The parking lot that is the 405 keeps derailing our good intentions of heading to the Santa Monica Mountains.  Enough said.  We’ve got your back.  Or technically, Griffith does. You’ll feel victorious as you expose your kids to the many delights of nature at this tucked away nook, from sunny hikes to watery walks – with some healthy snacks thrown in for good measure. Welcome to Ferndell Park, the little place that has it all.Griffith2

Sayonara screentime, finally Ferndell.
Which way, Robert Frost?  So many options, such little people.  We get it.  So take it one hike at a time.  Look at that Observatory.  It’s not going anywhere.  Proof that some things in this town outlive their allotted fifteen minutes.  Staying power, kids.  One to discuss while comin’ down the mountain.  Because perhaps you want to start at the bottom…

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Ferns,  Fabulous Ferns
The Griffith grounds host a hotbed of trails, walks and ambulatory bliss.  For beginners, there is the Ferndell Nature Walk.  It’s short (maybe 1/4 mile), it’s stunning (a brook, a waterfall in miniature, a little grotto), it’s the perfect “hike” for your 2 year old and your 72 year old.  The leaves are Jurassic, the views, fantastic, and for being only five minutes outside of our urban jungle, it’s every bit the primordial jungle they’ve seen but not yet touched.  Welcome to where the wild things are (not really, but let their imaginations go with it).  Walk alongside the trickling river that’s infiltrated with hundreds of exotic ferns and is lush and wet and can get kinda goopy (realizing this is a plus for a kid) and pretend you’re back where the dinosaur roam…

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The road less, er, equally well traveled
Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can head up, up and away.  Sure, you can drive to the Observatory.  But we recommend bucking the whole “nobody walks in LA” convention and hiking your way to the top.  There are a couple of ways to get up there, just pick a trail that heads upwards.  And the whole “hike” business isn’t just a clever name.  We won’t say any of trails are altogether easy, or shaded for that matter.  We wouldn’t recommend taking either of them on without ample sunblock and means of hydration.  But if you park by Trails Café, then the motivation to return and commemorate your trek with a chocolate chip scone or a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie (season depending) is quite powerful.

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They’ll be kvetching ’round the mountain when they come . . .
You’ll pass ponies.  A nature-made balance beam.  And jaw dropping views literally as far as the eye could see.  But don’t expect the kids not to complain.  While it’s gorgeous, it’s also a lot of walking.  And as much as hiking inspires a grasp of the forest for the trees, sometimes kids can get a little stuck in the trees.  A snack or two to keep one foot moving in front of the other is not a terrible idea. The hike is very do-able for 5 year olds and older, though for younger kids, you may want to bring a stroller (or be prepared for frequent play breaks or short spurts of carrying them).

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Room at The Top
But once you arrive, nobody is immune to that view.  Downtown?  See it.  Century City?  Over there.  Hollywood Sign?  Can almost touch it.  It’s a collective breath-taker.  Have your i-phones ready.

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And your frisbees, and your picnics . . .
There’s a grass expanse on top of the world.  You might play Frisbee, you might let ladybugs crawl up your arms.  You might try to find your house, using the giant binoculars.  Or maybe you just want to explore the Observatory.  For FREE.  Who’s on top of the world now?

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Happy Trails, to you
Behold the phenomenon of how the way down the mountain is thrice as fast as the way up.   And the pot of gold at the bottom – it’s no illusion.  It’s Trails Café, with it’s home baked goodness, and it should be a landmark.  With its outdoor only seating, lushly embedded amongst the trees and the poppies, it’s what the kids will remember when you’re ready to embark on an encore hike.   And with the taste of that strawberry lemonade still quenching the experience, most definitely what they’ll lure their own kids with, when it’s their turn decades from now.

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Insiders Tip: Leave your valuables at home
Hate to say it, but car break-ins are not unusual here.  Carry a credit card (for Trails, finally moved on from their cash-only days) in your pocket, fanny pack it if you have to (it’s a look), just go minimal.  Leave the goods at home.

Trails Cafe
2333 Fern Dell Drive
Los Angeles, Ca 90068
Phone: 323-871-2102
Online: thetrailslosfeliz.com

Griffith Observatory
2800 East Observatory Road
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Phone: 213-473-0800
Online: griffithobs.org

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Do you have a favorite tucked away spot for exploring nature?  (Preferably that comes with coffee and scones nearby…)  Let us know!

-Jolie Loeb

Photo credit: Jolie Loeb and cutglassdecanter via Creative Commons