Los Angeles is a hiking haven, but you may not think about all the history that lies behind some of the most famous hikes in the city. From old movie sets to the Hollywood Sign, there’s so much history to explore in L.A. and plenty of hikes to take you there. These 6 hikes are some of the best historical sites you can hike to in L.A., so make sure to check them out!
Will Rogers State Historic Park
Named after famed Hollywood actor Will Rogers, the historic park was purchased by the actor himself in the 1920s, initially as a family ranch. By the time of his death in 1935, the property consisted of the 31-room ranch, stables, riding arena, corrals, golf course, polo field, roping arena, and numerous riding trails. All of these incredible features still stand today, after his widow Betty donated the land to California State Parks in 1944. Besides hiking the trails (which include the Backbone Trail system that will take you into Topanga State Park), you can also take ranch tours, play polo, and ride horses on the historic estate.
Can we really discuss historic L.A. sites without bringing up the Hollywood Sign? The massive 45-foot tall white letters stand starkly against Mt. Lee, and can be seen all across the city. They were initially put up in 1923 as part of an ad campaign for a new housing development (as HOLLYWOODLAND), but instantly became an iconic symbol of L.A. and stuck around. They were replaced by a more durable steel structure in 1978. If you want a true close up shot, there are a few different hikes you can take to see the sign up close — check them all out here!
At over 4,000 acres, Griffith Park is known as one of the largest city parks containing an urban wilderness area in the United States. It dates as far back as 1896, when the land was donated by Colonel Griffith and his wife for the intended purpose of a public park. There are countless places to visit in Griffith Park, from the Autry Museum to the Griffith Observatory to the Los Angeles Zoo. But one of the best features of Griffith Park is its hiking trail network. There are 53 miles of trails within the park — and yes, the Hollywood Sign is here, too.
4. Switzer Falls
Considered one of the best waterfall hikes in LA, Switzer Falls is also a great historical site. The 50-foot waterfall is situated inside what was once known as Switzer-land, a camp built by Commodore Perry Switzer in 1884 to cater to the plethora of hikers coming to Southern California. You can read more about Switzer-land in our article on The Great Hiking Era. For extra historical fun, check out the ruins of a chapel that was demolished in the 1930s.
5. La Brea Tar Pits Loop
You might not think of a fossil excavation site when you think of LA, but the La Brea Tar Pits is one of the most famous. Excavations were in their peak at the turn of the 20th century, with the most documented excavations taking place between 1913 and 1915. Now, besides being able to visit the Page Museum (and sometimes see excavations in progress!), you can hike the La Brea Tar Pits Loop, an easy under one mile jaunt great for running, walking, and learning a little science along the way.
6. Malibu Creek State Park
Once home to the Chumash Native Americans for centuries, Malibu Creek Canyon remains an abundance of diverse flora and fauna, as well as a key historical site in LA. Many of the existing hiking paths were once footpaths used by the Chumash to travel. The park, initially owned by 20th Century Fox Studios, officially opened in 1976, and since then there have been plenty of ruins and old haunts for history buffs and hikers alike to visit. The most well known, perhaps, is the old set where they filmed M*A*S*H during the Fox ownership years. Planet of the Apes was also filmed here, along with dozens of other films and television shows that date back to 1919. Unfortunately, one of the older ruins originally built in 1893, the Sepulveda Adobe, was destroyed in a devastating 2018 fire. Luckily you can still see the ruins of another adobe, built in the 1900s by Johnny Mott. Known as the Mott Adobe, the home was frequented by U.S. President Herbert Hoover. You can still visit it now — but there’s only the fireplace left intact.
Tags: great hiking era, Griffith Park, historical hiking, Hollywood history, hollywood sign, indigenous history, la brea tar pits, los angeles hiking, Malibu Creek State Park, Switzer Falls, will rogers state park