A Park a Day: Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area, Van Nuys/Encino

July is National Parks & Recreation Month, and all month long LAist will be featuring a hand-selected park a day to showcase just a few of the wonderful recreation spaces—big or small—in the Los Angeles area.

Ever wonder where in Los Angeles you can find archery, a place to fly your model airplane, cricket fields, wildlife, a man-made lake, Japanese gardens, and somewhere to have your blow-out moonbounce bonanza all in the same general vicinity? Head to the Valley!

It's tempting to call the numerous parks and recreation areas around the Sepulveda Dam where Van Nuys meets Encino an oasis, because, after all, we can so easily forget that amidst the car dealerships and mini-malls of the glorious San Fernando Valley there is this, like, totally awesome expanse of green (and fun!) space. While there are plenty of options for having your oasis experience of quiet and calm, it really seems like this parks and rec megaplex is about having fun.

Specifically, the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area consists of Balboa Sports Center, Hjelte Sports Center, Lake Balboa/Anthony C. Beilenson Park, Sepulveda Garden Center, Sherman Oaks Castle Park, Woodley Park, Encino Golf Course, Balboa Golf Course, and Woodley Lakes Golf Course.

On either side of Woodley Avenue, which is on the east, or Van Nuys end of the overall Basin Recreation Area, you'll find not only some stellar places to book for your family party or picnic and get out and play at Woodley Avenue Park, but also the Leo Magnus Cricket Complex, the Sepulveda Basin Archery Fields, the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve, the Apollo XI Model Aircraft Field, and the Japanese Gardens, the latter of which, alas, are not always open—I missed out on my visit, but LAist has been there a couple of times before.

Enter off Balboa, however, on the west, or Encino end, and you'll be heading into Lake Balboa and Anthony C. Beilenson Park, where you'll find the Anthony C. Beilenson Universal Access Playground. This section of the overall Rec Area is 80 acres, and the focal point is the man-made 27-acre lake filled with reclaimed water. You can fish, run a remote-controlled boat, and sometimes paddle-boat there, but the only critters who can swim in the lake are the bugs, birds, and ducks. Signs posted explain why you shouldn't feed the animals, but people do anyhow.

This is the most laid-back part of the Rec Area, in general, with folks on blankets enjoying a chess game or slurping down popsicles bought from one of the many ice cream carts or trucks. However, it's not really quiet here—you might want to look for your moment of zen back at the Japanese Gardens. This is about feeding the ducks, playing catch, walking your dog, or taking the kids to the pretty amazing playground here. In the springtime, be sure to plan a trip to catch the cherry blossoms that turn Lake Balboa into a riotous explosion of pink and white—it's truly spectacular.

For other fun-seekers, there are several sports facilities in the Rec Area, and golf courses. Lots and lots of golf. You can even get there on the Orange Line; the Balboa stop is at the corner of Victory and Balboa.

It's easy to forget, even in the height of summer, that you're in the concrete expanse of the Valley when you're in one of the many parks in the Rec Area. Though some telltale vistas show the urban expanse in the distance, and major thoroughfares cut through the park in places, it's easy to just drink in the blue sky and green grass and enjoy a fun escape for the day here.