The last section of a 13-mile hiking and biking trail that's been 20 years in the making has finally opened in Los Angeles.
The Park to Playa trail connects a network of parks and trails from the Crenshaw District to the ocean at Playa del Rey.
The trail has several sections, each with its own charms and attractions, starting with the urban trail running along the Stocker Corridor, sloping up to the spectacular viewpoints of the Baldwin Hills Overlook, and following the landscaped bike path that runs alongside Ballona Creek to the Pacific.
Our visual journalist Chava Sanchez and infrastructure reporter Sharon McNary ran and biked the whole thing, meeting nature-loving Angelenos along the way.
Stocker Corridor Trail
The trail starts on the corner of Stocker Street and Presidio Drive. There's plenty of street parking along Presidio, and there's a parking lot at Ruben Ingold Park on Stocker and South La Brea.
That's Sharon's rear view, taken by Chava, as we run along the nicely groomed dirt path a little less than a mile into the Park to Playa Trail. The only scary part were the critter holes alongside the path, and the question of whether they were for gophers or snakes. We didn't see a gopher or a snake, so that remains an open question.
About 1.3 miles from the start of the trail, and perched on the bluff above Stocker at LaBrea, is Ruben Ingold Park, reachable by a long uphill ramp. Branden Bowles was enjoying the quiet alongside others who were walking and jogging on the rubberized 0.4-mile track.
"That's the point of coming here, 'cause you won't get a lot of interaction," he said. "You're just kind of able to free your mind and just kind of walk and not really have a lot of talking."
Off to one side boxing coach Alexander Ayodele was sparring with a client. He'd brought his own music.
"This is my gym right here," he said. "This is my section."
Dawn Bridgewater had settled on a bench, holding a box of Randy's Donuts and blissing out with her headphones on. It was her birthday -- hence the birthday tiara.
"I make this a tradition for my birthday, to spend time in nature, eat something really delicious and it's like this beautiful treat," she said.
She lives nearby and loves to walk, and was jazzed to hear that the footbridge connecting Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area to the path to the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook had finally opened. She set herself a goal to walk on the finished trail to the beach some day.
While most of the 13 miles of trail is away from traffic (whoot whoot), there are a few times you have to cross an intersection.
The biggest connects Stocker Corridor to the next part of the trail, in Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. It's known as Five Points, where Stocker meets Overhill and La Brea. It's one of the most complex pedestrian crossings in the city.
The intersection was altered to make it easier for walkers and cyclists to cross. Some corners were bulbed out with curb extensions; traffic islands were added to make for shorter crossing segments, and the timing of the lights was also changed to give walkers more time.
But we still found it intimidating to cross.
Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area
Once we'd crossed the intersection, we entered Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, formed after the Baldwin Hills Dam broke open in 1963. The flood killed several people and destroyed a lot of homes. What was left -- the ruptured reservoir and surrounding land -- was turned into the massive 400-acre park.
We ran past several different sections, like a giant snake sculpture, a butterfly garden, a Japanese Garden and the Olympic Forest, planted with trees from all the nations that competed in L.A. in 1984.
It felt isolated from the rest of the city -- almost as if in another land.
La Cienega Pedestrian Bridge
As we reached the western edge of the park, we finally arrived at the newest, and arguably most important, feature of the trail - the recently installed footbridge over La Cienega Boulevard.
Previously the two sections of the trail -- Kenneth Hahn park and Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook -- were essentially separate. Now the bridge provides a safe way for people to get across the six lanes of near-freeway-speed traffic hurtling along La Cienega.
There's also a dirt habitat path along the bridge for animals who want to avoid being turned into roadkill. The bridge closes to people at night, but the animals can use it whenever they want.
The bridge looks likely to become another photogenic L.A. destination. On the day we were there, Australian social media star Harry Jowsey and his crew were on the bridge shooting some video for his millions of followers on Tik Tok. (And no, we didn't recognize him).
And in case you're curious: here's the TikTok video they made that day.
Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook
After the bridge we snaked around Stone View Nature Center. It's a former private school whose surrounding land was contaminated by oil operations. It's now a lush year-round artfully curated collection of native and edible plants, arranged by color, so you've got orange trees in the orange section, pomegranates in the red section, lemons in the orange section. And it's okay to pick a few fruits to take home.
Finally, it's up to the high point of the trail, literally, Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook.
From the summit, it's an awesome view. You can see the ocean on one side, then as you pivot, Century City high-rises, the Hollywood sign and the skyscrapers of downtown L.A.
It's the perfect place to take your out-of-town guests when they ask to see the city.
Arriving via the bridge means you've had a long gentle climb up to get there. But if you want a challenge, you can start at Jefferson Boulevard at Hetler Road and make the strenous climb up 282 concrete steps which rise 715 feet . Or you can walk up the dirt switchbacks, or the paved road (signs say you're not supposed to walk on the road, but lots of people do).
There's a pay parking lot at the top for those who prefer a shorter climb.
Sharon was happy to get to the top even if we didn't take the stairs.
Guillermo Alcazar, 5, completes the climb up the Culver City stairs for the first time with his mother, Melissa Alcazar. They jog each day, and with parks closed for the pandemic, wanted to try something new. He was exhausted at the top of the stairs.
Evyn Charles has been coming to climb the stairs most days since March. It's helped him keep the oh-so-common pandemic weight gain at bay.
Culver City Park
At the other end of Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook is Culver City Park. (Confession: we actually split our trip up into two days, to take advantage of the sunshine, and returned a week later to complete the trail.)
As we ran along the dirt trail connecting the Overlook to Culver City Park, we stopped at a greenhouse where Ingrid Carillo was watering native plants. She's with a chapter of the Audubon Society. She often speaks to groups of students about the birds and plants that are native to the area.
Charlotte, a Boston Terrier mix, briefly tried to wrestle away Sharon's microphone as she was trying to gather some dog sounds.
Ballona Creek Bike Path
From here, it's an easy street crossing from Culver City Park across Jefferson Blvd. and a half-block walk along Duquesne Ave. to reach the Ballona Creek bike path. Then it's a straight shot along the creek to the Pacific Ocean, about 6 miles away.
Finally, we got to the end of the trail, and the Pacific Ocean filling the horizon. There were some people fishing, some runners crossing the Ballona Creek Bridge between Dockweiler Beach and Playa del Rey, and some bike riders, like us, taking a break in the late afternoon.
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