Between Malibu and Santa Monica, Topanga Canyon is one of the last great wild spaces in Los Angeles, with a number of parks, trails, and perhaps the last wild and free waterways—steelhead trout still spawn in the waters of Topanga Creek, which flows down from the mountains to the Santa Monica Bay.

Home to an alternative-minded community of some 8,000 hippies and New Agers (Neil Young recorded After the Gold Rush in his home here), Topanga was first established as an artists’ colony in the 1950s by the likes of Woody Guthrie and actor Will Geer, who played Grandpa in TV’s The Waltons, long after he’d been blacklisted during the anti-Communist McCarthy witch hunts. For over 40 years, Geer’s old property has been preserved as the Theatricum Botanicum (1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., 310/455-2322), a garden and politically minded 300-seat open-air theater, six miles up the canyon.

South of Topanga and open after a nearly 10-year, $275-million remodeling are the world-famous antiquities of The J. Paul Getty Museum (310/440-7300, Wed.-Mon., free, $15 per car, good at both museum site). Over 1,200 priceless classics are displayed in the pseudo-Pompeiian Getty Villa, where the oil magnate’s art collection was housed prior to the construction of the massive Getty Center complex along the I-405 freeway above Brentwood. Admission to the Getty Villa is free, but parking reservations are essential.

From the Getty Villa south to Santa Monica, the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy-1) runs along the wide-open sands of Will Rogers State Beach, gifted to the public by the Depression-era humorist.

Map of Pacific Coast through Southern California.
Map of Pacific Coast through Southern California.