Right up there with substitute teachers and show-and-tell, field trips were a highlight of the good-old school days. Escape the workspace for a getaway to any of these lush oases among urbanity. No permission slip needed!

Rustic Canyon Murphy Ranch Stairway
The phrase "step outside" takes on a whole new meaning as you drop into L.A.’s "Big Wild", a vast urban wilderness that harbors a hidden stairway. Seek it out on a 3-mile (round-trip) hike that utilizes Topanga State Park’s Rustic Canyon entry point. Start the hike on Sullivan Fire Road for a gradual climb overlooking homes that cling to the cliff sides. Just under half of a mile up the road, you'll reach the Rustic Canyon entrance sign for Topanga State Park. Continue on the oak-dotted paved road for about 15 minutes. Keep an eye out for a break in the chain-link fence, cueing you to follow the dirt path to the top of the stairs that leads to Murphy Ranch, a 50-acre compound supported by Nazi sympathizers in the 1930s. The ranch has since become ruins. Even the most advanced stair climber (or runner) will need to use caution on the descent. The 500+ steps have a shorter rise than standard stairs, which can be a real trip-up on the trip down to Rustic Canyon (a twisted ankle in the Big Wild can be a big pain). Rustic Creek runs year round along the bottom of the canyon and an old, partially paved road leads to the ruins about a quarter-mile in.

Take I-405 to Sunset Blvd. and drive west for 3 miles to Capri Dr. Turn right and drive 2/3 of a mile through a traffic circle to the top of Capri Dr. at Casale Rd. There is street parking to the right and Sullivan Ridge fire road begins to the left. After entering Topanga State Park, continue walking for about 15 minutes until you come to a break in the chain-link fence toyour left. Walk through the fence to the top of the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, turn left and follow Rustic Creek up to the ruins. Return the way you came. No dogs. Photo courtesy of Scott Schmitz.

Huntington Botanical Gardens
Exotic varieties take a back seat to native blooms on a garden stroll at Huntington Botanical Gardens near Pasadena. Towering yuccas and cacti are current favorites on the 207-acre property with fourteen nipped and tucked gardens. Head for the 10-acre Desert Garden where hundreds of Golden Barrel Cacti resemble massive, round pincushions with yellow buds—some weighing several hundred pounds! The whip-like Ocotillo plant is identifiable by its thin branches with red lobe flowers that appear in clusters at the tip. Yuccas dominate the garden's lower side, with some California natives reaching 60 feet. Meander to the palm trees, one of the broadest representations of its species in the state. The California Fan Palm is the only native palm to Southern California (not to be confused with the Canary Island date palms that frequent many Los Angeles boulevards). For a splash of international flair, visit the gardens containing Australian eucalypti and manicured bonsai trees.

BONUS: Relax at the Chinese Tea Room and sample traditional Silver Dragon Jasmine tea while overlooking the Liu Fang Yuan (loosely translated: "Garden of Flowering Fragrance"). Outdoor seating overlooks a pond and gondolas designed in authentic detail.

Take the I-110 Freeway until it ends in Pasadena and becomes Arroyo Pkwy. Continue on Arroyo for 3 traffic signals to California Blvd. Turn right on California and right again at a traffic signal on Allen Ave. Follow for two blocks to the Huntington Botanical Garden’s Gate. Entry is $20 on weekends for adults, $10 for students with ID, and free for children under 5. Parking is free. Open 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends. Complimentary guided tours are offered every weekend between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. for the flora curious. No dogs.

Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve
Before freeways and mini-malls, the San Fernando Valley was an oasis of streams and lakes surrounded by mountains, where Great Blue Herons and Red-tailed Hawks outnumbered people. Lucky for us, the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve retains this wild setting despite its proximity to urban bustle. Take refuge on a 2.5-mile (round-trip) loop highlighting some of its best features. Golden currant, California Blackberries and weeping willows line the dirt trail while sycamores provide a canopy of shade. The expansive lake attracts birds of all feathers: Canada geese that passed over Customs; preening Pelicans and egrets; and Double-crested Cormorant that spread their black wings before making the plunge for afternoon snacks. Arcing wood bridges beckon with their storybook charm, but there’s no fairy tale on the other side—just dead ends. Stick to the main path and take a seat on one of the benches near rustling Haskell Creek. History buffs can brush up on the reserve’s roots by reading displays along the path. Trees thin out toward the end of the trail, making room for purple and yellow sage. Trails venture in each direction for those who wish to step off the main path in search of their own Sepulveda sightseeing adventure. Go wild.

TIP: Inspiring ornithologists: the San Fernando Audubon Society leads bird walks on the first Sunday of each month at 8 a.m.

Take I-405 to exit 64 at Burbank Blvd. Turn left on Burbank, continue for .2 miles and make a right on Woodley Ave. Follow the signs for the Japanese Gardens, and turn right at the fork to head to the Wildlife Reserve (turn left for the lake). Parking is free near the cricket field. Walk south to the end of the field for the entrance to the wildlife areas. Follow the main, marked trail for a 2.5-mile loop. No dogs. Photo courtesy of Marc Tony Smith.