Temescal Peakin’

View of Santa Monica Bay from the Temescal Ridge Trail above Pacific Palisades.
View of Santa Monica Bay from the Temescal Ridge Trail above Pacific Palisades.

Winter….and almost-winter…..is the best time to poach ocean views in Southern California. And a hike to Temescal Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains is hands-down one of the best places for blue-water vistas. Try to time your hike for late afternoon, because this is also one of the THE best places to catch a sunset.

Sunset over the Pacific, with Santa Barbara Island in the distance, from Temescal Ridge.
Sunset over the Pacific, with Santa Barbara Island in the distance, from Temescal Ridge. On a Santa Ana day, natch.

There are several ways to access Temescal Peak, which is in Topanga State Park. You can start at the park’s headquarters at Trippet Ranch, or at trailheads in Temescal Gateway Park or Will Rogers State Historic Park. If you want to keep it relatively short and simple, do what we did and start at the trailhead off Via Las Palmas in the Palisades Highlands neighborhood.

Don’t be dismayed by the start of the hike, which is on pavement along a flood-control culvert above the palatial homes of the Highlands. The unsigned Temescal Ridge Trail transitions to dirt fire road in less than .25-mile, and you’ll soon be treated to those ocean views. There are many side trails, some leading to even more spectacular scenes. This is the time to snap photos of the ocean because it won’t be long before power lines invade your shots.

Climb that knoll for even better views.
Climb that knoll for even better views.

Temescal Ridge is catnip for mountain bikers, so if you’re on foot, be on your toes: get those headphones off and enjoy the quiet. The ascent is gradual, and you can add mileage by detouring onto some of those side trails. The day we hiked, we had clear views of Century City and downtown L.A. Directly east are Sullivan Canyon and Westridge trails.

To reach Temescal Peak, we stuck to the main trail, which passes Green Peak just under a mile from the start. From there it’s about 1.5 miles to a right turn onto the signed Backbone Trail. Once on the Backbone, keep eyes peeled for narrow trails on the left leading to Temescal Peak — you’ll see a metal post at the top, only 70 feet up.

View of the San Fernando Valley from the summit of Temescal Peak.
View of the San Fernando Valley from the summit of Temescal Peak.

There’s a USGS benchmark at the 2,126-foot summit and 360-degree views — the ideal spot for a photosynth shot. My video below from the summit shows the sweep of landscape stretching from downtown Century City and downtown L.A. out to Catalina and beyond.

The specs:

  1. Trailhead: Via Las Palmas in Pacific Palisades. From Sunset Blvd., take Palisades Drive about 3 miles north, continuing on Chastain Parkway. Turn right onto Via Las Palmas. Take that a few blocks to the trailhead parking on the left, via a small access road. The lot has wrought-iron fencing and there are restrooms there. The trail starts across from the lot, along a concrete culvert.
  2. Length: 6 miles round-trip,
  3. Elevation gain: About 600 feet (more or less depending on short jaunts up side trails)
  4. Dog-friendly?: No, unfortunately, because the hike travels through Topanga State Park.
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