Last month I suggested an outing along Mulholland Drive – the 24-mile partition that separates the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles. Its 30-mile extension – Mulholland Highway, offers a non-suburban contrast.

More a country road than a highway, Mulholland Highway passes through the undeveloped and under-appreciated countryside that is the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. It traverses an area that contains more than 1,000 plant species and 500 or so species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

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It’s a cliché, but still true, Los Angeles is diverse; it has many interrelated parts. Understanding its parts means a better understanding of the whole. Local guides can further your understanding of the parts. They are not difficult to find.

 The City of Angels teems with nonprofit organizations whose unpaid members are curious about the history of a particular locale or subject – their enthusiasm and activity reflecting one aspect of the volunteerism that Alexis de Tocqueville considered to be uniquely American.

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The automobile enabled a new leisure activity, the “Sunday drive.” It also sired the pejorative, “Sunday driver,” used during the workweek to describe a driver whose car limps languidly along the highway as compatriots rushing to work try to pass.

The words “Sunday drive” evoke pastoral images of a solitary, slowly moving car traveling along back roads that pass bucolic farms. Such images may not seem a good fit for Los Angeles with its vast network of freeways filled with drivers, forever in a hurry. 

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Curlicueing  across the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga Canyon Boulevard and her older brother, Old Topanga Canyon Road, are popular shortcuts between the western San Fernando Valley’s portion of the Ventura Freeway (US 101) and Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica. During commute hours Topanga Canyon Boulevard is heavily traveled, sometimes with drivers familiar with her every curve, bored with her vistas, traveling at speeds newcomers find uncomfortable.

A portion of Topanga Canyon Boulevard follows alongside Topanga Creek, the third largest watershed entering Santa Monica Bay. 

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In America, Minnesotans are proud they live in “the land of 10 thousand lakes.” The Finns, more humbly, refer to their country as “the land of a thousand lakes.” Mongolians feature Lake Khövsgöl, with its crystalline waters and infinite shades of blue. Italians marvel at the kaleidoscope of colors generated by the sunsets and sunrises over Lago Maggiore.

Los Angeles has no comparable lakes. Yet, it does have bodies of inland waters that reflect the city’s spirit and history and belie their urban setting. 

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