Trail with a view: Los Liones to Parker Mesa


Hikes with a view in the Los Angeles area are as common as beach traffic on a sunny day, and the “front range” of the Santa Monica Mountains is probably the best place for full-on ocean vistas. One of the most popular — if not the most — is the trek to Parker Mesa in Topanga State Park.

There are several ways to access Parker Mesa. On Easter Sunday, I chose the trek up Los Liones Trail to East Topanga Fire Road, which is about 3.6 miles to the mesa and 1,300 feet of elevation gain. The first mile through Los Liones Canyon is mostly shaded, but once on the fire road, it’s mostly exposed, so can be a butt-kicker on a warm, sunny day.

Los Liones map

If you’re seeking some alone time, this is not the trail for you. It’s a steady stream of mostly fit Westsiders on this scenic trek that starts near the Pacific Palisades enclave of Castellammare, just east of the Getty Villa. I have a friend who won’t even hike here, mostly because of what she claims is the, ahem, attitude of the trail’s users. I, a reformed ex-Westsider, find that a smile and a friendly hello usually elicits the same in return no matter what trail I’m on.

The “trailhead” is actually a series of small parking areas along Los Liones Road, the second street up from PCH along Sunset Blvd. I usually park in the lot or on the street across from the church about 0.4-mile up. For some reason, the sign marking the trail/canyon’s start is spelled Los Leones:


Ocean views are almost immediate. After climbing 1.5 miles through the canyon, the route turns left onto East Topanga Fire Road. This is a good place to catch your breath and take in the amazing views of Santa Monica Bay (top photo).

The fire road continues for about two miles and additional 720 feet of gain. Bay views continue on the left, and Santa Ynez Canyon on the right.

Canyon view

Unfortunately, development mars some of the canyon vistas:


This pretty meadow about 2 miles in probably won’t be green for long, as summer heats up:

Los Liones valley

About three miles in, the turnoff on the left leads a half-mile to Parker Mesa overlook:

To parker Mesa

There are a few benches at the bluff-top mesa overlook and bay views stretching from Palos Verdes Peninsula to Malibu:

Los Liones in the spring is a wildflower delight, so this is a good time to go. The first 1.5 miles climb up switchbacks through dense chaparral. Big-pod ceanothus — one of the many species of California lilac found in the state — umbrellas the trail with a white canopy.


The wildflower bloom in Los Liones seems to be just starting, and I’m guessing will peak sometime in May. Other spots of color I spied included…

Splashes of deerweed:


Lots of purple nightshade (yeah, it’s toxic so don’t eat!):

Purple nightshade

Invasive Spanish broom:

Spanish broom

And just-starting-to-bloom yucca:


The National Park Service has a great website and app for identifying wildflowers in the Santa Monica Mountains.

You can make this a shuttle hike by leaving one car at Los Liones trailhead and one at Trippet Ranch in Topanga State Park. From Parker Mesa, the fire road continues about 3 miles to the park headquarters at Trippet. Coming in from that way is also a gentler climb than coming in from Los Liones — about 330 feet of gain.

Don’t forget, no dogs on this trail since it’s in Topanga State Park. It’s a hefty fine. And don’t forget to smile and say hi.

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