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The Best Things to Do at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

The Best Things to Do at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Your ultimate guide to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area: outdoor activities, camping, rock climbing, and much more.

Palig Dzadourian


5 min read

November 13, 2022

A nice little getaway into the wilderness of California located right around the corner – sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Well, it’ll sound even better when you remember that Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation is that exact getaway location you are looking for. Take a break from all the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and venture into the wonders of Santa Monica Mountains, where the Malibu beaches, 500 miles of trails, and endless amounts of outdoor fun are at your fingertips. There are so many parks to discover in this area, and some may have escaped your attention. Here’s a full guide to help you explore this beautiful part of Los Angeles

With just a short drive out from the city, you can detach from society and immerse yourself in the stars underneath the Santa Monica Mountain skies.

Camping in the Mountains

Camping in California is already quite fun, and offers great opportunities to bond with friends and family, and gain a newfound appreciation for the outdoors. Santa Monica Mountains Recreation is the ideal place to put the chaos of your daily lives on pause and experience the tranquility of the mountains with views of the sunny oceans to complement. 

The many campgrounds to choose from are Circle X Ranch in Santa Monica Mountains, and other charming ones open to the public in Point Mugu State Park and Topanga State Park. Staying overnight in this diverse ecosystem is without a doubt a unique experience. As the mountainous air is usually clear, you have the opportunity to stargaze, or simply relax and let the sounds of the waves below lull you into a calm and relaxed slumber.

Many Angelenos will make the drive out to the coast to witness the famous awe-inspiring poppy bloom every year around late winter to early spring.

Wildflower Viewing  

There’s always something beautiful blooming in the mountains of Los Angeles, but where to find them? Well, the answer to that question is surprisingly easy, and that is, everywhere! Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area has an abundance of trails you can take, upon which you can see an incredible variety of wildflowers and plants. As there are so many, the official website of the area has set up a newsletter in which you have the chance to see what flowers are in full bloom at the moment. Giant Coreopsis, yellow collarless Poppies, fuchsia flowering gooseberries, and so many more.

Santa Monica Mountains Trails 

Santa Monica Mountains hiking is no foreign concept to Californians. It is one of the most popular outdoor activities to do around the area. The Golden State truly values the upkeep of a healthy lifestyle, and with the near-perfect weather all year round, you’d regret not taking advantage of an early morning climb up the mountains. There is an almost inexhaustible number of trails to take, and among the most frequented ones is the Solstice Canyon Loop. Considered a moderately challenging route, it will take up to an hour and a half to complete. 

But what’s so convenient about this trail is that it is located in a mostly shaded area of Santa Monica, making it easier for visitors to soak in the picturesque views of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation. You will stumble upon exotic plants, waterfalls, and many cool surprises along the way. There is also quite an abundance of wildlife around the area, with over 45 mammal species alone, so you are sure to cross paths with at least one of them. Remember to wear sunscreen no matter how shaded the trail can be and don’t be shy to greet fellow-hikers on the trail!

Cross off another item from your to-do list by grabbing your best friend and going horseback riding in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Horseback Riding 

Enhance your experience on the Santa Monica Mountain trails by bringing your horses with you. Horse rentals and event organizers that will help out with any inconvenience or questions. Trudging through the many trails with fellow equestrians is definitely something you should experience. 

An even more exciting activity to partake in is the overnight camping area where all equestrians gather and bond over their mutual beloved hobby and create a sense of community that could only be fostered in California. 

First timers can rest assured that there will be maps, guidebooks, and other information which can be found at the Santa Monica Mountains Interagency Visitor Center. A well prepared horseback riding trip is what will make your weekend away from the city absolutely perfect.


The wonderful mountains in Los Angeles attract rock climbers of all skill levels, from professionals to beginners. One of the most popular destinations is the Echo Cliffs, which makes sense as it is located in California’s largest urban park. Echo Cliffs has become the premier venue for rock climbing in Southern California, a spot fans of the sport should experience at least once in their lives. 

Take in the unique volcanic geology and gain a bird’s eye view of the incredible Santa Monica Mountains while taking on one of the most intense sports. Make sure to prepare beforehand by studying the areas you are allowed to (or not) climb.

The mountains of Los Angeles will never cease to provide you with endless opportunities for leisure and sport.

Mountain Biking 

Although exhausting and challenging, mountain biking is an amazing way to exert your energy while also enjoying the great outdoors of California. Santa Monica national recreation area provides visitors with some exciting mountain biking opportunities as it is home to a diverse terrain, such as ridgetops and canyon floors. The tiresome climb up the mountains is extremely rewarding as you will be met with stunning ocean views when you reach the top. There are also oak trees that provide shaded areas for a more leisurely trek through the mountainous wilderness. 

If you want to immerse yourself into a Californian lifestyle, then it’s time go plant some trees in the Santa Monica Mountain range.

Volunteering: Habitat Restoration 

While volunteering in California does not sound as exciting or relaxing as the other activities listed, it is absolutely worth every second of it. This area of California is one of only five spots in the world with a Mediterranean climate, and is home to natural resources found nowhere else on the planet!  

The habitat restoration program aims to repair damaged parts of the Santa Monica Mountains, and is currently focusing on restoring destroyed areas caused by the Woodsley fire in 2018. As a volunteer, you will be working alongside professionals helping with seed collection, planting native plants, conducting invasive plant control, and more. Giving back to the Earth is one of the most fulfilling things we can do, and it can be filled with fun and excitement surrounded by the right people. 

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