Take in nature with these socially distant LA sights & hikes

Art by Sara Heymann

Let’s face it, weekends in college are not what they used to be. With the student body scattered to the four winds this semester, the typical atmosphere of door-to-door frat parties, late-night food runs with friends on Fig and Downtown L.A. day trips has become a faint recollection. (Although some people seem to be having a hard time letting go of the past when it comes to off-campus ragers.)

As the second week of classes begins, those who have moved back to Los Angeles are likely looking to fill the void. So for those itching to escape the confines of their apartments and get some fresh air, here is a list of socially distant sights and hiking trails to explore in and around the city. 


The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens 

For those looking to break away from their screens, a trip to The Huntington is perfect for clearing the mental clutter after a long week of online classes. 

Established in 1919 by Henry E. Huntington and his wife Arabella, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution located just 30 minutes from campus in the quiet suburbs of San Marino. 

Due to the coronavirus, the indoor galleries and some high-touch outdoor areas — including the Children’s Garden and the Conservatory — remain closed. However, The Huntington boasts 14 other themed gardens spread out over an astounding 120 acres that are a treat to visit any time of year. With nearly 15,000 different plants, the grounds are bursting with flowers, herbs and foliage of every imaginable color and scent. 

While picnics are not permitted, consider swinging by the 1919 Café for grab-and-go refreshments that you can enjoy while strolling through the grounds. 

Whether you’re a photographer, artist, architecture student or looking to practice mindfulness, a visit to The Huntington Gardens is one of the best ways to experience L.A. while maintaining social distancing. 

Marvin Braude Bike Trail 

For the environmentally conscious Trojans out there, a bike ride along the Marvin Braude Bike Trail — also known as The Strand — is the ideal way to get a taste for the various beach towns dotting the L.A. coastline. Starting at Will Rogers State Beach in the Pacific Palisades, The Strand passes through popular Southern California destinations, including Santa Monica, Venice and Dockweiler (to name a few) before ending at Torrance Beach. 

Some weekend warriors enjoy biking the entire 21-mile beach path in a single day, but I’d recommend starting small for your first time on The Strand. A popular choice is the stretch from Manhattan Beach to Hermosa Beach. This mile-and-a-half route is ideal around sunset so that when you reach the famous Hermosa Beach Pier, you can watch the sun dip below the horizon. 

If you’re a movie buff, you’ll recognize that this pier and the famous Lighthouse Café behind it are featured in “La La Land.” For bonus points and an added layer of fun, pop in some headphones and listen to the movie soundtrack as you and your friends ride back down the bike path. 


Waterman Mountain Loop Trail 

If you’re looking to leave the city bubble and get out into nature, consider a hike along the Waterman Mountain Loop Trail. Located in the Angeles National Forest, a little more than an hour’s drive from campus, this six-mile-long, moderately rated route features stunning alpine views of the San Gabriel Mountains. Massive pine and cedar trees line the trail providing shade and an intoxicating aroma can be enjoyed even through face masks. 

Once you reach the summit, you’ll find plenty of striking boulder formations — a good place to rest, have lunch and take in the quiet landscape. Foot traffic on the wide trails is light and these rocky outcrops can be great places to practice meditation and breathing exercises alone, with your quarantine pod or alongside a few socially distanced friends. 

Musch Trail to Eagle Rock 

Another day hike option is Musch Trail to Eagle Rock. About a 40-minute drive from campus, the 4.5-mile-long trail is located in the middle of Topanga Canyon. You’ll be treated to bohemian roadside art installations reminiscent of 1970s counterculture along the journey to the trailhead. 

Whether you’re a hiker, trail runner, bird watcher or flower enthusiast, this trail has enough variety to satisfy any outdoorsman’s needs. The landscape frequently changes on the hike, from tree tunnels to vast grass fields, and includes several creek crossings. One section of the trail is a dead ringer for the alpine meadow in the opening scene of “The Sound of Music” — you’ll almost expect to see Julie Andrews twirling around in the wildflowers when you walk through it. 

While Musch Trail often has heavier foot traffic than the Waterman Mountain Loop Trail, there are large footpath sections that are wide enough to maintain social distance when passing others. The first half of the trail is pretty flat and gradually gets steeper with a pretty serious incline the last mile or so, but the final push up the hill is more than worth it when you see the far-out rock formations. If you aren’t afraid of heights, climb to the top of the sloping rocks and take in the Pacific Ocean’s 180-degree view. 

Musch Trail to Eagle Rock is bound to make for an exciting weekend adventure from the strange art to the otherworldly rock formations at the end of the hike. 

Backbone Trail to Corral Canyon Road 

Located in the Santa Monica Mountains, less than an hour from campus, Backbone Trail is another essential L.A. hike. The 63-mile-long trail is best made for weekend trips in smaller sections; one popular choice is a trek from Backbone Trail up to Corral Canyon Road. 

The steep incline for the last half of the hike will definitely get your blood pumping and can be difficult for some when wearing face masks, but the views of Malibu Canyon from the top are good compensation, as are the wildflowers and other native flora that line the trail on your way up. If you take the trail to Castro Crest, you’ll also find an unusual spiral rock art formation on the ground maintained by hikers over the years.