Few places in Southern California compete with Sandstone Peak when it comes to watching the day begin. Sunrise at this 3,111-foot summit—the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains—sheds light on the rugged Ojai backcountry, the hazy L.A. basin, and the high ridges of the San Gabriel Mountains. Six different Channel Islands are in view, even Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands, far to the north. For such an impressive summit, it's a surprisingly short (albeit fairly steep) hike to the top via a 1.5-mile section of the Backbone Trail that climbs 1,400 feet. Bring a flashlight; large chaparral shrubs form covered arches over parts of the trail, blocking dawn's light. The last ascent climbs a short stretch of steep volcanic rock, but the peaceful summit quickly quiets any huffing and puffing. Listen for the howling of coyotes in the distance while you watch a swift sunrise paint the sky in thick strokes of purples and pinks. Way to peak at the sun.
From PCH in Malibu, drive northwest to Yerba Buena Rd., 1.5 miles past Leo Carrillo State Park. Drive inland up Yerba Buena Rd. for 6.5 snaky miles to the marked turnout on the left for Sandstone Peak. (The trailhead is one mile east of the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station, which you will pass on the right hand side.) Hike 0.3 mile up the trail and make a left at the first junction onto the Backbone Trail; from here, it is 1.1 miles to the summit. Return the way you came. Dog-friendly!