Take a hike into a ghost town — not far from DTLA

Even people who know Los Angeles well (or think they do, like me) may be surprised to learn there is a well preserved ghost town, the site of Southern California’s first commercial oil well, freeway-close in nearby Valencia. But Mentryville is all that and more — including a movie set and a great spot for walking, hiking and picnicking.

1. Take the Lyons Avenue exit from the 5 Freeway and head west, following Lyons as it becomes Pico Canyon Road. After a couple of miles, bear left at the Y intersection. Then stop outside the park gates and begin walking — or drive another 3/8 of a mile and pay $5 to park in the lot.

2. Informational plaques report that Charles Alexander Mentry struck oil here in 1876, hitting a gusher that would continue to produce oil for more than 100 years. At its peak, Mentry’s town was home to more than 100 families. Their dwellings are mostly lost to time, but still standing are Mentry’s 13-room personal home, an 1890s barn and an 1885 schoolhouse. Nearby is a farmhouse built in 1984 by Disney as a movie set.

3. Walk past Mentry’s big house and the schoolhouse to pick up a paved road heading into the canyon. Follow this as it winds past pepper, oak, aspen and sycamore trees, gaining elevation slightly as the canyon narrows. At a split in the road, bear right.

4. The end of the road is Johnson Park. Here you will find picnic tables, barbecue grills, running water, public bathrooms and the remains of Pico No. 4 — Mentry’s long-pumping oil derrick, moved from its original location years ago and reconstructed for posterity.

5. For a more rigorous hike, continue up the canyon past Johnson Park and find a trail heading off to the left. This will rise 1,000 feet to an overlook.

6. Otherwise, take the road back down from Johnson Park to Mentryville and  the starting point.