Take a De­tour

Even in a city of 18 mil­lion, it’s still pos­si­ble to es­cape into a wilder­ness that’s beloved by some of the planet’s most iconic mu­sic and movie stars.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - OCTOBER - GET­TING THERE TO BOOK YOUR FLIGHT TO LOS AN­GE­LES, VISIT WWW.VIR­GIN­AUS­TRALIA.COM OR CALL 13 67 89 (IN AUS­TRALIA).

Spend a day in Topanga Canyon, the bo­hemian hide­away for LA lo­cals.

It is only a 20-minute drive along the Pa­cific Coast High­way from the rich and fa­mous in their $50-mil­lion man­sions at Mal­ibu: per­haps that’s why you would likely drive right on by the exit to Topanga Canyon. It’s the nar­row road be­side the pet sup­ply shop spruik­ing baby chick­ens and cheap fire­wood. Should you miss the turn — and al­most every­one does — in about 15 min­utes you’ll end up in Santa Mon­ica, where you’ll be swamped by tourists tak­ing self­ies in front of the town’s fa­mous pier, the fo­cal point of Santa Mon­ica Beach.

But turn in­land at that ram­shackle pet sup­ply shop (the Mal­ibu Feed Bin) and you will un­cover Los An­ge­les’ best-kept se­cret: a hip­pie en­clave that’s long been the hide­out for the planet’s big­gest celebri­ties. Topanga Canyon is the per­fect an­ti­dote to an ur­ban sprawl that starts just south of Santa Bar­bara and doesn’t stop un­til Mex­ico, at ar­guably the most in­fa­mous bor­der on the planet.

SEE & DO

The drive that takes you into Topanga Canyon is a tourist at­trac­tion in it­self, so hire that con­vert­ible, turn up the ra­dio and go ca­reer­ing around hair­pin cor­ners, un­der the chap­ar­ral-covered ranges and tow­er­ing oak trees within the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains, right into one of Amer­ica’s largest ur­ban parks. It’s ru­moured that Jim Mor­ri­son was ref­er­enc­ing these roads in The Doors’ 1970 song Road­house Blues: “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.” (Mor­ri­son lived in Topanga Canyon in the late 1960s.)

The only ur­ban zone you’ll find here barely reg­is­ters on the radar — blink as you drive through and you’ll miss town al­to­gether. But it’s worth keep­ing your eyes wide open — it fea­tures an eclec­tic col­lec­tion of stores pos­sess­ing a dis­tinct bo­hemian flavour. Up­date your tie-dye wardrobe at al­ter­na­tive bou­tiques such as Bouboulina, Hill­billy Hip and Peb­bles; watch as can­dles are moulded in front of you at Topanga Can­dle Com­pany; or try a med­i­ta­tion vi­su­al­i­sa­tion ses­sion at Pure Light Well­ness.

But Topanga Canyon is all about the out­doors — there’s even an out­door theatre, Theatricum Botan­icum, where some of Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest stars have per­formed. There are also more than 70 kilo­me­tres of walk­ing trails across 4500 hectares of state for­est, where you can scale moun­tain ridges and gaze right down on the sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis that is LA.

Coy­otes, and even the odd moun­tain lion, roam these parts, so the lo­cals try to keep their free-range chick­ens safe and sound be­hind wire mesh in enor­mous back­yards. Hik­ing trails take you up im­pos­si­bly steep dirt roads where the houses seem can­tilevered across jagged, dusty ridge­lines. Cac­tus is the hero of this land­scape, while red-tailed hawks and elec­tricblue-coloured scrub jays are con­stantly soar­ing over­head.

You can also take a horserid­ing trail through the wilder­ness with Los An­ge­les Horse­back Rid­ing — time your visit for full moon and take in the trails on a glo­ri­ous moon­lit ride. Or hire a high­per­for­mance moun­tain bike at Topanga Creek Out­post for some chal­leng­ing climbs.

EAT & DRINK

You’ll find one of LA’s most lauded eater­ies in Topanga Canyon hid­den just off the main street. Inn of the Sev­enth Ray is a favourite spot for stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Chan­ning Ta­tum to es­cape LA’s per­sis­tent pa­parazzi, and has barely changed since open­ing night in 1975 (the owner’s 80 now, and she’s not sell­ing). Sit be­neath the fairy lights in the dry heat of a sum­mer evening and you’ll soon for­get the hus­tle and bus­tle of LA is less than an hour away. For the best start to your day, stop by Froggy’s Cof­fee — it’s on the site where Neil Young en­joyed break­fast as he wrote his piv­otal al­bum Af­ter the Gold Rush. And for ar­guably the best gath­er­ing of lo­cal char­ac­ters, try Cafe Mi­mosa. You’ll see sep­tu­a­ge­nar­i­ans in pur­ple vel­vet dis­cussing karma friend­ships while de­ci­pher­ing the full mean­ing of last night’s dreams over hot or­ganic chai.

STAY

At the main ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tion (there are no chain ho­tels in the Canyon), Topanga Canyon Inn Bed and Break­fast, park­ing can re­quire a hand­brake you’d bet your rental in­sur­ance ex­cess on. But the views over the canyon at dusk and dawn from these two Mediter­ranean-style build­ings high up in the val­ley make the jour­ney there worth it. Group break­fasts are shared around a fam­ily din­ing ta­ble each morn­ing at 9am.

FROM TOP Find di­verse bo­hemian fare at the stores along Topanga Canyon Boule­vard; take in a play at the Theatricum Botan­icum.

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFTStreet art at­trac­tion the Great Wall of Topanga; chick­ens on the pa­tio at the home of ac­tor and model An­gela Lind­vall; views from Topanga Canyon; or­ganic matcha tea is the drink of choice.

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