultural Center and at a state campground at the south end of the trail.

The trailhead is about 40 miles from Santa Monica. To account for traffic, budget an hour for the drive. Parking is free at the Wendy trailhead, which is close to Potrero Road.

Easy Hiking Trails for Beginners

Escape the hustle and bustle of city life, and immerse yourself in nature's embrace with these easy Santa Monica hiking trails.

Then, once you’ve captured the beauty and serenity of nature, why not gaze back in time or satiate your scientific curiosity with our list of Santa Monica museums?

4. Inspiration Point Trail

Want great views of Mount Rainier, the largest of the Santa Monica Mountains? Then head to Inspiration Point Trail, a 2.2-mile loop in Will Rogers State Historic Park. It’s a pretty easy route, but give yourself at least an hour to complete it so you have time to take in the stunning views.

Along the way, you’ll see Will’s Ranch, which belonged to actor Will Rogers. If you visit on a Thursday, Friday, or weekend, you'll have the opportunity to tour the house.

There is limited free parking at the trail entrance, but if it is full, you might have to pay a small fee. Entry to the trail itself is free. The best part: The trailhead is only 5 miles from the heart of Santa Monica!

5. Escondido Falls Trail

Embark on a 3.5-mile escapade along the classic Escondido Falls Trail, which leads to Escondido Falls. The trail is easy to moderately difficult, and the views make the effort worthwhile.

Park at the Winding Way parking lot for a fee of $12, which is conveniently located less than 20 miles west of Santa Monica. Lace up your boots and prepare to be out on the trail for about three hours — plenty of time for an adventure!

Depending on the weather conditions, you might encounter a challenge as you navigate across the creek, which intersects with the trail at several points. However, the wetter your feet get, the more impressive the falls are likely to be.

Even if your feet aren't wet, please don’t attempt to climb to the top. The rocks are slippery and can be dangerous.

6. Bark Park Trail

Short and sweet at 1.2 miles, Bark Park Trail is a moderate trail that joins up with the New Millennium Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Less than a 30-mile drive from Santa Monica, this trail demands little in terms of skill level but rewards hikers greatly with views of the nearby mountains.

It begins in a bark park — hence the name — so expect to see plenty of happy dogs enjoying a day out with their humans. There’s no fee for this trail, and you can find plenty of parking at the bark park.

Photographer: Kayle Kaupanger

Hiking Trails With Scenic Views

Some Santa Monica Mountains hiking trails are all about the views. Even hand-curated trail maps don’t communicate how beautiful these lovely trails can be. Remember to bring plenty of water and sunscreen so you can linger at the viewpoints as long as you like.

7. Zuma Ridge Trail

Zuma Ridge Trail is moderately challenging but rewarding. Watch out for the animals that call this area home, including deer, coyotes, and rabbits. Hear a sound like a Ping-Pong ball bouncing? That’s the call of the wrentit, which flutters along the wildflowers like a nimble dancer.

The trail is 5.5 miles in length, and most people can complete it in a little over 3 hours. There’s free parking at the Kanan Trailhead parking lot or an overflow lot further along Kanan Dume Road.

You can access the Zuma Ridge Trailhead via a scenic 22-mile drive along the coast. This trail is popular with horseback riders and mountain bikers, so expect to see them out enjoying the beautiful California weather.

8. Ray Miller Trail

Drive 35 miles west along the coast from Santa Monica, and you’ll reach the La Jolla Canyon parking lot, where you can park for free. From here, you can explore the Ray Miller Trail.

The first part of the trail is narrow and steep, but once you get past this section, you’ve gained most of the elevation and can chill out for the rest of the day. Budget three hours to complete the 6.5-mile trail. Along the way, look out for Cholla cacti, which are rare in the Santa Monica Mountains.

9. La Tuna Canyon Trail

Nestled within the sprawling 1,100-acre expanse of La Tuna Canyon Park sits a gateway to the rugged upper reaches of the Verdugo Mountains. At the trailhead, adventurers are greeted with ample parking and inviting picnic tables, setting the stage for a day of exploration and enjoyment.

Meander on the moderate 2.2-mile trail, which begins its ascent from La Tuna Canyon Road. As you wind your way through canyons adorned with majestic oak and sycamore trees, prepare to be captivated by panoramic vistas.

From the towering peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains to the sprawling expanse of the San Fernando Valley and the iconic skyline of downtown Los Angeles, the views are nothing short of breathtaking. Expect to take a couple of hours to admire the views.

La Tuna Canyon Trail is a little over 30 miles from Santa Monica, and the park is free to enjoy.

Photographer: Jaden Dessureault

10. Temescal Canyon Trail

Although Temescal Canyon Trail is only two miles long, with an almost 1,000-foot elevation gain, it’s one of the more challenging trails in Temescal Gateway Park.

The park is only six miles from Santa Monica via the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s free to access the park and enjoy the many wonders of nature, from waterfalls to the scent of the forest that covers the canyon floor.

11. Santa Ynez Canyon Waterfall Trail

Fancy seeing some fascinating sandstone peaks and cliff gardens? If so, the 2.2-mile Santa Ynez Canyon Waterfall Trail is for you. It takes less than an hour, and the trailhead is about eight miles from Santa Monica, so you can easily sneak it in before one of our shows!

This trail isn’t particularly well-marked, which can make it challenging to follow, so be sure to bring a map. We recommend long pants, since the trail may be overgrown. Be prepared to push your way through.

The forested trail provides plenty of shade, providing respite from the sun on hot days. Escaping this wilderness will cost you nothing.

Challenging Trails

These suggestions are for experienced explorers who are looking for a more challenging trail. While these trails might feel difficult, you can reward yourself later with a lazy day on a Santa Monica beach. If you’re up to the task, lace up your boots and get going!

12. Rivas Canyon Loop

If you’re looking for something more demanding, check out the Rivas Canyon Loop. On paper, it might look easy at 2.1 miles in length and 480 feet of elevation. But don’t let those stats fool you. This challenging trail winds around the canyon base through dense vegetation that's verging on overgrown and crosses a stream.

You can get to Will Rogers State Historic Park via the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s five miles from Santa Monica, and the park is free to access.

13. Corral Canyon Loop Trail

You can complete the 2.4-mile Corral Canyon Loop Trail in no more than an hour and 15 minutes, which should be plenty of time to take in the beautiful ocean views. This trail is a great place for spotting wildflowers and wildlife, particularly the birds that soar overhead in the bright blue sky. There’s little shade here, so be sure to bring a hat.

The trail is challenging, especially when it rains. Parts of the trail might be washed out completely, leaving you with muddy boots and a memorable adventure.

You’ll pay $12 to park if you use the lot, but you can also park by the highway for free. To get to the trailhead, drive 15 miles west of Santa Monica along the Pacific Coast Highway.

14. Mishe Mokwa Trail to Split Rock

As lovers of precarious balances, we’re big fans of the Mishe Mokwa Trail to Split Rock. When you reach Split Rock, you’ll wonder how it manages to remain perched in place, but it’s been there for years without toppling. It’s as steady as our acrobats.

During the 3.5-mile hike, you’ll pass through riparian terrain filled with coastal sage scrub and chaparral. Don’t miss the chance to have a picnic in the shady oak grove. Give yourself between 1 and 3 hours to enjoy views of Carlisle Canyon.

This trail is free and open year-round. Gravel parking lots are available at the trailhead, 35 miles west of Santa Monica.

15. Backbone Trail Through Zuma Canyon

Descend into a canyon, and take the bridge over Zuma Creek on this adventure along Backbone Trail through Zuma Canyon. Look up at the mountains covered in chaparral as you traverse the 2.5-mile trail, the head of which is 30 miles from Santa Monica.

Once the trail leaves the canyon, it joins with Zuma Ridge Motorway. Here, you can continue your adventure. Or, you can head back the way you came to limit your hike to no more than a couple of hours.

The trail is free to enjoy. If you decide you want to stay overnight to enjoy the stars, you can camp at the nearby Musch Trail Camp for $7 per night. Parking costs $12 per car.

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16. Coyote Canyon Trail

We mentioned Paramount Ranch earlier. It's been the set of so many well-loved movies and TV shows, and it's right on the doorstep of Santa Monica. Coyote Canyon Trail is a short section of trail in this park, and it offers an hour or so of challenging hiking.

From the overlook, you get a great view of the ranch and the town used as the set of so many movies.

Keep Exploring: Your Next Hiking Adventure Awaits

We invite you to extend your adventure beyond the trails and into the realm of wonder and awe under our enchanting big top. Just as nature puts on a show for you on Santa Monica hikes, our spectacular shows in Santa Monica promise to inspire you and transform your mood into one of dizzying glee.

Join us for an unforgettable experience that will ignite your senses and leave you breathless. Let us dazzle you with our acrobatics, mesmerize you with our music, and inspire you with our artistry. Your journey awaits — strap on your hiking boots and step into the extraordinary!

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