LOS ANGELES — You can see the stars all dressed up on the red carpet at the Oscars. But if you want to see them in their sweats, head to the Hollywood Hills, from Runyon Canyon to the west, to Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park, with its 53 miles of paths, to the east.
Jennifer Aniston, Sheryl Crow and other celebrities have been spotted on some of the trails, particularly in Runyon, but regular, nature-loving folks flock to the trails on a regular basis as well. And while the rest of the country suffers through snow, sleet and freezing winter weather, Los Angeles offers bright sun year-round, so the hills that stretch and swerve away from the city’s concrete, cars and grime can be explored any season. Although the trails are located in the hills just above the famous Hollywood sign, in spirit they’re far from the glitz and glam of the city below.
RUNYON CANYON PARK: With the 83rd annual Academy Awards around the corner on Feb. 27, your best bet for seeing some famous faces hiking in the Hollywood Hills is to head to Runyon Canyon Park, located a few blocks above Hollywood Boulevard.
I grew up in Hollywood and have been hiking in the hills since I was a kid in the 1980s; my dad took me from the age of 7 on. I started visiting Runyon in the ’90s, after a conservation group and the city of Los Angeles bought 160 acres there, reclaiming the area from squatters. The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks designated 90 of the acres off-leash for dogs, according to Kevin Regan, the department’s assistant general manager, and the area is now enormously popular among dog-lovers — including celebrities like Jessica Biel, who was photographed hiking its 3-mile round-trip loop with her two pooches, and buff “Twilight” star Kellan Lutz running with his own floppy-eared friend.
The top peak boasts vast views of Hollywood, including the Capitol Records building to the east, below. “You can experience a getaway that’s close to home,” says Regan. “That’s the allure of any great urban park, that you leave the hustle and bustle of the city to get centered again before you go back.”
GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY: One of my favorite hikes is going up to the Griffith Observatory, the 75-year-old domed L.A. landmark perched in the hillside of Griffith Park, which encompasses 4,217 acres of wild land east of Runyon.
It’s a roughly 2.5 mile round-trip trek to the observatory and back from the base of the trail in the Fern Dell picnic area located off Fern Dell Drive, in the neighborhood of Los Feliz, just east of Hollywood. Chaparral and bushes of wild yellow flowers named Sticky Monkey pack the trail in the spring.
A playground with swings surrounded by ferns, sycamore trees and picnic tables sits across the way from a newer addition to the park, The Trails cafe, a tiny, cozy shack on 2333 Fern Dell Drive. The cash-only eatery, with its outdoor tables, chalkboard menu and hippie-ish vibe, attracts every outdoorsy type, from hikers to cyclists, mommy-and-me groups and celebrities such as Amanda Seyfried and Flea. The scones are tempting on the way back.
Hiking in Griffith means seeing more animals than any Angeleno is used to. I regularly come across coyotes, rabbits, gophers, squirrels, deer and the occasional French bulldog. During a recent hike, a lone, giant, wild-eyed coyote stepped into the middle of the path several yards ahead of me. We stared at each other for five minutes, both of us still as glass. Eventually, the coyote turned and sauntered off the path.
“Don’t feed them. The coyote is interested in observing you and will mostly not invade your space,” says Albert Torres, a park ranger. “When I take my family on hikes in Griffith, I’m observant of coyotes, rattlesnakes, poison oak. Always keep an eye on small children.”
Griffith Park remains a busy filming location for everything from theatrical features to commercials, and the observatory appears in “Rebel Without a Cause.” A bust of actor James Dean is located on the observatory grounds.
The area is also dry and prone to fire. In May 2007, a massive blaze consumed more than 800 acres of the park.
BRONSON CANYON AND THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN: On the southwestern flank of Griffith Park, Bronson Canyon is best known for its famous “Batcave,” where the “Batman” television series used to film in the ’60s, and opens up into gorgeous hikes near the Hollywood sign.
To see the short hillside tunnel, drive north up Bronson Avenue, off Franklin Avenue, until it curves into Canyon Drive and ends at a dirt trail and parking lot. Hike above the lot, take a quick right and go up about a quarter of a mile. Hiking straight from the lot leads to a snaking path to the Hollywood sign. The immediate area surrounding the sign is restricted and monitored by surveillance cameras and motion detectors.
Any hiker needs to be aware of high temperatures, especially in L.A., so pack water. I look like a super-nerd wearing my water fanny pack, leggings and wide-brimmed straw hat, but I’m prepared. Quentin Tarantino film editor Sally JoAnne Menke, 56, died last September while hiking with her dog in Griffith Park in record heat.
A shorter 3-mile round-trip hiking path to and from the Hollywood sign starts in the hills of nearby Beachwood Canyon. You’ll end up above the sign, able to see the large, looming letters from behind, plus a sweeping view of L.A., from sparkling Lake Hollywood to the west to the Griffith Observatory to the east.
Surrounded by fennel, rosemary and wild grass, this is what the Hollywood Hills mean to me: glitz and glam, from a distance.