Wednesday, August 2, 1769. As he accompanied Captain Gaspar de Portolà, Fray Juan Crespi made the following observations in his diary:
After traveling about a league and a half through a pass between low hills, we entered a very spacious valley, well grown with cottonwoods and alders, among which ran a beautiful river from the north-northwest, and then, doubling the point of a steep hill, it went on afterwards to the south. Toward the north-northeast there is another riverbed that forms a spacious watercourse, but we found it dry. This bed unites with that of the river, giving a clear indication of great floods in the rainy season, for we saw that it had many trunks of trees on the banks. We halted not very far from the river, which we named Porciuncula. Here we felt three consecutive earthquakes in the afternoon and night…This plain where the river runs is very extensive. It has good land for planting all kinds of grain and seeds, and is the most suitable site of all that we have seen for a mission, for it has all the requisites for a large settlement.
Indeed, today the Los Angeles basin is the site of “a large settlement.” Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and by mountains that, when measured from base to summit are higher than the Rockies, the basin can be spectacular – if one observes from a well-suited vantage point.
A window seat on an evening flight landing at LAX offers a brief but spectacular vantage point. And of course, there are any number of rooftop bars and restaurants whose major enticement is the view rather than their food or beverages. However, for this blog I offer for your consideration the following sites – sites that require neither wings nor an entry fee.
Enter the park from the north, off the 7300 block of Mulholland Drive. Parking is extremely limited. I suggest using the Hollywood-Highland Center parking garage or the Hollywood Bowl parking lot and taking a ride share service such as Lyft to the park’s Mulholland Drive entrance at the top of the canyon.
From the Mulholland entrance follow the fire road down past a cliff hugging ranch house and its corrals and continue past a barely visible, gated private residence on your right. A short distance past that you will see a gate that separates canine “on” and ”off leash” areas. As you pass through this gate, leave the fire road and keep to the wide dirt path on your left. Follow this path along the ridge of the hill until you arrive at Inspiration Point. You should reach it in less than 15 minutes from the time you entered the park.
Inspiration Point offers a panorama of the entire Los Angeles basin with superb views that include the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, the San Gabriel Mountains, the downtown skyline, Capitol Records, the Wilshire corridor, Century City, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean. This is a premier location for appreciating the vastness of Los Angeles. There are other viewing sites on other trails within the canyon. This is perhaps the easiest to reach.
Incidentally, there is a better chance of spotting movie stars in Runyon Canyon than on any studio tour or any stars’ homes tour you or your visitors may take. This is one of the places where celebrities go to be seen even as they insist they don’t want to be seen.
Even if you aren’t especially interested in the collections displayed at the J. Paul Getty Museum the striking architecture, sculptured gardens and panoramic views of the Los Angeles basin make for a satisfying visit.
A place where World War II pilots and Apollo astronauts were trained in celestial navigation, Griffith Observatory has also been a favorite site for numerous movies including Rebel Without a Cause and Terminator. One of the reasons for its popularity with cinematographers is the impressive view.
Because of its popularity, parking can often be a problem. One solution is to use a convenient shuttle service. The other is to park at Fern Dell at the base of Mount Hollywood and hike to the observatory on a moderately traveled path. The round-trip hike is about 2 ½ miles (4 km).
Located in Baldwin Hills, one of the wealthiest African American majority areas in the United States, the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area is a 380-acre park that offers a panorama of the entire Los Angeles basin, including nearby working oil wells, the Pacific Ocean and close but not in earshot planes landing at LAX. The views provide a less publicized but impressive reverse mirror panorama of the Los Angeles basin looking towards the Getty and the Griffith Observatory instead of the usual north to south perspective.
An unexpected site for a reverse mirror image view of the Los Angeles basin is Visitor Parking Lot J on the Loyola Marymount University campus. While there, you may also want to look around. Loyola Marymount traces its Los Angeles roots back to 1865. The campus has been located in Westchester since 1929. The university has an excellent reputation but given its high profile neighbors such as Caltech, U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. it is sometimes given an undeserved short shrift.
On June 23, 1921 Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company hit an oil gusher on Signal Hill that reached 114 feet. Signal Hill became one of the world’s most productive oil fields, often referred to as Porcupine Hill because of its many oil derricks. Before oil was struck, it contained large estate homes as well as Balboa Studios, which used the area to shoot films starring Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle.
Signal Hill Park, located on Signal Hill, offers a panoramic view of the Signal Hill community, the Los Angeles basin, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the ports of San Pedro and Long Beach, Catalina Island, and the Orange County coast to Huntington Beach. A few still active oil wells interspersed among expensive homes are visible. Very close to the park is Panorama Promenade with an entrance at the end of Dawson Avenue. This short pathway overlooks the Long Beach airport.
A relatively easy hike will reward you with panoramic views of the Southern California coastline from Palos Verdes to Ventura County. Brilliant sunsets over Malibu can be viewed from the broad walking paths at the top of the Canyon.
To get to Tuna Canyon from Pacific Coast Highway, take Topanga Canyon Boulevard to Fernwood Pacific Drive. Fernwood Pacific is about 3.7 miles from the intersection of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. Turn left on Fernwood, which becomes Tuna Canyon Road. About 2.6 miles from the Fernwood Turnoff there is a stop sign where Saddle Peak Road intersects with Tuna Canyon Road. Continue on Tuna Canyon Road. A short distance past 300 Tuna Canyon there is a dirt road on the right with a gate a short way up the road. The distance to this point from Fernwood and Topanga Canyon is about 3.7 miles. The gate is designed to prevent vehicular traffic. Walk around it and begin your stroll.
A short distance past the gate the trail intersects with another path. Turning left will take you uphill and ends with a magnificent view of the Los Angeles Basin from Santa Monica to the Palos Verdes Peninsula with Catalina and the Santa Monica Bay thrown in as a bonus. If you happen to be there when the distant San Gabriel Mountains are covered with snow, you will have a picture postcard opportunity. Turning right at the trail intersection will take you to panoramic views of Malibu and its coastline.
Jaak Treiman is author of A Diplomatic Guide to Los Angeles: Discovering its Sites and Character. He is also the Honorary Consul for Estonia and a member of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. This blog is written in his personal capacity for members of the Los Angeles Consular Corps and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Estonian government or foreign ministry or the views of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 For those interested in the complete diaries of the Portola Expedition, see https://pacificahistory.wikispaces.com/Portola+Expedition+1769+Diaries