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Pacific Palisades

Pacific Palisades
Pacific Palisades

© Jeri Koegel

If you head west on Sunset Boulevard to its very end when it widens and spills onto the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), you've just gone through the Palisades, as the locals call that tony enclave, Pacific Palisades. Or, if you're heading north on PCH, once you pass Chautauqua, a primary Palisadian artery that winds up into a leafy neighborhood of stately mansions, you're there. But however you get there, you'll know you've arrived.

Soccer moms in your four-wheel drive Lexus' and Volvos: you've come home, because if you have wealth and children and you want to live in LA, the Palisades is your dream come true. Home to numerous Hollywood luminaries, stunning ocean vistas from the famous bluffs, and the sumptuous J. Paul Getty Villa, the Palisades also has some old-fashioned, small-town charm. Its downtown is called simply "The Village" and really does feel like one, with mom-and-pop stores, lots of foot traffic, an independent bookstore, and a local hardware store. Its traditional 4th of July Parade, complete with marching bands, floats and cowboys, has welcomed a large crowd for over 30 years.

The Palisades encompasses several neighborhoods, each with its own flavor. The most modest is on the east side of Sunset called the Alphabet Streets, a grid design of tiny "starter" homes for about $1 million. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the ultra-exclusive, gated community of the Highlands where houses typically range up to $15 million. High above Sunset Blvd with access to several Topanga State Park trailheads, the area has stunning Pacific views and wooded privacy, attracting celebrities by the dozens, including Tom Hanks and Sally Field.

This kind of wealth means private schools, swanky country clubs, and a regular stream of south of the border nannies and maids. In fact, the local playground has more nanny types than stay-at-home moms, who are either enjoying a power lunch with a client or a session with their personal trainer.

While you may not hope to live this kind of glamorous lifestyle, you can drive through on your way to the coast and do a little hobnobbing with the jet set. Try Mick's Café on Swarthmore off Sunset, a relatively new European-style deli with outdoor dining that serves breakfast all day and makes a series of great Panini sandwiches. Another good spot is Café Vida on Antioch, with its charming, green awnings and California cuisine. Be sure to try its signature sweet potato fries. This place can get really crowded, however, so try to avoid the typical lunch hour rush.

And if you have a little time and you've brought your sneakers, check out some of the great local hikes after lunch. For a panoramic view of LA, try the Will Rogers Trail, accessible from the Will Rogers State Park on Sunset, starting at the park's entrance and ending at Inspiration Point where great views of the city are your reward. Another easy access point to the wilderness is Temescal Canyon with hikes ranging from one to five miles. Opposite Pacific Palisades High School (known as Pali to locals and this writer's alma mater), turn right on Temescal Canyon Road, and follow it to the end where you can park and then get on a trail. Or for a coastal jaunt instead, just head straight down Temescal Canyon Rd. to Will Rogers State Beach, a relatively uncrowded area between the Santa Monica Pier and the glitzier Malibu beaches to the north. If the parking lot is full or if you don't want to pay, park on Temescal Canyon and hoof it. If you're there on a typical, coastal summer day, the fog might even ensure some privacy, and then when it burns off, you'll have already staked out a spot.

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