Despite the faux natural impression presented by intermittent palm trees encased in cement along Los Angeles sidewalks, finding authentic beauty in LA doesn’t have to relate only to the make-up free faces of celebrities caught unaware or the glistening fruits and vegetables of a Whole Foods produce section. Even if you don’t have time to venture all the way to Big Bear or San Diego to hike across mountains or lounge on a sunny stretch of grass (you know, that soft green stuff that exists in city rarities called yards), LA offers a surprising amount of ways to escape stress and get into nature without leaving its city limits. It’s true! You can find peace without succumbing to the Kabbalah.
The Beach: No, I don’t mean Venice, Santa Monica, or even Manhattan. Due to tourists, nearby houses, hipster boardwalks, and students playing hooky, many of the bigger, more well known beaches of LA are often too busy and too crowded even at night to provide a quiet, relaxing experience. Unless you want to commune with nature through ocean sounds playing on your iPod, I recommend trying Marina Del Rey. Located in between Santa Monica and Venice, this beach has both surfing and swimming waters as well as plenty of quick places to grab a drink or a meal if you want to extend your escape. Sometimes this beach is so quiet I can even read, write, and—dare I admit it—study without distractions.
Griffith Park: It may be a popular destination, but it covers enough ground and offers enough entertainment possibilities (jogging, hiking, horseback riding, sunbathing, and dog walking, to name a few) that you tend not to encounter too many people in one spot if you avoid the observatory. Try the area by the old zoo for a somewhat haunting, yet relieving level of desertion. (Author’s Disclaimer: The old cages themselves are perfect for a creepy experience or a moment of privacy, but of course I don’t condone any illegal trespassing. Just discretion.)
Malibu Canyon: If biking up hills isn’t your ideal way of immersing yourself into nature, you can find a picnic spot (barbeques available for grilling and s’mores if there isn’t a fire risk warning) or indulge in a trail along the coast. The fire-stricken landscapes intermingled with the rocky coastline and the more inland sections of lush greenery contribute to a uniquely LA type of natural setting. A great place for photography and watching the sunset.
Mulholland Drive at Night: Roll down the windows, put on some Weezer or Jack Johnson, and enjoy being close to the city lights without feeling like they’re glaring at you. Designated look out spots provide easy parking, but there are numerous good places to pull to the side and sit on the hills by clusters of trees (yes, actual, large, not-bearing-palm-fronds trees) or ogle the ground lit pools and sculpted landscapes of Hollywood mansions. Choose your side of the crest—overlook LA or Studio City—or just drive slowly and revel in the lack of honking and chatter.
Ice Skating: While most likely the rink itself will be in the middle of LA Live or near a Beverly Hills mall, sometimes the experience of something so distinctly not associated with gritty city life will be enough of an illusion to make you feel as if you’re on a snowy New England lake instead of a temporary holiday gimmick. Just wait until the crowds of giggling kids have retired for the night and the temperature has dropped at least to cardigan-wearing digits for the indulgence to be a successful respite.
A Rooftop: If all else fails, any apartment complex will suffice. You’d be surprised how removed you feel as you watch little ants stuck on the 110 from a few stories up, even if you’re in the heart of urban chaos on the top floor of a parking garage. Despite the slightly smog tinged wind, everything seems quieter, more in control, from an aerial perch. Take a deep breath and realize how taking a few steps up can magically dull the hassle on the streets below.