Your Destination Guide to Los Angeles

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Top 10 Scenic Drives

Top 10 Scenic Drives
Top 10 Scenic Drives

© Sylvain Leprovost

With arguably the best weather and highest concentration of people and cars in the country, it's no surprise that Angelinos thrive on "Sunday drives". Sunshine, scenery and miles of macadam abound in California's largest urban area, and will test the limits of your automobile and attention span.

Quoting a song from the band R.E.M., "If you ever want to fly Mulholland Drive, I am alive. Hollywood is under me: I'm Martin Sheen; I'm Steve McQueen; I'm Jimmy Dean." On this paved, picturesque portion of LA, you're one of the stars of this cinematic and panoramic metropolis. Mulholland Drive is probably the most famous--and torturous--stretch, but plenty of others, both winding and straight, will leave you just as breathless and elated from the ride.

#10 #10

San Gabriel Canyon Rd, north of Azusa to

San Gabriel Canyon Rd, north of Azusa to

For a quick getaway, take San Gabriel Canyon Road, part of State Route 39, north of the San Gabriel Valley's I-210 and shadow its switchbacks. Race past two reservoirs and turn right onto East Fork Road. Adventurous hikers can park at its terminus and make a nine-mile round-trip trek to the 'Bridge to Nowhere'-an abandoned 1930s arch bridge turned bungee-jump site. The main route snakes on up to Crystal Lake, ending at a gate just beyond its turnoff. Landslides closed the last 4.4 miles connecting it to State Route 2, but for most, this is far enough.

#9

Wilshire Blvd: Vermont Ave to Santa Moni

Wilshire Blvd: Vermont Ave to Santa Moni

Slicing through the city's center is Wilshire Boulevard. At its eastern end, the mid-Wilshire district is essentially the neighborhood of Koreatown, and includes the art deco Wiltern Theatre at Western Ave. Next up is LA's own Miracle Mile, the one-mile length between La Brea and Fairfax avenues. El Rey Theatre, another art deco design, and Museum Row are its highlights. The row consists of car-centric Petersen Automotive Museum, modern LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), and anthropologic Page Museum with its bubbling La Brea Tar Pits. Beverly Hilton, home of the Golden Globe Awards, is at the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire, and a good place to stop after craning your neck to see the many high-rises.

#8

Griffith Observatory loop: Vermont Canyo

Griffith Observatory loop: Vermont Canyo

Surely one of the shorter scenic sections of LA, Griffith Park offers perhaps the biggest payoff of all at its halfway point: a wide-angle view of downtown, day or night. Starting at the east end of the park, you'll cut between Roosevelt Golf Club, 'Hidden Jewel of Los Angeles', and the Greek Theatre, 'North America's best small outdoor venue,' before ascending. Turn left before the tunnel, and proceed uphill on East Observatory Avenue to reach the Griffith Observatory lot, where you can park and enjoy the overlook. Continue, descending to Western Canyon Rd at the tunnel's west end, then exit the park to end the loop.

#7

Sunset Boulevard: entire length, east to

Sunset Boulevard: entire length, east to

From Figueroa Street to PCH spans 22 miles of Hollywood history. Immortalized in a film and TV show of the same name, and referenced in the song Dead Man's Curve, this boulevard includes the iconic Sunset Strip-1.5 miles of hip clubs like House of Blues, Whisky a Go-Go, The Roxy and Viper Room-between Harper Avenue and Sierra Drive. Though a minimum of four lanes wide, once you pass classic Beverly Hills Hotel and UCLA, Sunset lives up to its swerving pseudonym in hilly Bel Air. Will Rogers State Historic Park fans out to the north before you wind your way west, down to the coast.

#6

Melrose Avenue: Western Ave to La Cieneg

Melrose Avenue: Western Ave to La Cieneg

A road relentlessly lined with retail and restaurants, Melrose Avenue will tempt shopaholics and foodies to join its many sidewalk-strolling pedestrians. The handsome, historic Hollywood Melrose Hotel ushers you westward, followed by America's oldest studio, Paramount Pictures. From Highland to La Cienega flows the aforementioned endless stream of high-end shops and diners. Melrose Place of television fame branches off the avenue after Orlando, but unlike the TV show, contains no residences--just more trendy boutiques.

#5

Hollywood Blvd: Vine St to La Brea Ave

Hollywood Blvd: Vine St to La Brea Ave

Hollywood and Vine is a great intersection to give impetus to your tour of this bustling boulevard. Radio and film businesses once controlled its corners; now only the towering Capitol Records building to the north remains. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is centered at these crossroads, so stopping to stoop over stars' squares is highly suggested. Heading west to Highland, the Wax Museum and Guinness World Record buildings beckon. Next are two theaters, old and new: Graumann's Chinese Theatre, known for actors' hand/foot imprints gracing its entrance, and Kodak Theatre, home of the Academy Awards. At La Brea stands a silver sculpture of four caryatids under an Eiffel Tower-like canopy, marking the end of the Walk (and your drive).

#4

Angeles Crest Highway: I-210 to State Ro

Angeles Crest Highway: I-210 to State Ro

Almost completely contained within the Angeles National Forest, this 66 mile mountaintop traverse of the San Gabriel range offers outstanding views of the Mojave Desert and Pomona Valley, often at altitudes over 7000 feet. Also known as State Route 2, the Angeles Crest Highway is bookmarked by two popular ski resorts: Mt. Waterman in the west and Mountain High in the east. Donnie Darko was partially filmed there, in addition to racing scenes in The Love Bug. The view from nearby Mount Wilson Observatory is often featured on local news stations, so it's deserving of a quick side trip.

#3

Palos Verdes Drive: Malaga Cove to San P

Palos Verdes Drive: Malaga Cove to San P

Palos Verdes Peninsula is the most prominent landmass of Los Angeles County, encompassing four cities and lying just outside LA city limits. Motoring from Malaga Cove (where Palos Verdes Drive N & W converge), the road meanders until it again forks at Point Vicente Park, with its sentinel lighthouse. There the name changes one last time to Palos Verdes Drive S, and passes by newly-opened Terranea Resort, peaceful Abalone Cove beach, and lovely Wayfarers' Chapel, nicknamed 'the glass church'. Last sight (or stop, if you choose) is the Trump Golf Course, host of an LPGA tournament. This is not a route for fast drivers, as the speed limit is a tortoise-paced 30 mph in some places.

#2

Pacific Coast Highway: Santa Monica Pier

Pacific Coast Highway: Santa Monica Pier

Pacific Coast Highway, fondly abbreviated PCH, stretches along the golden sands of The Golden State. From Santa Monica's entertainment-packed pier northwestward, the gorgeous Getty Villa rises to the right, followed by private Pepperdine University. The highway continues to hug the coast from Malibu's beautiful beaches-with some celebrity sunbathers--until Point Mugu. So keep the gas pedal and/or convertible top down and enjoy the Pacific Ocean breeze.

#1

Mulholland Drive: U.S.101 to beyond I-40

Mulholland Drive: U.S.101 to beyond I-40

This is the big one; 55 miles long, with eight overlook points, it's the most well-known of Los Angeles' scenic drives. Named for LA engineer William Mulholland, Mulholland Drive was built in the 1920s to bring housing developments to the Hollywood Hills, and indeed some of the most exclusive homes have appeared along it since then. It has been immortalized in many art forms: two movies, two pop songs and a painting are but a few. Talk show host and comedian Jay Leno recently filmed himself driving its length as he sung its praises. Retracing his and others' tire tracks is a quintessential southern California experience.

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