Best Christmas present ever: 112 new parks in California

An illustration of people having fun on park benches, with trees and a shining sun.
California is funding new and expanded parks across the state.
(Mary Forgione; photo illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

I got the most wonderful Christmas present from the state of California. So did you. The Outdoors for All initiative in the 2021-22 budget awards about $500 million in grants for the sole purpose of creating 112 new and expanded parks statewide, particularly in local communities that desperately lack green space. The word “park-a-palooza” comes to mind. This initiative funds 20 park projects in L.A. County and seven in Orange County.

But wait, there’s more. Another $500 million will be spent to improve access and facilities at California State Parks. OK, that’s a lot to process. An unprecedented $1 billion in a single budget year to up our green-space game? Why?

There are several reasons. One in four Californians don’t have a park or open space within walking distance of their home (think about what that means in the COVID-19 era), and six in 10 Californians live in “park-poor” areas (L.A. is one of them) with less than 3 acres of green space nearby, according to the California Natural Resources Agency. We know the benefits, especially for children, of getting our vitamin N (nature), of planting trees to remove greenhouse gases from the air, and of the fitness opportunities that parks and green spaces offer people in and outside the city. This is a big step toward expanding and improving park access.

More good news: The rugged and spectacular Lost Coast area of Northern California may be gaining ground. Last week, the conservation group Save the Redwoods League said it planned to spend nearly $37 million for a scenic 5-mile stretch of the coastline to protect it from logging and eventually open the area to the public. That’s good news for hikers and backpackers who happily hoof it to explore the remote shoreline. More information here.


3 things to do this week

Sandy bounders and a green valley covered by mist.
The trail to Sandstone Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.
(Charles Fleming)

1. Take a hike to Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. Winter really is the best time to hike at SoCal’s lower elevations. Cool temperatures mean you don’t need to carry a gallon of water for a day hike to Sandstone Peak, 3,114 feet in elevation. The Mishe Mokwa Trail (that name comes from “The Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, though I don’t know how it landed here) is a superb cool-weather route. The trail winds through stretches of scrub oak and chaparral to Split Rock (yep, you can walk through) and red-rock outcroppings like Balanced Rock. You may feel as if you’ve been transported to the Southwest. You can do this as an out-and-back (3.5 miles) or a longer loop (6 miles) depending on how fit you feel. The steepness/elevation gain is moderate, about 1,650 feet for the longer route. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the hike; also consider using a trail app and/or map to find your way. Pro tip for experienced hikers: Justin Rimon, who produces the Just Trek podcast, recommends going to the peak at sunset to watch light bounce off nearby peaks, or when the full moon rises (the next one is Dec. 18). And, yes, you’ll need to pack a head lamp to find your way back. For more ideas, read our picks of the 50 best hikes in L.A.

A boat covered with Christmas lights including some in the shape of trees.
A float from the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade.
(Davey’s Locker)

2. Watch the holiday boat parades in Newport Beach and Long Beach. Boat parades are a decidedly Southern California holiday tradition. Some took place earlier in December, but here are two to put on your calendar this week. Boats, yachts, kayaks and canoes decked out with holiday lights hit the water at the 113th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade from 6:30 to 9 p.m. now through Dec. 19. You can watch for free at spots around Newport Harbor (here’s a route map), or you can hop aboard a decorated boat to watch (tickets start at $36; here’s a list of cruises, boat rentals and gondola rides). For the first time in three years, the Naples Boat Parade will return to the canals in the Long Beach neighborhood for its 75th edition. Sidelined by COVID-19 and construction in the last few years, the parade returns 6 p.m. Dec. 18. Find details on where to park and where to watch here.

People sit outdoors on yoga mats.
Try a Journey Into Power Yoga class.
(Kayla Austin)

3. Ready for a Power Yoga class? Stretch — and work up a sweat. All levels of yoga are welcome at a free outdoor class that kicks it up a notch. “Power Yoga allows us to cycle through the poses at a faster pace, increasing the heart rate and feeling the fire,” yoga coach Aliya Austin writes in a description of the class. “This is balanced with the relaxation of breathing and flowing.” Journey Into Power Yoga is free and meets at 10 a.m. Dec. 19 at Pan Pacific Park, 7600 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. More info here.


Cool stuff

Ornaments shaped like shells and small fish in a wreath.
Sea creature ornaments at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium gift shop.
(Friends of Cabrillo Aquarium)

I’ve been having thoughts about a very fishy Christmas tree. My inspiration came after seeing ornaments — oysters, whales, sea stars, seahorses, sharks and even narwhals — at the gift shop at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. The blingy blue octopus stole my heart, as did pearly white shells of all types. Individual ornaments cost $4 to $18; custom wreaths are available by request. Buy them for yourself or give them as gifts. You can feel good about your purchases because proceeds from the shop fund programs at the aquarium. Take a holiday break and tour the aquarium and the shop at 3720 Stephen M. White Drive in San Pedro. The shop is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, or you can shop online.

Wild things

A woman shows off a tattoo on her upper arm of mountain lion P-22.
Beth Pratt shows her tattoo of the mountain lion known as P-22.
(Gary Kazanjian / For The Times)

You might call her P-22’s best friend. Beth Pratt has a large tattoo of the cougar’s face on her shoulder. However, her commitment to the lion and other wildlife is more than skin-deep. She’s the head of the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation’s #SaveLACougars campaign, and she has been the juggernaut behind raising millions of dollars for a wildlife bridge over the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura Hills. It’s a link scientists say is vital for restoring genetic diversity among isolated populations of cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills. “Recent scientific studies suggest there’s an almost 1-in-4 chance that Southern California mountain lions, which have the lowest genetic diversity documented for the species aside from the critically endangered Florida panther, could become extinct within 50 years,” Times staff writer Louis Sahagún writes in this story. Work on the amazing wildlife crossing may begin soon. How did Pratt pull this off? “When I took on this assignment, I thought, well, how hard can it be?” Pratt told The Times, shaking her head. “I didn’t dream it would grow into a nearly $100-million project that would consume almost 10 years of my life.” Read the full story here.

The must read

Three women and photos of food and a set table.
Chef Bricia Lopez (top, center), with guests Mary Forgione, left, and Louisa Frahm, served up an outdoors banquet in November.
(Louisa Frahm (top); Mary Forgione)

In November, I was invited to a lavish Friendsgiving event hosted by footwear and boot brand Merrell. The evening started with a short hike and then moved on to an eye-popping outdoors banquet at a park in the Santa Monica Mountains. I ate vegan poblano-pepper green spaghetti while my dinner mates (about 100 or so) dined under the stars on brined turkey breast with black mole. The finale was a light pumpkin flan. Food appeared like magic; there were no kitchens around for miles. The genius behind the spread? Cookbook author and chef Bricia Lopez of Guelaguetza, who came out and spoke passionately about the menu and her commitment to keeping Oaxacan food and culture alive. The restaurant she and her family run on West Olympic Boulevard recently made The Times’ list of the 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. Whether you work out or bliss out in the outdoors, take heart in knowing good food isn’t far afield.


What do you think?

A photo illustration of a hiker surrounded by subwoofers.
Do you like hearing everyone else’s music in the outdoors?
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

Thank you, Eban Weiss, for sounding off in about people who “share” music on Bluetooth speakers while in the wild. Weiss writes about mountain bicyclists who play psych-up music for all to hear, but his argument equally applies to hikers, trail runners or any trail user. Yes, I’ve had the earworm “Uptown Funk” stuck in my head for too many hours during an afternoon hike. Now it’s your turn: Do you like hearing tunes for all or prefer a bit of quiet on the trail? Email me your thoughts at

Yosemite reservations: The handful of responses to last week’s question about imposing a day-use reservation system (which was used earlier in the COVID-19 epidemic) to keep visitor numbers in check at Yosemite National Park mostly agreed that it would improve the visitor experience. “The system is easy to use, accessible and equitable,” Jaime Anderson of Pacific Grove wrote. “While an attempt to limit the number of visitors won’t keep many of California’s most beautiful and iconic areas from being Instagrammed to death, anyone interested in visiting the park should be equally interested in its future.” Two former California attorneys general — Dan Lungren and John Van de Kamp — have another idea: Create a second scenic valley for visitors to love. And they have a specific place in mind. Read about their thoughts on Yosemite here.


Young men and women skate and stand and talk at a skate park.
Members of the Aunt Skatie crew gather at the South Pasadena Skate Park in November.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Think you know all about skateboarding in L.A.? Times staff writer David Wharton points to new trends in what has become a multi-culti group sport in L.A. “The Tokyo Olympics helped show the world that skating is not just for white kids in the suburbs,” Wharton wrote. “People of color have risen to the highest levels of competition, and the vibe is distinctly urban, fueled by hip-hop music and street fashion. Now more women and the LGBTQ community are joining in.” Meet the new skateboarders in his story, and take a look at this compilation of stories about why skateboarding is part of Southern California’s cultural fabric.

For the record

Readers let me know that a redwood is not a sequoia (as I mistakenly said in last week’s newsletter), and that I had misplaced the General Grant Tree, a.k.a. the Nation’s Christmas Tree. It stands in Kings Canyon National Park. Now for good news: The Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park has reopened on selected dates for the first time since September, when the KNP Complex fire burned through more than 88,000 acres, this Times story said. Right now, the area is open weekends but closed midweek in December.


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Click to view the web version of this newsletter and share it with others, and sign up to have it sent weekly to your inbox. I’m Mary Forgione, and I write The Wild. I’ve been exploring trails and open spaces in Southern California for four decades.

Mary Forgione