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Martina Pontremoli photographs the prayer tree with Simon Luculano atop the Buddha trail in Runyon Canyon Park.
Martina Pontremoli photographs the prayer tree with Simon Luculano atop the Buddha trail in Runyon Canyon Park on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022.
(Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times)

12 places to find solace for your soul in Los Angeles

A truly enlightened being should be able to access inner peace no matter what’s going on in the world — no matter where they are. For the rest of us, there’s Los Angeles.

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Alongside its natural beauty — the solidity of its mountains, the vastness of its beaches, the quiet of its dusty canyons — L.A. is home to the most diverse assemblage of spiritual practitioners in the world. From Mount Washington to Malibu, churches, temples, monasteries and New Age centers have created sacred spaces accessible to people of all religions (and no religion), to help us find solace and fill our spiritual cup when we’re depleted.

“If we have peace in ourselves, then we can carry it anywhere, but first we need to find it,” said Swami Sarvadevananda, the spiritual leader at the Vedanta Society in Hollywood. “If you can’t find it inside [yourself], then you go to a holy place.”

Below is a list of holy places I’ve found in my journeys in and around Los Angeles. It includes a glass chapel in the trees, a perfectly shaded stream, a labyrinth, and a mountain observatory where, nearly a century ago, astronomers first discovered our place in the universe. It’s an incomplete list, and after you read it, I hope you will help me fill it out.

We all struggle with pain and loss, and grief and stress at some point in our lives. Although the world might beat us down, we are lucky to live in a city that is dotted with places that can lift us up.

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A white temple at the Vedanta Society's Hollywood location
(Swami Mahayogananda / Vedanta Society)

Vedanta Society

Church
Situated across the street from the 101 Freeway, the gardens outside the Vedanta Society of Southern California’s Hollywood location probably shouldn’t be described as “quiet” or “serene.” Helicopters rumble overhead, and the roar of the freeway is relentless. But step inside the society’s gleaming white temple and the outside world fades away. The carpet is thick, the air smells of sandalwood, and a peaceful silence envelops you. Monks and nuns who live on the property have been meditating at this temple since 1938, imbuing it with spiritual vibrations, according to Sarvadevananda. “That’s why so many people come here to find some peace,” he said. A bookshop on the property offers enlightening browsing.
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A buddha statue sits atop a stone staircase next to a tree
(Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times)

Runyon Buddha

Hollywood Hills West Public garden
Discovering the Runyon Buddha — a humble hillside shrine adorned with inspirational messages and dime store treasures behind Hollywood’s Wattles Mansion — feels like the culmination of a spiritual scavenger hunt. Be forewarned, it’s a bit of a hike. To get there, enter Wattles Garden Park on Curson Avenue just south of where the road branches into Curson Terrace and Curson Place. Walk up a sloping sidewalk on the far edge of the park lined with white pillars until you get to a ramshackle gate lined with sandbags. Step into a small secret garden and continue walking into the canyon. Follow the hand-painted “Buddha” sign and before long you will spot a set of stone stairs through a red archway. Climb the stairs, read the handwritten messages fluttering in the wind, and take a seat. You made it!
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Juan walks his dog near the pond at Augustus F. Hawkins Nature Park
(Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times)

Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park

Central-Alameda Park
Located in the heart of South-Central Los Angeles across from an auto parts store, the 8.5-acre Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park is the perfect place to contemplate the possibility of positive change. For most of the 20th century, this space was a water- and sewer-pipe storage yard used by city utility workers. Then, in 2000, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy radically transformed it into a green oasis with native plants, a wetlands area and dirt trails leading up gently sloping hills. Today there are picnic tables and a flat lawn with room to spread out a blanket and soak in the site’s natural beauty. A small and shady stone amphitheater carved into a hillside is an especially nice place to sit on a hot day and consider one’s own potential for radical change.
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A statue of Jesus with his arms raised is lit up on the grounds of the Monastery of the Angels
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Monastery of the Angels

Chapel
Just below the “H” of the famous Hollywood sign lies the Monastery of the Angels, home to an order of Dominican nuns for nearly a century. For decades the cloistered sisters kept up a steady stream of prayer for the people of Los Angeles, with at least one nun on prayer duty 24 hours a day. To raise funds, they sold their famous pumpkin bread, as well as other sweet treats, on the premises. The pandemic was hard on the aging order, and the few remaining sisters were transferred to other monasteries earlier this year. But for now at least, the front garden and humble chapel remain open to the public as a place of prayer and quiet contemplation — a peaceful refuge in the heart of Hollywood. Thanks to lay volunteers, the pumpkin bread is still available too.
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A meditation labyrinth at the Serra Retreat in Malibu
(Los Angeles Times)

Serra Retreat

Public garden
It’s free to visit the Serra Retreat in Malibu, about one mile off Pacific Coast Highway, but you will need to make a reservation. It’s worth it. Franciscan Friars purchased the 26-acre property in 1942 and have been hosting retreats there ever since. After checking in with a security guard at the bottom of the hill, day visitors are invited to wander the landscaped grounds with views of sprawling new mansions and the vast Pacific beyond. If you walk past the retreat buildings to the lot where the friars park, you can follow a short trail down to a shaded patio flanked by a tinkling hillside waterfall and a statue of Mary. A labyrinth on the grounds is also well worth your time, especially if you are seeking to reconsider an old habit or belief.
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The gazebo in the garden at Velaslavasay Panorama
(Madeleine Hordinski/Los Angeles Times)

Velaslavasay Panorama gardens

University Park Public/private garden
Everything about the Velaslavasay Panorama on 24th Street in West Adams is awe-inspiring — the turquoise blue facade, the life-size diorama of an Arctic trading post off the entrance hall, the 360-degree immersive painting on the second floor. But if it’s solace you seek, head to the enchanted garden behind the building, where you’ll find an alcove surrounding a waterfall, a gazebo hung with oversized gourds, and a shell-studded replica of the mythical island of Penglai. More than a dozen benches and chairs scattered around the garden invite visitors to enjoy these features while sitting in quiet introspection.
By appointment only, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, $7.
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LOS ANGELES COUNTY, CA - JANUARY 09: Models stand in position on the catwalk at Mount Wilson Observatory.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Mt. Wilson Observatory

Experience
Perched high in the San Gabriel Mountains, less than an hour from downtown Los Angeles, you’ll find Mt. Wilson Observatory, home to what were once the two largest telescopes in the world and the place where scientists discovered that the universe is actively expanding. The site was chosen by observatory founder George Ellery Hale in 1904 because the air is stable, which makes for excellent viewing conditions. Wander the wooded campus where Einstein once visited, and on weekends grab a sandwich or a hot chocolate at the Cosmic Cafe. For a truly otherworldly experience, check the observatory’s website for an occasional lecture series followed by the opportunity to peer through the two historic telescopes for $40.
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A sign for Millard Campground is surrounded by trees
(Deborah Netburn/Los Angeles Times)

Millard Campground

Campground
Do not underestimate the healing power of a quiet stream, a shaded wood, and the perfect sitting rock to fill a depleted spiritual cup. You’ll find all three at Millard Campground in Altadena, just a quarter-mile from the parking lot. The campground, with six walk-in sites, is largely empty on a midweek afternoon, and it’s simple enough to scramble down to the stream and zone out to the gentle sounds of softly running water. If you prefer more activity, there’s a popular and moderately easy hike from the campground to the 50-foot Millard Falls that is worthy of your Instagram feed, but I preferred the understated tranquility of the stream, the rustling of the trees, and the calming influence of those cool, solid rocks.
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Fish swim in a pond at the Self Realization Fellowship headquarters in Mt. Washington
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Self-Realization Fellowship Mother Center meditation gardens

Mount Washington Public garden
Something special happens when you walk through the gates of the Self-Realization Fellowship’s international headquarters in the residential neighborhood of Mount Washington. The breeze feels more gentle, the sky looks more blue, and the immaculate flower beds glow with a unique intensity. Take a seat by the koi pond, or the outdoor “temple of leaves,” and join other visitors in silent meditation. This is the former residence of SRF founder Paramahansa Yogananda, a beloved guru from India who brought the practice of yoga to the West in the 1920s. About 200 monks and nuns still live and work on the property, and you’ll probably see some of them walking serenely through these heavenly grounds.
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Edgar Badillo and his son Jeremiah, 6, look for a fishing spot on Peanut Lake in 2019.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Peanut Lake

Montecito Heights Lake
For years Marcos Trinidad, director of the Audubon Center at Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, led silent meditation walks up to this man-made lake teeming with wildlife in northeast Los Angeles. Follow his lead with your own hike to the hilltop oasis. Start at the Audubon Center, where you can borrow a pair of binoculars for bird-watching along the route. A trail off the parking lot gets steep in some areas but offers sweeping views of the San Gabriel Mountains and the silver buildings of downtown L.A. At the summit, you’ll be greeted by a cashew-shaped pond surrounded by peaceful shade trees — the perfect spot for reading, journaling and otherwise being still.
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Pews and large glass windows inside Wayfarers Chapel
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Wayfarers Chapel

Los Angeles County Chapel
Everything in this sacred place designed by Lloyd Wright (Frank’s son) and completed in 1951 is deliberate — the plantings that mimic a forest floor, the redwood pillars that rise like tree trunks to support the glass structure, the stone baptismal font that looks like a burbling underground spring. The beginning of the Lord’s Prayer is carved into the steps leading to the altar, a symbol of God flowing down from above to meet us as we send our prayers rising up. The chapel was built as a national memorial to the 18th century mystic and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg and is sometimes used for funerals and weddings. Otherwise, it is open to anyone who needs to rest, recharge and sit in the presence of God, spirit, beauty — whatever word you use for something nourishing and holy.
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People view downtown Los Angeles with the San Gabriel mountains shown in the background
Downtown Los Angeles with the San Gabriel mountains shown in the background taken from Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in 2019.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area

Ladera Heights Park
There are plenty of ways to escape the city, but a visit to the Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area in Baldwin Hills can help you rise above it. Pick up a map at the visitors center and head to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Tree Grove on the edge of Janice’s Green Valley — the highest point in the park. Here you will find an obelisk with King’s likeness etched on the front and a quote from his “I Have a Dream” speech, as well as a majestic view of much of L.A. “It feels like you are standing on top of the city,” said Sheldon Solin, one of the park’s supervisors. When you are done admiring the view, you can hike into the wide-open basin behind you, a former reservoir now dotted with California oaks, and find a spot to rest in the shade. Alternatively, head down the hill to the City View Trail, where you can enjoy more panoramic views of the city. It’s a wonderful way to shift your perspective.
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