Neighborhood Spotlight: Palos Verdes Estates’ luscious view goes both ways

Travelers heading south along the stretch of Pacific Coast Highway that runs through the crowded South Bay can hang a right at Palos Verdes Boulevard and within minutes arrive in a place of gracefully curving streets, lush green space and stunning ocean views.

There they’ll find the peak of an ancient seamount, and on its slopes, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is Palos Verdes Estates.

Which is all just a way of saying that the city of Palos Verdes Estates and environs is California coastal scenery at some of its most spectacular.

And it should be: Famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. created the master plan for the development in the 1920s, after its subdivision from Rancho Palos Verdes (he also created a plan for the eventual city’s next door neighbor, Torrance, which was never fully implemented).


Olmsted, who also designed the grounds of the Jefferson Memorial and many of the scenic byways of our national parks system, used his considerable expertise to lay out the new city’s streets in a way that maximized the views. He also set aside more than a quarter of the available land as open space and created a landscape design that would transform the dry, sage-covered hills of the peninsula into verdant parkland.

A detailed set of zoning regulations governed everything from the preferred type of architecture for homes in the city (Mediterranean) to who would be allowed to buy those homes (whites). The restrictive racial covenants are, of course, long gone, although new homes are still subject to a review by an art jury to ensure compliance with the rules, which were enshrined in the city’s zoning code when it incorporated in 1939.

Like many other master-planned communities, Palos Verdes Estates had designated business districts built into the design process, including the historic Malaga Cove Market.

Olmsted’s vision of a bucolic neighborhood of open space and scenic vistas lives on today, zealously guarded by the residents of the city, many of whom recently fought a long, bitter legal battle to prevent the sale of public parkland to a private homeowner.