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The Best Places In L.A. To Enjoy The Outdoors

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We really are blessed in Southern California with some pretty spectacular and dramatic geography—and the weather to enjoy it most days of the year. Here are a few of our favorite places to enjoy the sunshine.

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Poppy field in the Antelope Valley (Photo by WagonMonster via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
ANTELOPE VALLEY CALIFORNIA POPPY RESERVE

Timing is everything if you want to fulfill your childhood dream of falling asleep in a carpet of poppies. During spring, check the California State Parks site for the best weeks (or days, really) to check out our state flower in full bloom as far as the eye can see. Not every year is great—unfortunately, this is one of those years—but when it is, it's magical. For more information, check out the state's website or the field notes blog.

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To get to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, take the 14 Freeway headed toward Lancaster. Take the Avenue I exit and head west 15 miles. Avenue I becomes Lancaster Road, and the address is 15101 Lancaster Road.

THE HUNTINGTON BOTANICAL GARDENS

The Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino sit at the site of a former ranch (that in recent years has rediscovered its agricultural roots) and California's first commercial avocado grove. There are 14,000 different varieties of plants, including the crowd favorite the Corpse Flower. There are twelve meticulously-kept gardens over 207 acres that bring in plant life from all around the globe. Our favorite is the Desert Garden that has cacti from the Southwest and Mexico that look like alien if gorgeous life forms. Unlike most of the places on this list, coming here can be a little spendy. Even on weekdays, admission can set you back $20. Make reservations, and check out the gardens for free on the first Thursday of every month.

The Huntington Botanical Gardens are located at 1151 Oxford Road in San Marino; (626) 405-2100

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Huntington Garden (Photo by Non Paratus via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
AMIR'S GARDEN

Of course, we love Griffith Park from the Greek to the Observatory to the Hollywood sign. We love the feeling of being in untamed wilderness right in the middle of the city but we (along with Huell Howser) love the lush, manicured Amir's Garden that's on the north-eastern side of the hills. The garden was the labor of love for Amir Dialameh, who spent three decades hiking up a service road to transform a small five-acre patch of the park into a green, shady escape with rose bushes, geraniums, oleander and yucca.

The hike begins at the Mineral Wells Picnic Area parking lot, and the fire road from the lot leads to a steep hike that will take you to the garden. To get to the parking lot take the Western Avenue exit from the 5 freeway and head West. Turn left on Victory Boulevard until it dead-ends on Zoo Drive. Take a right until you get to a stop-sign. Instead of turning right and continuing on Zoo Drive head straight onto Griffith Park Drive until you see signs for the Mineral Wells Picnic area. Park in the southeast end of the lot. For more directions, check out the garden's website.

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Amir's Garden (Facebook)
ZUMA BEACH

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The bustling Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach Boardwalk have their place, but when we want to visit a beach that's a little less crowded, a little cleaner and a little more chill we head to Malibu. It's a great place to catch waves or windsurf or play volleyball or our favorite beachside activity of all: absolutely nothing.

Zuma Beach is located at 30000 Pacific Coast Highway, and it's about 20 miles up the coast from Santa Monica. Street parking is free, but there's also a lot if you want to get a little closer.

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Zuma Beach (Photo by Eric Demarcq via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST

Unlike other major cities, we're lucky to have some seriously rocky, untamed (and, yeah, sometimes flaming or mud-sliding) wilderness right in our backyards with the 655,387-acre Angeles National Forest. There's something for any nature lover, whether you're into fishing, horseback-riding, rock-climbing, bungee-jumping, back-packing or peak-bagging. So where to start? We're fans of SoCal's own Bridge to Nowhere, which was part of a failed plan from the 1930's to link Azusa to Wrightwood. The road washed away in 1938, but the bridge survived. Bungee jumpers love it, but we enjoy the views of the dramatic peaks and the deep gorges below. Look out for fee-free days to save money on the Adventure Passes, which typically cost $5 a day or $30 for an annual pass.

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Take Highway 39 from Azusa, north for 12 miles. Turn right on East Fork Road (the first major intersection once you're in the mountains) and go six miles. The road makes a hairpin turn to the right, but you'll head left, over a bridge, and up to the Heaton Flats parking area. If the lot is packed, you may have to park farther down the street. We have directions for the hike here.

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Angeles National Forest (Photo by Matt McK via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
PALOS VERDES PENINSULA

The dramatic bluffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula offer some of the most stunning vistas in Los Angeles whether you're a driver, biker, hiker, horse-back rider or, um, stoner. (It's a little remote, but it probably belongs on our list of make-out vistas, too, if all the couples there are any indication.) There's a seasonal waterfall after the wet season, rare butterflies and if you've got money to burn there's a resort that we've heard feels like a million miles away from town.

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Palos Verdes (Photo by Marc Evans Photography via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
ANACAPA ISLAND

We're lucky to have such an island escape in the Channel Islands. Even though Anacapa Island is the closest island, it offers surreal landscapes that feel more like Ireland or Scandinavia than the Southern California coast. Depending on the time of year, you can see Dr. Seuss-esque wildflowers or kayak through sea caves (and play peek-a-boo with sea lions, if you're lucky). There are very few amenities on the island, so come prepared with food and water (and more if you're camping out).

Anacapa Island is 12 miles off the coast of Oxnard from the Channel Islands Harbor at 2741 Victoria Ave. It costs $59 to get to the island and more if you're camping out. For more information, visit the National Park Service's website.

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Anacapa Island (Photo by doisneau via the LAist Featured Photos pool)