Mulholland Highway

Jaak Treiman

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. The road’s snake-like curves delight weekend motorcyclists as they ride through hills that include scattered vineyards, old and new movie sets and isolated celebrity hangout cafes.

As you drive Mulholland Highway, here are a few places you may wish to pause. And of course, if you see an interesting side road, by all means, take it! That’s what makes “Sunday drives” fun.

King Gillette Ranch

26876 Mulholland Highway

Calabasas, CA 91302

Located at the geographic center of the Santa Monica Mountains range, the 588-acre King Gillette Ranch (formerly owned by the razor magnate) is under-appreciated and under-used. It offers an unspoiled view of the Santa Monica Mountains and includes Gillette’s historic mansion (no inside tours), remnants of a Chumash settlement, some great trails and an excellent visitor center.

The ranch’s visitor center is a superb place to learn about the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Its displays interpret the character of the surrounding mountains and their archeological and cultural treasures in an understandable way. Their small store is expertly stocked with relevant books and materials. The center has a "net Zero" energy balance.

Malibu Hindu Temple

1600 Las Virgenes Canyon Road

Calabasas, CA 91302

This temple is not geared toward tourists. There are no brochures or signs. However, my experience has been that visitors are warmly welcomed and invited to walk through the areas of worship. I suggest stopping here simply as a reminder of the wonderful diversity that exists within the greater Los Angeles area.    

Malibu Creek State Park

1925 Las Virgenes Road

Calabasas, CA 91302

Malibu Creek, the Santa Monica Mountains’ principal watercourse, runs through the park’s 7,000 acres of grasslands and oak and sycamore trees. The park has an appealing waterfall, miles of hiking trails and old movie sets. There are also remnants of the second of three ranches that Ronald Reagan owned during his lifetime.

 For centuries the park area was the center of Chumash Native American life. Many of the hiking trails were originally footpaths used by the Chumash to travel from village to village and from inland areas to the sea.

 More recently the land was owned by 20th Century Fox Studios and was the setting for numerous movies and television shows including Planet of the Apes and M*A*S*H.  The scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Paul Newman and Robert Redford jump from a high cliff into a barely discernable river (the “I can’t swim” scene) was shot at the park’s Century Lake.

Paramount Ranch

2903 Cornell Road

Agoura Hills, CA 91301

            Attracted by its diverse scenery, Paramount Pictures bought 2,700 acres of Santa Monica Mountains land in 1927 and used it as a “movie ranch.” In 1953 Paramount sold the southeast portion to William Hertz who built a permanent western town movie set on the property. Notwithstanding multiple subsequent ownership changes the town is still there, open to the public even as it continues to be used by filmmakers.

Cornell Winery & Tasting Room

29975 Mulholland Highway

Agoura Hills, CA 91301

            Until recently Santa Monica Mountains’ vineyards that sold their products commercially had to designate their appellation as either “Los Angeles County” or “California.” Last summer the federal government established the Malibu Coast American Viticultural Area (Malibu Coast AVA). This area spans 46 miles from Oxnard to Los Angeles and is about eight miles wide from the coast inland.

The Malibu Coast AVA includes about 44,590 acres of privately owned land. It takes in about 198 acres of vineyards, most ranging from one-half to seven acres. Many of them are on steep mountain slopes. Among the 52 vineyards in the Malibu Coast AVA, the three largest commercial enterprises are 78, 32 and 15 acres.

Cornell Winery and Tasting Room bills itself, quite accurately, as a voice in the marketplace for the Malibu Coast AVA. It is the best place I know for sampling local Malibu Coast wines – a few of which have been award winners. The tasting room also serves as a gallery for local artists.

The Old Place

29983 Mulholland Highway

Agoura Hills, CA 91301

For years this eatery, located next to the Cornell Winery and Tasting Room, was owned and run by a husband and wife team. Clams and steaks prepared on a wood-fired grill were the sole menu items. Service could be described as gruffly loving. As much a clubhouse as a restaurant it enticed stars such as Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Jason Robards and Bob Dylan to hang out.

 Today the couple’s son runs the restaurant. There is a slightly expanded menu. Service is still loving, if not quite as gruff. It is closed Monday through Wednesday but if you’re passing by on a day the restaurant is open, it is worth a stop.

Peter Strauss Ranch

30000 Mulholland Highway

Agoura Hills, CA 91301

Owned at one time by Peter Strauss of "Rich Man, Poor Man" television fame, the ranch is now part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, cared for by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. The Strauss ranch house still stands, as does the remnant of what once was the West Coast’s largest swimming pool. It has easy walking and equestrian paths. Directly across Mulholland from The Old Place, the Peter Strauss Ranch is a nice place to stroll after a meal but otherwise perhaps not worth a stop.

The Rock Store

30354 Mulholland Highway

Agoura Hills, CA 91301

The Rock Store advertises itself as “one of the most famous motorcyclist and biker hangouts in the world.” Originally a stagecoach stop, The Rock Store really is a well-known biker hangout that is sometimes frequented by celebrities. This New Year’s Day I saw Jay Leno drive up to The Rock Store in his sparkling, bright green Duesenberg, get out, open the front hood and show off the engine, pose for pictures while engaging in small talk and then drive off. The store’s walls are papered with celebrity photos taken at the store or its adjacent restaurant.

Malibu Café

327 Latigo Canyon Road

Malibu, CA 90265

Located on the grounds of a picturesque special events location named Calamigos Ranch, the Malibu Café is a tempting stop along Mulholland Highway. I have friends who tell me they have enjoyed fine meals and service here. I have tried it twice and not been as fortunate.

 From the intersection of Latigo Canyon and Mulholland Highway, Mulholland continues to Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean. You can return to Los Angeles by turning left and following PCH to Santa Monica. If you’re hungry, two places along the way that I enjoy are Sunset Restaurant, 6800 Westward Beach Road, Malibu (close to Zuma beach) and Geoffrey’s, 27400 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. For lighter and less expensive fare, turn right on PCH and drive less than two miles to a surfer and biker hangout, Neptune’s Net, 42505 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.


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