L.A. Walks: Rancho Palos Verdes, Del Cerro Park
Sure, it's a little tough, but the rewards are worth the sweat: classic coastal chaparral, views all the way to Santa Catalina Island and a sweet breeze.
On a clear day, Santa Catalina Island can be seen in the distance from Ocean Trails. (Charles Fleming / September 6, 2011)
RANCHO PALOS VERDES, DEL CERRO PARK
Distance: 4 miles
Duration: 1½ to 2 hours
Transportation: Drive south on Crenshaw Boulevard to Park Place or take the Palos Verdes Peninsula Transit Authority bus Route 225
Notes: Trails open to bikes, horses and dogs on leash.
This is a vigorous walk through classic coastal chaparral, featuring spectacular ocean views accompanied by cool sea breezes, perfect for late summer.
Begin your walk at the southernmost end of Crenshaw Boulevard, south of Pacific Coast Highway. Park anywhere beyond the intersection with Crest Road, and walk straight ahead to the entrance of the Portuguese Bend portion of Palos Verdes Nature Preserve.
The trail begins as a wide unpaved path, with expansive ocean vistas right from the start. Deep canyon walls fall off to the right, dropping to the coastline and the blue Pacific, across which Catalina Island seems remarkably close.
The path, known as the Burma Road Trail, descends gently along a hillside featuring the traditional SoCal coastal botanical selections of sage, cactus, wild mustard and anise. Partway down the hill, under the shade of some weeping California pepper trees, you'll find a public portable toilet. Continue to descend, staying on the wide Burma Road Trail, passing clumps of eucalyptus and pines, some burned and gnarled by a brush fire that raged through this canyon in 2009.
As the trail bends wide and to the right, turn left onto the marked Eagle's Nest Trail, and climb toward a stand of tall conifers. Stop at the Harman Overlook for a good view of the beaches below at Portuguese Bend and Abalone Cove. Farther south, you can see the northern reaches of the private Trump National Golf Club, where the Ocean Trails, open to the public, make for good shoreline access.
You also get an earful of music from the locals: The houses and farms below are home to large numbers of peacocks, whose "kee-yaw!" cries fill the canyon. I have read that the original Palos Verdes peafowl were a gift from Catalina Island owner William Wrigley (he also owned the chewing gum company and the Chicago Cubs) to early Palos Verdes settler Frank Vanderlip (assistant secretary of the Treasury under President William McKinley and the peninsula's first major developer). These birds are their offspring.
Follow the Eagle's Nest Trail downhill from the overlook. When you meet the Burma Road Trail again, turn left, and continue your descent. (If you're short on time or energy, you can turn right and follow the Burma Road Trail back to the beginning, for a one-hour, 2.5 mile walk. But why would you do that?)
At the next intersection, turn right onto the steep Water Tank Trail. You'll lose some more altitude, but don't worry: You won't have to come back up this sharp climb.
At the T-intersection ahead, cross a wide path and aim toward a slice of paved roadway. Step across a heavy chain gate, and turn right onto a lane framed by California pepper trees. After about 100 yards, take the narrow path to the left across an open field. Cross another paved road and follow another narrow path across another open field, dotted at its crest with low-growing conifers. Walk straight on, keeping to the trail. At its terminus, you will find yourself on a bluff over the ocean, with a perfect view of the homes and beaches below. Stop and rest a bit.
I walked here on a Sunday morning, leaving my car at the end of Crenshaw at about 9:30 a.m. On my descent, I passed one mountain biker and saw one walker far in the distance. The entire preserve felt empty and peaceful. A steady, cool breeze blew. It was perfect walking.
On the way back, I began to have company. I passed two dozen walkers and two women on horseback as I climbed back up.
Trace your way back across the two fields and two roads, turn right under the canopy of pepper trees, cross the chain gate and this time turn left — instead of climbing back up the Water Tank Trail — onto the Vanderlip Trail.
Admire as you go not only the pepper trees but also the California bay laurel and the Toyon Christmas berry trees with their bright red fruit. If you walk slowly and quietly, you may also admire the cottontail rabbits and ground squirrelsthat otherwise are rather shy.
Climb on, as the Vanderlip Trail regains some of the elevation you lost coming down. The trail gradually steepens. Take heart. It's hard climbing but it doesn't last long. When you meet the Burma Road Trail again, turn left and resume a steady, gentle pace.
Where you come to a low stone wall on the left, turn in to the marked Peacock Flats Trail. This is a shortcut, bisecting the curve of the Burma Road Trail. It winds through a field of shoulder-high wild mustard, then connects to the main trail at the public toilet you passed near the beginning of this walk. Turn left and continue climbing. Be brave. It's less than half a mile from here, and you have the gorgeous Pacific views to sustain you.
At the top of the trail, find your car and congratulate yourself on completing a strenuous walk.
Fleming, who lives in Silver Lake, is the author of "Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles" and "Secret Stairs East Bay: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Berkeley and Oakland." Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments and suggestions for future walks.