Mellow Out in Topanga, California

Roadside art in Topanga
  • Roadside art in Topanga

When you’re staring at a deer beneath a grove of oak trees, it might be difficult to realize that you’re within the city limits of Los Angeles.

Topanga is a hilly, wooded oasis located within the city limits of the megalopolis. As with many Angelenos, it was one of my favorite weekend getaway locations when I lived in Woodland Hills. One of the joys of living in L.A. is driving down winding Topanga Canyon Road through the valleys and canyons of this artsy, eccentric community on a clear sunny day as the Pacific eventually emerges in front of you.

Topanga is the bridge between the San Fernando Valley and the Pacific, and there's a tension between those who race through Topanga – considering it their runway to the ocean – and locals who leisurely meander along the main drag. A favorite local bumper sticker says, “I slow down thru town. Don’t bother honkin’.”

Tailgating is unfortunately frequent, but this is one of the few drawbacks of living in this lovely community. Those who just speed through without stopping to experience what the town has to offer are missing out on one of L.A.’s finest treasures. In Topanga you can relax, take a breath, slow down and carve out that art project or complete that novel or screenplay. Long, winding side streets lead up hillsides to sprawling homes nestled under a variety of trees, many with magnificent canyon views.

The artistic and spiritual nature of the community of about 8,000 is without dispute. Known since the 60s as a haven for those with an artistic and counterculture bent, Topanga is the place in L.A. to go for wind chimes, tie dye shirts, tile art and several varieties of incense.

Most of the inhabitants these days are more upscale than the down-and-out hippies that were frequent here in the 60s. But there’s still a strong spirit of rebellion. A flyer I picked up at Abuelita’s Restaurant by the Topanga Peace Alliance advertised the documentary film From Topanga to Brussels – Occupy Everywhere. Topanga’s free spirit is exemplified by Elysium Fields, for years a popular nudist resort here. The aptly named Hip Thrift is the only thrift store in town.

Many of Topanga’s most popular restaurants have outdoor seating and scenic locations. The popular Inn of the Seventh Ray describes itself as “LA’s most romantic restaurant.” Originally the site of Topanga’s first church (and possibly Aimee McPherson’s mountain retreat in the 1930s), the Inn is renowned for its organically and locally grown dishes. Its menu declares it “gives you the purest of Nature’s foods, energized as a gift from the sun with a dash of esoteric food knowledge and ancient mystery school wisdom tossed in for your seasoning and pleasure.” Dig in! Weddings are commonly held at the Inn along its picturesque creek.

The more down to earth Abuelita’s is another popular restaurant serving standard Mexican dishes along a river creek just down the street. The Water Lily Café and Froggy’s are some other popular eateries among locals. There are several natural foods cafés in Topanga and a popular certified farmers’ market.

Topanga State Park is a popular site to go hiking. There are 36 miles of trails within the park, and it’s considered the largest woodland area within a major city. Enter at Trippet Ranch and hike 2 miles to a waterfall and 5 miles to reach Pacific Palisades. On my last two walks there I saw a deer within a half mile of the park’s entrance. There’s also an ominous sign warning about mountain lions, but sightings are extremely rare. Another popular hiking spot is the Red Rock Canyon up Old Topanga Road. It’s tricky to find, so do your homework on the directions.

Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is where the blacklisted actor came to start a theater company in the 50s. Performances here continue to draw packed crowds. Ed Asner plays FDR in an upcoming benefit performance.

Another place to check out while in town is Topanga Home Grown, a gift store across the street from The Inn of the Seventh Ray. Here you can pick up jewelry, homemade gifts, candles and the aforementioned incense at reasonable prices.

Light the incense, mellow out and forget about the traffic you’ll inevitably have to battle on your way home.

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