Whether you’re a free-spirited nature lover or simply a sophisticated city dweller who appreciates a daily dose of sunshine, the inhabitants of Los Angeles can all agree that one undeniable draw to living in the City of Angels is its near-perfect weather all year round. With reliable blue skies, ocean breezes, and consistent comfortable temperatures, L.A. takes a lot of pride in offering unique outdoor spaces and leisurely activities for locals and tourists alike--and at the top of that list is its stunning city parks.
L.A. is a sprawling metropolis with a wide range of eclectic neighborhoods and cultural attractions, so it’s no surprise that the best city parks are just as vast and extraordinary. Whether you’re looking for a flat outdoor space to let the kids roam free and play, or perhaps a more rugged environment to hike the hills with pets and take in some inspiring views, the best public parks in Los Angeles have something for everyone.
Summer in Echo Park is undeniably beautiful, the geyser fountains gush to the sky, the lotus flowers bloom and the lake glitters with the reflection of the surrounding palms. The park is surrounded by shingled craftsmen homes that rise with the steep streets and looming hills to the north, and blessed with keyhole Downtown views to the south. This fountain lake park is patronized by cool rockers, laid-back vatos (dudes), flocks of ducks and crows and is home to wild, wind-rustled palms.
Soak up the scenery and kick off summer with a ride in one of the dreamy swan boats available to rent, and be sure to pay your respects to the elegant Lady of the Lake statue while in the area. For those looking to feel the burn, there’s also over two dozen sets of stairs located around Echo Park, including the set at 1501 Baxter St. that ends at 2101 Park Drive. This 231-step ascent rewards you with spectacular views of the downtown skyline, the Griffith Observatory, and the Hollywood Sign.
The city recently poured $1.1 million in improvements to the former reservoir turned public recreation area, including trimming trees, renovating the boathouse, enhancing the kids’ play area, and removing a reported 35 tons of trash from the lake. Included in the renovation was the forced removal of over 200 people who were living in the park while experiencing homelessness, which was met with criticism from locals and advocates alike.
Across the street from Echo Park and nearby Dodger Stadium is L.A.’s oldest park: Elysian Park. Founded in 1886, it is big and beautiful and the epitome of an urban park, boasting iconic palm tree groves, open grassy areas, ball fields, tennis courts, and even a dog hill, for canine owners to have a field day with their four-legged friends. For hikers, the Wildflower Trail here clocks in at just under three miles and less than 200 feet in elevation, making it one of the easiest ways to get a glimpse of a variety of beautiful wildflowers. Wildflower Trail offers views of downtown L.A., the L.A. River and the back of Mount Washington, as well the pleasant setting of a community garden.
Possibly one of the most charming hidden gems in Los Angeles is Exposition Park, located near the University of Southern California campus. Immerse yourself in the fragrant rose garden blossoming amongst gazebos, a beautiful central fountain and historical brick buildings and stately museums, reminding us of a romantic era of years past. After you enjoy your time outdoors, skip over to a few of the city’s must-see museums including the California African American Museum, California Science Center, and Natural History Museum to round out your exploratory afternoon. No need to worry about entry costs for these attractions, all of these museums offer free admission.
Grand Hope Park
Dubbed as “the park for everyone,” this small but peaceful park in downtown L.A. is decorated with pleasant water features and mosaic tiled buildings. Throughout this urban oasis visitors can find open spaces not only for casual sitting and leisurely strolling, but also for civic gatherings. Grand Hope Park offers amenities ranging from a restored historic Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain with a new wade-able membrane pool, an inviting performance lawn for concerts, a grand event lawn, and a community terrace with an ample display of flora and fauna for all to enjoy.
World-famous Griffith Park is possibly the most well-known and beloved public park in all of L.A. and for good reason. This massive outdoor space is one of the largest urban parks in the country and offers over 70 miles of crisscrossed hiking and biking trails, several mountain peaks, three golf courses, and endless attractions for visitors of all ages. There’s The Greek Theatre, Griffith Observatory, and Amir’s Garden, plus the Old Zoo, Travel Town, The Southern Railroad, Walt’s Barn and pony rides for the younger set. If there’s one park to see in SoCal, it’s arguably this iconic one.
Kids of all ages will absolutely love Polliwog Park, the largest park in the South Bay. Three well-shaded play areas include a lighthouse structure, countless swings, a playground, and so much more. Nearby, you’ll find a picnic area with plenty of tables and barbecues for entertaining purposes, as well as three gazebos, a nine-hole disc golf course, an exercise area, and an amphitheater! There’s also the city’s historical museum, a dog run, and a large pond, where you can admire a handful of adorable ducks and geese, as well as a wildlife refuge. It’s no surprise that this family-friendly park is quite popular all year round.
Hancock Park (La Brea Tar Pits)
Most people know Hancock Park as a ritzy residential neighborhood in the middle of the city, but this legendary outdoor space (more commonly referred to as the La Brea Tar Pits) in the heart of the Mid City neighborhood of L.A. also goes by the same name. Here, visitors can explore the expansive park, where paleontologists have unearthed fossils from saber-toothed cats to mammoths for more than a century, for free. This family-friendly spot is a terrific option for anyone looking to unwind, explore and uncover a fascinating time in history, picnic outdoors, or simply take a breather in between museum visits. There’s also the very Instagrammable Urban Light sculpture in front of the LACMA that’s not to be missed.
Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Park
If you’re exploring the westside of L.A., don’t miss this incredible park. Of course it offers the usual list of amenities like barbeque areas for entertaining, gazebos, trees, and benches; but this spacious park (located near Culver City) also has a hummingbird garden, a lotus pond, a fishing lake, bridges, and a sand volleyball court. Enjoy seven miles of fantastic walking and hiking trails through the Baldwin Hills, with views of almost every corner of the L.A. Basin—from the South Bay and the Pacific Ocean to Downtown and the San Gabriel Mountains.
Lake Balboa Park
If you find yourself in the valley, definitely stop by Lake Balboa Park. Visitors often gush about how this spot has everything a park enthusiast could wish for: free parking, clean lakes, tennis courts, a golf course, a dirt bike path, paved trails, swan boats, benches, and adorable ducks, to name a few.
Los Angeles State Historic Park
After a three-year renovation project, this impressive park is a testament to the power of community. This space combines both the long history and diverse communities of the neighborhood into its design, and features art installations from local talent. With 32 acres of ample open space directly adjacent to Chinatown, L.A. State Historic Park boasts an amazing view of downtown and also hosts a steady rotation of cultural and community events like craft fairs and live music performances throughout the year. Upon its reopening in spring 2017, the park redesign added drought tolerant landscaping, a charming overlook bridge, and fragrant orange grove trees to sweeten the experience.