The 7 best scenic drives in L.A.

See the most beautiful vistas in L.A. from your car window with these scenic drives, from Mulholland to the mountains

While commuting is a ceaseless source of frustration, a scenic drive can also be one of the most freeing and picturesque things to do in L.A. We’ve all stared up at the palm trees along Sunset Boulevard or the Art Deco buildings on Wilshire Boulevard and taken a second to appreciate just how lovely L.A. can be—at least we hope you have.

These scenic drives below—through mountain ranges and along beaches in L.A.—flaunt more than just run-of-the-mill flora and architecture. Fill up the tank or charge up the car, wait out rush hour and start planning to pilot your way through these seven scenic drives in Los Angeles.

Most scenic drives in Los Angeles

Palos Verdes Drive around the Palos Verdes Peninsula

Photograph: Michael Juliano

Palos Verdes Drive around the Palos Verdes Peninsula

As South Bay beaches give way to golden-hued bluffs you’ll encounter more than 10 miles of streets hugging the coast from the Torrance border to San Pedro. Start the drive with a dramatic clifftop view toward the Santa Monica Mountains from a small parking lot at the intersection of Paseo del Mar and Palos Verdes Drive in Palos Verdes Estates.

The first third of the drive sticks mostly to spectacular real estate a few blocks inland, but after you round Point Vicente, the drive changes dramatically. For a few miles past Terranea, there’s nothing but undeveloped oceanfront hillsides, winding roads and one astounding architectural gem, Wayfarers Chapel. Once you enter San Pedro, the drive turns more residential and industrial, but we happen to think there’s something visually arresting about that first glimpse of the Port of L.A. Consider wrapping up at the Korean Bell of Friendship for a more idyllic terminus.

14 miles; 30 minutes

Malibu Canyon to PCH

Photograph: Michael Juliano

Malibu Canyon to PCH

When the small blue sign on Las Virgenes Road announces “scenic route begin,” it isn’t kidding; a cluster of housing developments immediately give way to stunning views of the Santa Monica Mountains. As you pass Malibu Creek State Park and Malibu Temple, you’ll slice your way through the isolated canyons. Follow the smell of ocean air to Pepperdine’s lush lawn—look out for lounging deer—where you’ll make a right onto the Pacific Coast Highway.

The rest of the drive along PCH features glittery ocean views as the lush coastal mountains meet the turquoise shore. Though you could chart a course for the distant Point Mugu cape, the drive turns less dramatic—though more remote—once you pass the county line. We recommended wrapping up at Point Dume instead, or a little farther at El Matador or Neptune’s Net.

24 miles; 35 minutes

Angeles Crest Highway to Mt. Wilson

Photograph: Michael Juliano

Angeles Crest Highway to Mt. Wilson

Within 10 minutes of turning off the freeway, you’ll have climbed over 3,000 feet up Angeles Crest Highway. The elevation keeps increasing from there as the highway winds around rocky inclines and recovering burn areas.

When you reach the Red Box Picnic Area, turn right for easily the most majestic five miles in the county. The impossibly narrow road clings to the mountainside as thick evergreen forests sprout out of the rock walls to your right. Off to your left, every turn presents a different view of the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains. It’s one of the most surreal drives in the L.A. area, even more so when it wraps up in front of an array of radio towers and the Mount Wilson Observatory.

Alternatively, when the road to Mount Wilson is closed (which is somewhat often in the winter due to snow), you can just keep going east on Angeles Crest for more mountainous terrain; this is also where you’re most likely to see snow. Or, if you’re looking for a super short trip, set a course for the much nearer Georges Gap Trailhead, which boasts a beautiful view of the range’s interior.

17 miles; 35 minutes

Mulholland Drive

Photograph: Michael Juliano

Mulholland Drive

A stretch of Mulholland Drive just east of Coldwater Canyon Drive is currently closed due to storm damage. 

Mulholland Drive is one of the best places to remember why driving in L.A. can be fun. This is the road of classic make-out points, Hollywood chase scenes and scenic splendor. Up here, you leave behind much of the bustle of the basin for a whiff of the L.A. dream where the views are just as impressive as the real estate.

Start your drive on the road’s eastern end near the Hollywood Bowl Overlook, the only overlook with a clear view of the skyline to the south. About a half-dozen Valley-facing overlooks later you’ll arrive at the San Vicente Mountain Park. That’s probably where you’ll want to wrap things up; from there, the road turns into a dirt path closed off to car traffic until it picks up again near Topanga Canyon.

If you want a slight on-foot detour mid-drive, there’s a back entrance to Runyon Canyon that puts you only a few minutes from the peak, just west of the Hollywood Bowl Overlook. In addition, just past the intersection with Coldwater Canyon Drive, consider a stop at the alpine lake-like surroundings of Franklin Canyon Park.

14 miles; 50 minutes

Linda Vista through the Arroyo Seco

Photograph: Michael Juliano

Linda Vista through the Arroyo Seco

There’s no shortage of impressively ritzy roads in L.A., but few are as lovely as Pasadena’s Linda Vista Avenue. As you begin heading southbound parallel to the Rose Bowl, a small sign lets you know that you’ve hit the officially designated “scenic tour,” but we suggest starting much farther back. Begin way to the west on Chevy Chase Drive, where you’ll climb through enclaves hidden in the hills above Glendale, before winding past Art Center’s campus and the open vistas of the Arroyo.

Then, as you descend onto Linda Vista, you’ll pass by stately-but-not-showy houses covered in a canopy of old trees. Eventually the road will lead you to the freeway; cross over it and make a left onto the historic Colorado Street Bridge instead.

7 miles; 15 minutes

Griffith Park

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Griffith Park

City meets wilderness in the main circuit of streets around L.A.’s beloved Griffith Park. Vermont Avenue acts as the grand entrance, passing by private estates and the Greek Theatre before climbing up a hill and through a tunnel toward the Observatory.

On the way down—after stopping for a twinkly vista of the city below—you’ll wind through Western Canyon Road and onto Fern Dell, the rustic evergreen-lined street in the park’s southwest corner.

The route can get particularly busy on weekend evenings (especially in the summer) and when there’s an event at the Greek, so tackle it on a weekday if you can.

  • 3.5 miles; 15 mins
  • Take in L.A. views while with a hiking tour of Griffith Park 

The Canyon Roads

Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

The Canyon Roads

We can’t think of any other major American city where canyon roads are a regular part of city dwellers’ commutes. If you’re on one of these roads—which cut through the Hollywood Hills and Santa Monica Mountains—chances are it’s as a freeway alternative and not for a joyride, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t appreciate their scenic beauty. We could never pick just one, so we suggest you explore them all, whether Outpost’s tropical canopies, Topanga’s narrow walls or Laurel’s bohemian oasis.

In any case, you’ll want to avoid these roads during rush hour: The worst traffic is typically heading south in the morning and north in the evening.

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