Mulholland Highway is an iconic part of Hollywood, but its outer-reaches feel as far away from the city as a country road can take you. About an hour north of Los Angeles resides a special little nook in the road, nestled in the hills and trees and not far from the ocean. This stretch is called “The Three Magical Miles” and includes the perfect trimmings for a petite family excursion, with hiking, fishing, shopping, food, and even wine tasting, all within walking distance of each other. Throw the kids in the car and head out for a day in the country — you might catch some fish and you will certainly catch your breath and relax.
When to go: Year-round, the weather is always gorgeous.
Approximate travel time: 12 miles inland of Malibu, it takes about 45 minutes up Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica (and then hang a right on Kanan Road) or about an hour from L.A. if you’re heading north on the 101 Freeway and exit Kanan Road.
What to see and do: Take a family hike at the beautiful Peter Strauss Ranch: long ago home of the Chumash Indians, later abode of the eponymous actor, and now a part of the National Park Service. The hiking loops are small, about a mile and a half, and meander around the hills, creeks, and the old ranch house. Parking is easy and abundant. Psst… keep your eyes out for the flock of wild parrots said to frequent the area, and your ears out for the lovely chiming of church bells, whose source is said to be Mel Gibson’s nearby ranch.
Trout Dale (pictured) is just ‘round the bend at the corner of Kanan Road, where families have been taking their kids to fish for over 40 years. The two small ponds are stocked with rainbow trout, so it is perfect for fishing-first-timers, as you are practically guaranteed a catch. Children under two are free, otherwise the $7 per person fee includes a bamboo stick and string to fish with, and a cup of corn for bait. We strongly recommend the extra $5 it costs to upgrade to a real pole, and the pittance it costs for the better bait (shrimp and worms) — your wait time for a bite drops dramatically. You must keep whatever you catch, so be prepared for the additional small costs per pound of fish you take away to fry up for supper. For those of you who want the fishing experience but don’t have the equipment or know-how, Trout Dale is great. Your kids will fall for a hook, line, and sinker.
For a bit of refinement, walk across the street from the Peter Strauss Ranch and shop for French antiques at Charme d’Antan. The name means “charm from the past,” a quality the friendly proprietors exude as you walk through their store and gardens filled with overscale architectural pieces and small treasures. Wander next door to the Cornell Winery and Tasting Room for a sip of some local vino and a look at their gallery — both change frequently to feature local talent.
Lunch spot: The Old Place is a local secret. Located just next door to Cornell Winery, it looks like a rustic mountain cabin. It is inviting and cozy, with oversized wooden booths that can easily accommodate large families. The food is updated country fare and is often served in cast iron skillets, so relax and enjoy the unpretentious atmosphere. Brunch occurs from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm and tastes great after a morning outdoors. The French Toast is made with their signature homemade sourdough bread and the frittatas have a mouth-watering potato crust. Portions are hearty, so little ones can easily share.
How to dress: Think boots — whether they are of the hiking or cowboy kind. Jeans or long pants are recommended for hiking and a wide-brimmed hat to keep off the sun is perfect for the very casual atmosphere.
Need to know: Ticks, poison oak, and rattlesnakes are natural inhabitants of the Santa Monica Mountains. Stay on the trail and visit the LA Mountains website to brush up on a few safety tips.
Bonus: Peter Strauss Ranch boasts an outdoor amphitheater with free concerts on summer Sundays, from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. For details, visit their website or call: 805-370-2301.
Cost of trip: Hiking and parking are free, fishing is $7 per person and goes up depending upon how much you catch, and brunch at the Old Place runs from $6 – $15 per person. The price of wine and French antiques depends upon how expensive your tastes are!