Southern California Peak Hikes, Bike Ride


Points of View

Fresh perspectives are everywhere if you know how to find them. Here are three great ways to reach some of Southern California’s finest vantage points—all with views along the way. Rise up!

Bertha Peak Big Bear

Big Bertha

Right around this time of year, ski-bunny hangout Big Bear Lake transforms into a high-altitude hiking haven. Plenty of trails crisscross the San Bernardino Mountains here, but if you only have time for one hike, the 7.5-mile roundtrip to 8,200-foot Bertha Peak richly delivers the goods. Pine forest, meadows, the shining blue lake below, and snow-dusted mountains on the horizon are highlights of the 1,300-foot elevation you’ll gain to reach the peak. After heading out on Cougar Crest Trail through a forest of tall Jeffrey pines, the wide path narrows and switches up Bertha’s south slope. Benches along the way offer peek-a-boo views of the lake through the pinyon pines and manzanitas. At 2.5 miles, you’ll hit the ridge top and turn right to make your footprint on a small section of the famed 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Enjoy the open vistas before turning right again on Bertha Peak Road and following a marker toward the summit. You’ll tackle 500 vertical feet in less than a mile on the final thigh-burning push to the finish, but the effort is rewarded with 360-degree views down over Holcomb Valley to the north and the snow-tipped San Gorgonio Mountain to the south. That blue ribbon far below? That’s Big Bear Lake—glinting like it's winking at your king-of-the-mountain moment. Bertha bagged!

TIP: Before heading out, stop by Mountain Munchies (42171 1/2 Big Bear Blvd.) and toss a hearty deli sandwich with names like the Backpacker or the Trails End into your pack.

A $5 Adventure Pass is required to park at the Cougar Crest Trailhead. You’ll find the trail on North Shore Dr., just west of the Big Bear Discovery Center. From Big Bear, take Route 18 east to the Stanfield Cutoff. Cross the lake, turn left, and drive 1.6 miles on North Shore Dr. to the well-marked trailhead. Dog-friendly!

Hike Hollywood Sign Cahuenga Peak

Walk of Fame

We’ve all seen the Hollywood Sign from the freeway, but how many have seen the views from the big white letters? All it takes to catch what you’ve been missing is a 3-mile round-trip hike on Wonder View Trail. The rugged rock-and-dirt trail gets down to business immediately, gaining 900 feet via a series of switchbacks. After this, things get a lot tamer. Stride along a ridgeline to the top of Cahuenga Peak, taking in broad views of the San Fernando Valley. Golden patches of monkey flower mark a summit rich with history. In the 1940s, Howard Hughes purchased this peak with plans to build a home for Ginger Rogers. When she called off their engagement, he called off construction. (In 2010, the peak was donated to Griffith Park.) Continue on to the slightly shorter Mount Lee, dropping across a saddle with unobstructed views of the Hollywood letters towering above the city. At the end of the trail, maneuver around a fence and walk up the paved service road for a behind-the-scenes look at the letters. The blockbuster view takes in the Hollywood Reservoir, the Griffith Observatory, and downtown. That's a wrap!

Near the Cahuenga Pass, exit the 101 at Barham Blvd. and drive north 1/3 of a mile. Turn right onto Lake Hollywood Dr. and take this winding road for half a mile. Park at the intersection with Wonder View Dr. and begin walking up Wonder View. After .25-mile mile, the pavement ends. Pass under the power lines and turn right, heading east up an unmarked singletrack. Wear pants; there’s calf-scratching brush along the trail. Dog-friendly!

Bike San Vicente Mountain Park

Panorama Pedal

A Cold War base once used for sighting enemy aircraft is bound to have panoramic views. And luckily those views haven’t gone to waste on San Vicente Mountain Park, where a decommissioned radar tower offers peaceful vistas. Some weekends it’s possible to drive right onto the base-turned-park from an unpaved section of Mulholland Drive, but for a more scenic and adventurous trip put your mettle to pedal on a 4-mile round-trip mountain bike ride that climbs from Mandeville Canyon in Brentwood. The dirt road starts out steep but levels out as you ride up the west side, passing suspension towers and catching expanding views down into a canyon cradled by tall green ridges. At the top of the road, turn right and bike the last half-mile along the spine of the ridge to San Vicente Mountain, 2 miles and 675 vertical feet from the start. From 1956 to 1968, this mountain was used as a military defense site to protect LA from soviet attacks. The base was shut down when the technology became outdated, but the tower is still in service for other purposes and the mountain’s history is explained on faux military signs. Climb up to the viewing platform to enjoy views that sweep south over Los Angeles, west over the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, north over the San Fernando Valley, and east toward the higher San Gabriels. Keep this one on your radar.

From the 405 in Brentwood, exit Sunset Blvd. and drive 2.3 miles west. Turn right on Mandeville Canyon Rd. and drive north for 4.8 miles. Turn left on Garden Lane Rd. and park. The trail begins on the left. After half a mile, stay to the right through an unmarked junction with a dead-end utility road. At the top of the road, turn right for the last half-mile. Return down the way you came. Dog-friendly!

Griswolding the Central Coast

Pack up the station wagon and head to a summer vacation offering more thrills than a Wally World rollercoaster. Just a few hours from Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo is a Central Coast base camp bursting with family-friendly adventures and budget friendly deals. Bring bikes, strollers, or both and wheel along the paved Bob Jones Trail through woods paralleling San Luis Creek. Roll into Avila, home to a serene beach, a bustling pier, and the interactive Avila Beach Sea Life Center. Just north at San Simeon, things get wild as giant elephant seals and their pups lounge and shuffle on white sandy beaches. Or take to the hills on one of San Luis Obispo’s many hiking and biking trails—some leaving right from town. Lace up the boots for the flower-filled Irish Hills and get gorgeous views of lush Los Osos Valley and locals’ favorite, Bishop Peak. Those wanting to get on the water can kayak to Morro Rock, a long-extinct volcano formed millions of years ago. Whatever affordable itinerary you choose, San Luis Obispo will get everyone smiling for the family photo. Say, “Griswold”!

BONUS: Visit San Luis Obispo on the house. Enter to win this month’s drawing for a 2-night getaway. 
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