by Dan Ketchum
Call it a hot take if you must: parks are underrated. Anyone with a dating app knows that Angelenos are obsessed with hiking (and rightfully so), but now more than ever there’s so much to be said for simplifying — some days are made for using cannabis to heighten your experience of adventuring off the beaten path, but others are made for a puff of a Mistifi vape pen and a stroll. Griffith Park and Echo Park Lake are classics for a reason, but let’s give these eight lesser-known but equally gorgeous parks in Los Angeles their much-deserved due.
1. Wattles Garden Park
The next time you get invited to do Runyon, maybe put the nearby Wattles Garden Park on the agenda instead. Crowned by the historic Wattles Mansion (a mainstay for LA weddings), this is one of the most lusciously verdant parks in Los Angeles, with 50 acres of streams, hilly lawns, a massive variety of trees and bucolic formal gardens that live up to the space’s name.
The photo op: A traditional Japanese shrine lies at the end of a dirt path framed by a striking torii gate.
2. Barnsdall Art Park
The Barnsdall Art Park Foundation describes its Hollywood park as “a vibrant, inclusive space for creativity, cultural expression, civic conversation, and social empowerment” and it is all of that — but it is also one of LA’s most perfect picnic spots. Alongside plenty of peace and greenery, you’ll find the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre right on the premises. Pair this expressive space with a creative strain.
The photo op: The evergreen lawn in front of the historic Hollyhock House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s first project in LA.
3. Ernest E. Debs Regional Park
There are parks in Los Angeles, and then there are parks in Highland Park, one of LA’s most walkable neighborhoods and the ideal opportunity to pair your stroll with an urban hike. Debs is a huge neighborhood park on the Figueroa side, but it’s the easygoing hillside hike — which rewards you with a view of the entire neighborhood all the way to Downtown — that makes it. Start at the community-oriented Audubon Center and wrap it up with fresh ceviche at Via Mar down the street.
The photo op: Catch a turtle in frame at Debs Lake on top of the hill.
4. Lincoln Park
While we’re in northeast LA, grab some tacos tuxpeños to-go at Raspados Nayarit and ramble over to Lincoln Park. You won’t find hiking trails or curated gardens at this Lincoln Heights location, but you will find tons of quiet character. Swans float across the glassy lake waters, while local teens are always at the skate park — and either one’s better than looking at your phone. Don’t forget to take in the rotating selection of vibrant community art installations, either.
The photo op: Pointing your camera at Lincoln Park Lake is like cheating.
5. Los Angeles State Historic Park
Not enough people know that the Central Park of Los Angeles rests on 34 acres in the heart of Chinatown. A catalyst for the city’s LA River Revitalization movement and a symbol of grassroots environmental activism, LASHP opened on Earth Day 2017 and offers everything from orchards to art installations to a mile-long walking trail among fields of fragrant lilacs.
The photo op: Get one with the striking Roundhouse elevated walkway in the background, a relic of an early 1900s locomotive repair station.
6. Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area
One of the most “I can’t believe this is in the middle of the city” parks in Los Angeles, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Center is Culver City’s answer to Griffith Park. You might want an active high like Over the Rainbow to partake in the spot’s fishing lake, sand volleyball court and 7-plus miles of gentle, idyllic walking trails.
The photo op: This place has a lotus pond. So it’s that.
7. Vista Hermosa Natural Park
Just a hop from Downtown’s Grand Park, you’ll find a lot more quiet among the 10.5 acres of Vista Hermosa Natural Park. You’ll also find streams, meadows, picnic-perfect oak savannas, a FIFA-regulation soccer field, a nature-themed playground and an outdoor amphitheater all nested among native Mediterranean vegetation. Bring a book and a tilt toward mindfulness, then take it back to a midcentury summer at Echo Park Indoor Pool, which is just a walk away.
The photo op: The lone bench on the hilltop silhouetted by the Downtown skyline was engineered for Instagram
8. Vincent Lugo Park
Why do some Angelenos call this San Gabriel gem Dinosaur Park? The playground’s collection of 14 huge, colorful concrete creature statues basically doubles as a surrealist art installation. While the weird art is the main draw, this exceptionally clean, open space hosts numerous walking trails among native landscaping, including a few picturesque pedestrian bridges over the dry riverbeds of the Alhambra Wash.
The photo op: Take your pick from the giant whales, dragons, dinos and octopus at Dino Park.
Dan Ketchum is an LA-based freelance lifestyle, fashion, health and food writer with more than a decade of experience. He’s been fortunate enough to collaborate and publish with companies such as FOCL, Vitagenne, Livestrong, Reign Together, Out East Rosé, SFGate, the Seattle Times and more.
Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks – Wattles Garden Park
Los Angeles Times – Wattles Garden Park Reopens to Walkers and Hikers
Barnsdall Art Park Foundation – Home
Los Angeles State Historic Park – Home
California Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority – Vista Hermosa Natural Park
Audubon – Audubon Center at Debs Park
Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks – Lincoln Park Lake
City of San Gabriel – Vincent Lugo Park