L.A. Walks: The path to a vibrant marsh in Torrance’s industrial core

The Madrona Marsh Preserve in Torrance can provide a lush landscape, at certain times of the year.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

What an unlikely delight in the heart of industrial Torrance. Amid factories, oil and gas refinery tanks and massive shopping centers, the Madrona Marsh Nature Center offers a bucolic home for wetland birds and 35 acres of lovely walking for the rest of us.

Go soon if you want to see the marsh at its best. The water is elusive; the marsh fills with winter rains and dries up in the heat of summer.

(Lou Spirito For The Times)

1. Begin this adventure with a visit to the Nature Center at 3201 Plaza del Amo in Torrance. Obtain a handy map and, if you like, visit the native plant garden at the rear of the building for a quick lesson on what greenery you’re likely to encounter. If you are a birder, check out the whiteboard inside the building for recent sightings. When I visited, it showed 26 species — in a single day.

A duck swims in the Madrona Marsh Preserve in Torrance.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

2. Cross Plaza del Amo from the Nature Center and enter the gates of the marsh park, a natural vernal wetland that has been allowed to return to its native state thanks to the persistent efforts of the nonprofit Friends of Madrona Marsh. Walk straight on for a bit, then turn left onto the dirt path. This is usually the driest part of the marsh. I saw great numbers of lizards here — alligator lizards and a couple Western fence lizards — plus a few rabbits and several nests of harvester ants.

A Western fence lizard on the main path at the Madrona Marsh Preserve in Torrance.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

3. Follow the trail to the first major intersection (you will see bathrooms off to the right) and turn left again. Then turn right where the trail runs up against a gate and fence.

4. At the Y intersection, bear left and follow the outer rim of the park. You may hear or see some intrusive traffic off to your left. (That’s Sepulveda Boulevard, a reminder that you’re still in the thick of the city.) But you’ll soon start to walk closer to some larger trees, including sycamore, eucalyptus and willow, and bird life in the marshy areas to your right. Take advantage of the park’s open walking policy: You may stay on the trails or wander off them, as you wish, to get a closer look at the wildlife. Tread lightly on the damp stuff it can turn mushy and deep without much warning. In spring, the water can rise to waist level.

5. Turn right with the trail, following the fence line, with busy Madrona Avenue on your left, and walk on. Here again you will see many side trails into the bulrushes and cattails, where the bird life is busier. The late May day I visited featured numerous appearances by snowy egrets, Canada geese, mallards and a red-tailed hawk. You’ll likely encounter some long-lensed shutterbugs here as well.

Visitors walk the easy trail along pools that fill in winter and spring, and dry up in the heat of summer.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

6. Turn right again as the main trail swings around to parallel Plaza del Amo. Stop by the nursery on your right to see some native plants in incubation. When you hit the next main intersection, turn left to get back to the gate, cross Plaza del Amo, and find your starting point.

An exhibit at the Madrona Marsh Nature Center in Torrance.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)


Distance: 1.5 miles round-trip

Difficulty: 1 on a scale of 1 to 5

Duration: 45 minutes

Steps: 4,000

Details: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays. Free parking. Wheelchair accessible. No dogs. No bicycles. No food or picnicking. Torrance Transit bus 7 takes you to Madrona Avenue/Plaza del Amo.

Fleming is the author of “Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles” and “Secret Walks: A Walking Guide to the Hidden Trails of Los Angeles.” Each month, he leads a free walk at one of his favorite spots in Southern California. Find out more at his Facebook page, Secret Stairs. He is on Twitter @misterfleming.