Though spring coaxes forth wildflowers, the best hikes in Santa Monica are equally enthralling in the fall and winter.
Though spring coaxes forth wildflowers, the best hikes in Santa Monica are equally enthralling in the fall and winter. The Santa Monica Mountains, a stunning coastal range with one of the largest protected Mediterranean-type ecosystems in the United States, are home to 15,000 acres of recreational space. Both veteran hikers and casual wanderers can find endless opportunities for exploration and rejuvenation, from stumbling upon ruins in Solstice Canyon to encountering the many plant species and animal species that call the region home.
With over one hundred hikes, there are nearly limitless possibilities to discover glimpses into Southern California’s past and untouched wilderness. While we recommend all of them, here are some of our top recommendations for spending time in nature.
SOLSTICE CANYON LOOP - 3.2 MILES
Winding through the Malibu hills, Solstice Canyon offers an accessible escape into the Southern California wilderness — and its history. The short hike features various ruins you can walk around in, pools, a picnic area and a waterfall. There are countless hidden treasures to explore, including the oldest still-standing stone building in Malibu. The Rising Sun Trail brings you to an outlook with stunning views of the surrounding area.
SOSTOMO/DEER VALLEY LOOP TRAIL - 6.3 MILES
A strenuous workout with knockout views, this Malibu loop begins on the Solstice Canyon trail and branches off for an extraordinary oasis. Wild parrots roost in the trees, streams babble underfoot throughout the journey, and the crests grant you unparalleled views of the coast. After your hike, make sure to visit nearby Corral Beach, a popular spot for surfers with diverse underwater life.
MALIBU LAKE TRAIL - 6.6 MILES
Exquisite any time of year, Malibu Creek State Park offers the perfect wilderness escape in fall and winter, with over 30 miles of trails. One of the area’s most popular hikes, the Malibu Lake Trail winds along Malibu Creek, culminating at Malibu Lake, for an enchanting picnic. Several shorter and easier hikes offer more family-friendly options, including the M*A*S*H* site, where the popular show was filmed in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
CORRAL CANYON LOOP - 2.3 MILES
An immersive foray into Southern California’s untouched natural scenery, the Corral Canyon Loop takes hikers through the eponymous park, which stretches between Malibu Creek State Park and Dan Blocker Beach. From willows gracing the beginning of the trail to panoramas of the ocean and canyon framed by purple sage, the loop is family-friendly, pristine, and view-oriented.
MUGU PEAK TRAIL - 5 MILES (EXTENDED LOOP), 2.7 MILES (DIRECT PATH)
This intermediate trail takes you along the south face of Mugu Peak on a breathtaking journey to the summit. A direct way takes you to the peak faster — and offers a dose of cardio — while the demanding loop nearly doubles the mileage but gives you more time to observe the rolling mountainsides and Pacific sprawling beneath you. Cooler weather will offset the lack of shade, and we recommend visiting in the evening for spectacular sunsets over the ocean.
For continued adventuring, explore Point Mugu State Park’s other hikes — 70 miles of trails in total — and cinematic topography of bluffs, sand dunes and sycamore-studded valleys.
GROTTO TRAIL - 2.5 MILES
Winding among boulders and alongside a creek, the Grotto Trail is classically California while sparking a sense of wonder. The path leads you to the grotto, which features a small, seasonal waterfall, pool, and hidden caves. The hike is vibrant with wildflowers in springtime, but winter’s (relatively) cooler weather is optimal for exploring the meadows, ringed by the surrounding mountain peaks.
LOS LIONES TRAIL - 4.4 MILES
The more rigorous Los Liones trail rewards those willing to hike up the canyon, one overseen by ivy-festooned trees. Find an enchanting respite on a bench perched above the Pacific, with vistas of Santa Monica down to Palos Verdes Peninsula and Catalina Island. Bring plenty of water: the higher elevations lack shade on sunnier days.
*All mileage thanks to Alltrails, and may vary depending on routes taken