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There are so many little things that make Los Angeles the destination we all know and love. From the hustle and bustle of Hollywood to the hills with their incredible views of the beaches along the Pacific, there's a ton to explore. One of the best ways to make the most of LA is, naturally, to hop in a car and head off on a scenic drive. While the Pacific Coast Highway is the obvious choice, it's not the only option. Mulholland Drive starts in the Hollywood Hills and meanders through the Santa Monica Mountains before turning into Mulholland Highway and ending near the PCH at the coast. Embarking on this 76 mile route is a perfect way to spend an afternoon in the City of Angels.
The iconic Hollywood Bowl is situated near one end of Mulholland Drive. Tucked away in a natural amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills, the Hollywood Bowl opened in 1922, though the current bandshell was completed in 2003. Since then, it has hosted pretty much every major musical artist, from the Beatles to Kanye West, as well as performers like Monty Python and the Muppets. It has also appeared in tons of films and TV shows. If you plan your visit for when there isn't a scheduled performance, pop into the Edmund D. Edelman Hollywood Bowl Museum. It's free and features vintage photographs, retro sound equipment, newspaper clippings, postcards, and live video and audio recordings from famous performances and historic programs at the Bowl.
Mulholland Drive was initially built to serve people building homes in the scenic Hollywood Hills, but it has become famous for the incredible views offered by the drive itself... and the fact that it passes by some of the nicest real estate in Los Angeles doesn't hurt either. From its perch in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains, Mulholland Drive offers drivers stunning views of the San Fernando Valley on one side and the Los Angeles Basin on the other. You'll even get some great angles on the famed Hollywood Sign from the two-lane route. There are overlooks with pull-offs where you can take a break to admire the views scattered along the way. David Lynch (who directed a film named after the road) once allegedly said that one can "feel the history of the Hollywood Hills" here, and he's not wrong.
The Skirball Cultural Center is a hidden gem tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains. Its centerpiece is the Skirball Museum, but it also contains a performing arts center, conference halls, classrooms, libraries, courtyards, gardens, and a café, all centered around sustaining Jewish heritage and American democratic ideals. The Museum displays fine art, ceremonial objects from across the globe, historical documents, ancient artifacts and Old World items, and multimedia installations, all arranged to tell the story of Jewish life from antiquity to America. The Center also has an incredible children's area with an adorable Noah's Ark theme. Mulholland Drive ends shortly after this stop, but restarts again as Mulholland Highway near Calabasas.
It's not hard to see why the Topanga Canyon has attracted stars looking for an escape from the city since the 1920s. Topanga itself has a reputation as a bohemian, eclectic community, and the green, secluded canyon with lots of oak woodlands, grassy hillsides, and coastal sage is definitely the perfect A-list hideaway. Edmund D. Edelman Park is 652 acres of upper Topanga Canyon perfection. The rolling hills and consistent warm-without-being-too-hot weather make for easy hiking, horseback riding, or mountain biking.
The land that now makes up Malibu Creek State Park (a component of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area) has a storied past. Parcels were donated by, or purchased from, celebs like Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, James Cameron, and King Gillette (inventor of the Gillette razor), as well as from various studios. It's been featured in countless productions (most famously MAS*H; there are still set pieces scattered across the park.) Even before Hollywood moved in, the land was inhabited by the Chumash. They resided in a village called Talepop, which was uncovered by archaeologists. Visitors can also visit the ruins of the Mott Adobe or the 1860s-era Sepulveda Adobe, which was recently restored. Malibu Creek also happens to be home to the country's southernmost stand of redwood trees, which is near Century Lake.
It's not hard to see why Mulholland Highway is popular with motorcyclists, and you'll find most bikers gathered at the Rock Store, a cafe just off the route. The Rock Store has long been a hangout where you'll find individuals from all walks of life. When it first opened, it was a hot spring resort, and during Prohibition, it was owned by a bootlegger. It attracted stars like Cecil B. DeMille and Rudolph Valentino, who came to lounge in the natural springs. In the 1940s and 50s, it served as a gas station, and in 1961, it was converted into a grocery store. Current owner Vern Savko bought it with her husband in 1963, and it's been a gearhead pit stop and cafe ever since. You never know what kind of interesting characters might turn up here, so take some time to relax and chat up the locals.
Before heading to the highway's end in Leo Carrillo State Park, detour up the Pacific Coast Highway to Neptune's Net, another iconic biker joint, albeit one that serves up seafood and beachfront views and is also beloved by surfers. Though it has only been known as Neptune's Net since the 70s, a restaurant has been operating here since 1954. It's been featured in everything from The Fast and the Furious and Point Break to Gossip Girl and The Hills. Of course, you don't have to be a film or TV buff to appreciate their fish tacos, fried seafood baskets, and beachy vibe.
Celebrate reaching the Malibu coast at Leo Carrillo State Park. With a beach that stretches nearly two miles, numerous hiking trails, and plenty of campsites, there are many ways to enjoy this spectacular state park. The surfing, shell-hunting, surf fishing, swimming, and windsurfing are particularly good at Leo Carrillo as well. The park is also known for its tide pools, reefs, and sea caves, which are great for exploring. The campground has even reopened after the devastating 2018 wildfire that tore through the park.
Before making your way back to LA via the Pacific Coast Highway, take in the natural splendor of Escondido Canyon Park. Escondido Canyon Park is home to an immense waterfall that attracts nature enthusiasts from all over the country. The cascade lies at the end of an easy 2-mile one-way hike through the gorgeous park. Travelers are advised to plan their visit around the dry season, as the waterfall shrinks considerably during certain months of the year. And, if you're feeling particularly energetic, visit Solstice canyon—another location offering stellar mountain hikes.
There's so much history and unique culture along Mulholland Drive and Highway. While highlighting lesser-known parks, views, and icons, this route nevertheless allows visitors to experience some of the most iconic beaches and filming locations LA has to offer. It's guaranteed to give travelers everything they want and more.
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