10 Natural Wonders Near Los Angeles
Despite the city's tall buildings and traffic, there's plenty of nature to explore in the area.
Forget what you know about rush-hour traffic, award shows, and pipe dreams of stardom, because Hollywood already has glimmering natural gems of its own. Here's where to escape the smoggy skyline.
Virginia Robinson Gardens
The six-acre historic landmark is rife with history and tranquil multilevel gardens, but the stunner is its King Palm Forest, an unexpected surprise that resides within the ritziest of zip codes, Beverly Hills. Forming a jungle, the endless canopy of fronds creates a shaded climate differing from the surroundings. Property tours, while infrequent, are tricky to book but worth it: Two-hour visits to the 107-year-old expanse also include views of its rose garden, formal lawns, and tennis court overflowing with bougainvillea.
Getty Villa Herb Garden
J. Paul Getty’s ode to classic architecture often gets lost in the shadow of its larger, tourist-friendly sister museum, but the oceanside property based on Herculaneum’s Villa dei Papiri bears fruit, literally. Set off California’s Pacific Coast Highway, the curated Roman gardens throughout impress, but its small herb garden remains a highlight. Wormwood, marjoram, and five iterations of mint serve as examples of herbs used for past-era medicine and seasonings. Also find fig, pomegranate, and other varied fruit trees reminiscent of Mediterranean landscapes. Admission is complimentary but must be reserved in advance. (Here are 9 must-see stops on California's Pacific Coast Highway.)
Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine
Lush and peaceful, tucked within Pacific Palisades’ mountainous basin, this spring-fed lake is nothing short of a lush Californian oasis beyond the desert. Walkways lined with waterfalls, colorful flowers, and towering palm trees provide a vaguely tropical oasis, while waterfront lookouts to swans, ducks, and turtles only add to the allure. The 10-acre, non-denominational fellowship property, run by a non-profit organization and open to the public, is intended for peaceful reflection and meditation, allowing the lakeside botanic garden to remain a wondrous secret.
From scenic outlooks to serene retreats, Greystone Mansion and its surrounding gardens retain the impeccable landscape from its heydey as a private estate in the late 1920s. A traditional English lawn edged by roses and a manicured walkway bordered by towering Cypress trees are reminiscent of European villa design, while the rock creek and lower pond filled with koi fish and red-eared turtles remember a time when a waterfall cascaded down the property. The surface hides a reservoir underground, supplying water throughout Beverly Hills. Both the grounds and parking are free to visit, and informative tours of the castle interiors can be booked online.
01 los angeles hollywood sign
Joggers on Mount Lee huff past the famous Hollywood sign that, for many, symbolizes L.A. For author Andrew McCarthy it marks L.A. as “a singular place … a playground for possibility … [a] dream factory.”
Read “L.A. Dreamin’” in the November-December issue of National Geographic Traveler.
Los Angeles offers plentiful—and popular—hikes throughout the area, but the trails north in Pasadena’s 190-acre nature preserve feel far outside the city. Wildlife and nature abound at Eaton Canyon, but the highlight comes from crossing its rocky creeks and gentle stream to reach the trail’s natural waterfall, a stunning rustic sight.
The botanical gardens at this well-kept library are world-renown, but hold a treasured getaway amidst its 120 acres. Set between the thousands of succulents within the Desert Gardens and the shaded enclave of Huntington’s Jungle Garden, the Lily Ponds serves as a quiet sanctuary and one of the most idyllic places to enjoy nature in Southern California. Easy to miss due to the towering bamboo, find a breathtaking rose garden, traditional Japanese landscapes, and a colorful collection of subtropical plants.
James Irvine Japanese Garden
A gem inside the Little Tokyo neighborhood, this small recreation of a 16th century Japanese garden comes complete with maple trees, black pine trees, and a stone waterfall. Only a half-acre, what this secret garden lacks in size it makes up for in whimsy. To reach it, one must take an elevator to the top of a Doubletree by Hilton hotel. Often used for weddings and events, when unoccupied, the traditional greenery offers unexpected respite from the business district’s neighboring skyscrapers.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Ballona Freshwater Marsh
As protected land just beyond the rising buildings of Silicon Beach, this Playa Del Vista habitat filled with winged inhabitants—like green herons, night herons, and killdeer—surround the bog just steps off a busy thoroughfare. A trail along the outskirts offers an unobstructed view and convenient last glance at Los Angeles while en route to the airport, but tours allow for a closer look, as well as opportunity to rehabilitate the marsh.
A secluded brook hidden off one of Hollywood’s most-congested streets, Fern Dell serves as a perfect entry point to a more aggressive climb towards the famed Griffith Park Observatory—or just a taste of the outdoors before hopping back on the 101. This quiet creek with an easy walking trail makes for a perfect pit stop on a busy day of sightseeing. Shady and lined with benches begging for romantic dates, the park's slow stream and unkempt greenery offers the feel of a shady forest. (Watch a wild motorcycle ride aross California's stunning landscapes).
Hidden within the winding residential streets of the Hollywood Hills, the Hollywood Reservoir gives a stunning view of the city skyline and a peek into the true beauty within Los Angeles’ expanse. Much of the surrounding path is fenced off, but the view from atop the Mulholland Dam is picturesque beyond reproach.