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Road trip: 5 hikes to make on your next drive from L.A. to Morro Bay

Take a break on your road trip with a stop at El Moro Elfin Forest Natural Area in Los Osos, Calif.
Take a break on your road trip with a stop at El Moro Elfin Forest Natural Area in Los Osos, Calif.
(Mary Forgione)

Road trips make me antsy. As a hiker and runner, I build in as many stops as my buddies will tolerate on the northward drive from L.A. (destination: Morro Bay).

Here are five leg-stretchers that will break up the boredom.

The summer glow of hills along Wendy Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area off the 101 Freeway.
(Mary Forgione/Los Angeles Times)

Wendy Trail in Newbury Park: A 15-minute detour from U.S. 101 takes you into the grasslands and meadows of the Santa Monica Mountains.

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Walk a few flat miles on this trail and you’ll come to the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center, where kids can play in the outdoor wikiup or view artifacts inside.

How: Take the Wendy Drive exit off the 101 Freeway to its end at Potrero Road and park; no fees.

Info: Santa Monica Mountains, www.nps.gov/samo

The "elfin" oaks in the Elfin Forest reserve in Los Osos.
(Mary Forgione/Los Angeles Times)
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El Moro Elfin Forest Natural Area in Los Osos: This is an easy walk of sheer coastal beauty, from the silver lupine and sage that line the trail to the wide-angle views of the estuary and Morro Rock in the distance.

The easy boardwalk loop, less than a mile long, takes you to 200-year-old coast live oaks stunted by this coastal dune habitat, hence the “elfin” name. Birders should bring their binoculars.

How: Find Santa Ysabel Boulevard in Los Osos and turn on to 11th through 17th streets for access to the reserve.

Info: El Moro Elfin Forest, www.elfin-forest.org/

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Native oaks line the Cerro Alto Trail near Paso Robles.
(Mary Forgione/Los Angeles Times)
Blackberry flowers in the understory of the Cerro Alto Trail.
(Mary Forgione/Los Angeles Times)

Cerro Alto Trail in Paso Robles: Take a break from the road by walking into a shady oak grove in the first quarter-mile of this trail. There are blackberry bushes in the underbrush and a sweet little creek with a wooden footbridge.

You’ll feel miles away from the road and, as you climb, the oaks give way to a ridge studded with manzanita. Here the views of San Luis Obispo County’s hill country unfold.

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You can continue on for two more miles or so to the top (yes it gets steep).

How: Trail begins off California 41 at the Cerro Alto Campground; $10 day-use fee.

The beach parallels the Embarcadero -- and offers good views of Morro Rock -- in Morro Bay.
(Mary Forgione/Los Angeles Times)
Wispy beach primrose in the dunes along the Embarcadero in Morro Bay.
(Mary Forgione/Los Angeles Times)
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Embarcadero in Morro Bay: Kick off your shoes and head for the dunes at the spot where Atascadero Road turns into the Embarcadero.

A slog through the deep sand will feel like a foot massage, and you can check out the sand verbena and beach primrose that cling to the sandy hills.

Once through the dunes, you can walk the hard-packed beach in either direction where you’ll catch great vistas of the back side of Morro Rock.

How: California 41 turns into Atascadero Road and then Embarcadero; parking along the road is free.

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The trail to Valencia Peak in Montana de Oro State Park is narrow and often shrouded in fog.
(Mary Forgione/Los Angeles Times)

Valencia Peak in Montaña de Oro State Park, Morro Bay: There are so many places to see the dramatic bluffs and coves of the California coast up close in this state park, but Valencia Peak takes you above it all.

It’s a tough trek to the top of the more than 1,300-foot summit along a rocky two-mile trail.

The payoff? 360-degree views of the surf and beaches below — unless it’s fogged in.

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How: Trail starts near the parking area south of Spooner’s Cove in the park.

Info: Montaña de Oro State Park, www.lat.ms/montanadeoro


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