Escape the confines of your car and head up to Los Angeles' Runyon Canyon for a little mid-city hiking right smack dab in the middle of the Hollywood Hills. With three trails--easy, medium and hard--dotted with some of the best vista points in Los Angeles (yes, better than the lookout by Outpost Drive), you can work up a sweat and snag nearly 360-degree views that include the Hollywood Sign, the high-rises of Downtown L.A. and Century City, and, if it's a clear day, all the way out to the ocean. Because there is not much shade on the majority of the mountain, sun-protective gear is definitely recommended (as is a large, but manageable bottle of water). The best part? Dogs allowed (and off the leash)!
The recreational park is accessible from both the top and bottom of the mountain; a dirt parking lot (free!) hugs Mulholland Drive at the peak and street parking is available in the neighborhood down below (North Fuller Ave. and Franklin Ave., Hollywood). So it's your choice if you want to make your way down first or use the downhill as a much-earned relief after your hefty hike.
From the bottom, enter the gate and head up to where the trail forks. Go straight for trail with the medium level of hardness or steer left to access the hard and easy trails. The medium trail will make a u-turn past an old tennis court and then wind up onto a dirt path with well-worn, wood-beamed stairs. You'll have reached the top of the medium trail when you come to an old wood bench with a seat that's at least four feet off the ground. If you continue, the trail meets back up with the easy trail.
For the easiest route, just keep plodding up the old, paved fire road burrowed between two hillsides. A little more than 3/4 of the way up, you'll meet up with the medium trail--a wide dirt path lined with shrubs that juts out to your right. For a little view indulgence, without any uphill hiking to get to it, make a right on the medium trail and walk out to the plateau's end. From here you can see the white, block letters of the Hollywood Sign to your left. Look a little more central to find the bulbous domes of the newly remodeled Griffith Observatory atop a distant hill. Almost directly in front of you stands Downtown Los Angeles, and then the sprawling grid of Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and pretty much every other city on the Westside (the "Westside" refers to anything oceanside of the hills that separate the San Fernando Valley, or "the valley," from what Angelenos call "the city").
If you're jonesing for an extra-good workout, because believe me, even the "easy" trail is nothing to feel lazy about, head up the dirt path that forks left up the hillside from the base of the easy trail for the ever-daunting, hard trail. Although it looks like it might be headed off in some random, wayward direction, it's not. Once over the small hump you'll see large homes nestled into the lush crevice of the hills. Keep an eye out for a turquoise pool that drops off into a waterfall, surrounded by teak-like wood and stout palm trees to your left and you'll get a peak into what Hollywood Hills living is all about.
Although there are several trails that drift off in the beginning of the hard trail, the one you want to be on should be obvious. Many of the smaller trails wander off only to return to the main trail anyway, so don't be worried about getting lost. Scramble up the the steep inclines, try not to slip on loose, dry dirt, and take breaks at each flat--if you don't, you'll miss the most spectacular views out there.
Once you've hit the highest peak of the hard trail, you'll come down, pass an abandoned mansion with a stuffed-animal dragon peeking out from behind broken panes of glass. Stay right after the house and follow the wide dirt road. You will see the paved fire road down to your right. You can take that up to the top parking lot or, for one last heart-inducing jaunt, take the high road to the left and head up the wooden stairs. At the top of those, stay right and it will lead you back to the top lot, or top of the easy trail.
A loop can be made out of any two of the three trails or descend the way you came, but plan on at least an hour for any of the three hikes. Unfortunately, there are no bathrooms in the entire park and not many hiding spots behind shrubs--the paths are almost always busy with hikers, not to mention all of Los Angeles is looking up at you from below. For more information check out: www.lamountains.com/parks.
Oh, and don't forget to pet as many slaphappy doggies as possible.