Although Los Angeles has the least amount of parkland within its city limits of any major metropolis in North America, there are dozens of natural areas and scores of parks throughout the greater Los Angeles basin that make it a magical place to live.
There are about 15 million people spread over 467 square miles and 88 incorporated cities in Los Angeles County.
Discovering nature’s beauty amongst the urban sprawl, at first, seems ludicrous — yet with a little effort Los Angeles is draped in nature’s jewels and some areas are within 10 minutes of the downtown area. All you have to do is know where to go.
Amazingly, the city and county of Los Angeles have more diversity than any other city in the U.S.
Los Angeles was once a broad coastal floodplain ringed with high and low mountains fed by a large meandering river that the Spanish explorers called “Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula.”
Did you know that greater Los Angeles contains mountain wilderness, open canyon meadows, running water full of fish and wildlife sanctuaries?
Welcome to wild Los Angeles where within a 90-minute drive from Downtown there are arid deserts and high chaparral, grasslands with native oaks and introduced Australian eucalyptus groves, rocky offshore islands, wildflower meadows, marine wetlands, creeks and streams, lakes and ponds, ancient pine forests and beaches and thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails.
The climate of Southern California is characterized by a warm, wet winter and a long, dry summer; it’s called a Mediterranean-type climate.
The World Wildlife Fund classifies Southern California as containing “Mediterranean Shrub Woodlands.” There are five such similar zones on the globe and they are home to 20 percent of the entire planet’s plant species.
The dominant vegetation throughout Los Angeles is chaparral, dense, dry, sometimes impenetrable ankle-to-tree high ground cover of small-leaved evergreen plant communities.
Wildfire resets nature’s biological clock; it’s an indispensable natural agent for chaparral’s regeneration.
According to the LA Audubon Society there are over 500 species of birds in the region.
The diversity of animals from red racer snakes to mountain lions is breathtaking.
The Santa Monica Mountains are a 250-square-mile wedge of east-west or transverse mountains rising out of the Pacific from Sandstone Peak in the west to Mt. Hollywood in Griffith Park in the east.
Astoundingly, there are 26 distinct natural communities within these mountains including 53 species of mammals, 400 kinds of birds and 13 species of nesting raptors.
Topanga State Park has over 11,000 acres, all falling within Los Angeles, making it the largest park in any major city in the U.S.
It contains oak forests, mixed chaparral and coastal sage scrub. Deep within the wet canyons are tall western sycamores, California bay trees, coast live oaks and bigleaf maples.
It’s also home to bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, gray foxes, red-shouldered hawks, red-legged frogs and mountain king snakes and a kaleidoscope of seasonal wildflowers.
Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyon is nestled on the northern flanks of the Santa Monica Mountains and there you will find the largest stand of southerly valley oaks on the globe and the highest concentration of birds of prey nesting sites in continental U.S.
Santa Clarita Woodlands Park is located in the eastern Santa Susan Mountains with year round streams that feed a mix of tree species unique to the world: Scrub, live and deciduous oaks, California bay trees, California black walnut, bigleaf maples and big cone Douglas-firs.
Seventy-five million gallons of treated but unchlorinated water flows daily from the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant into a lake at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve, which nourishes the Los Angeles River year-round, providing habitat for 200 species of birds. Visit the sanctuary and marvel as monarch butterflies dance amongst the sage.
Ten minutes from Downtown, Griffith Park has over 4,100 acres that provide habitat for 100 kinds of plants, 100 bird species, mule deer, foxes, coyotes, skunks, raccoons, and gorgeous wildflowers.
Close by to Griffith Park is the Ernst E. Debs Regional Park which supports one of the few remaining natural arroyos and one of the last southerly groves of California black walnuts.
The San Gabriel Mountains are northeast of Los Angeles with over 650,000 acres of jagged terrain.
The Angeles National Forest is within these mountains and it hosts over 32 million people a year, more than any other national forest. Piru Creek is an hour from Los Angeles, within the Angles Forest, and it has some of the most exciting whitewater rafting in all of California.
About 90 minutes from the city, near the summit of Mt. Baden Powell at 9,389 feet above sea level, are tenacious 1,000-year-old limber pines, clinging to bare rock, looking towards Los Angeles. Their tree rings are being used to interpret climate change.
Many people move to Los Angeles for its lovely easy-living climate and also to explore the rich array of nature.
Dr. Reese Halter is a naturalist and founder of Global Forest Science. He can be reached through www.DrReese.com.