After five years in SoCal, I accumulated some pretty fun outdoor experiences. SoCal's funny, in the sense that it doesn't have a culture as outdoors-oriented as the Bay Area, and yet down here we have 10,000' peaks and big national forests right in our backyards. And, it seems like even in my short time here, SoCal people have clued into this more. Great! Help protect these places! Here are my favorites:
The SoCal Triple Crown - San Gorgonio in San Bernardino Natl Forest, San Jacinto, and Baldy in Angeles, in decreasing order of how neat-o they are. They're all pretty cool. San Gorgonio is really isolated and more forested than I expected, and get your permit ahead of time (they were pretty disorganized when I went, and yes they do run out of them!) San Jacinto often seems longer than it actually is, and from the Humber Park/Devil's Slide area it's 16 miles round trip. My favorite thing about Baldy is Devil's Backbone, which is actually not as exposed as reports may lead you to believe.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY
Baden-Powell - my favorite peak in the Angeles, for the last quarter mile if nothing else. This is a trail that does not screw around, and neither should you!
Any trail in Angeles NF starting from Chantry Flats - because it's super green.
Santa Monica Mountains - Backbone Loop/Boney Trail. There's a lot more up there than you think.
Griffith Park - better than I thought it would be for an urban park.
Crystal Cove State Park - go in the spring when it's green, but really any time of year it's great.
San Juan/Bluebird Trails, southern Trabuco Unit of Cleveland NF - forest, nice climbs, waterfalls, plus I saw my first horny toad on this trail, and no that's not a euphemism.
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY
Cactus to Clouds - from Palm Springs up San Jacinto the hard way. Don't let the rangers discourage you, they really tried to scare me off when I called. Do take a lot of water (I took 4 liters = 1 gallon, and it was just barely enough). Do it in spring or fall, although fall is the best time (mid-late October, start early, no snow or ice leftover from winter.)
SAN DIEGO COUNTY
I lived here so I got a little more specific in this other post.
There were also outdoor things in SoCal that underwhelmed me (i.e., in terms of reputation vs. my experience). I'd definitely rather have the open space than not have it, but I'd also rather have had some people temper my enthusiasm to set aside time to do these things:
- Trail running in open desert, even in desert mountains. It kind of takes the wind out of your sails if you can see continuously exactly where you're going.
- Palos Verdes Peninsula
- The southern half of the Descanso Unit of Cleveland NF
- Crystal Lake in Angeles NF
Of course I am indebted to the many people who, out of passion and altruism, put resources online to help others find their own experiences. These are just some of the ones I used a lot but I can't possibly remember or list them all.
Photography on the Run (Ventura, Northern LA)
Dan's Hiking Pages (Angeles NF)
Dave Stillman's blog (Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Padres NF)
Nobody Hikes in LA
Mountain Bike Bill (San Diego County)
And if you use and enjoy the trails, get out there AND VOLUNTEER! AND VOTE TO PRESERVE OPEN SPACE!