It was like this place I always kind of, sort of knew existed, but never paid any attention to. Here, it’s so easy to just drive right past, humming along on the 110 or the 405 or even the PCH, and not get even the tiniest glimpse of what you’re missing. That was my relationship with Palos Verdes for the first 7 or so years that I’d lived in California, even though I’ve always just lived less than 50 miles away.
I don’t remember what compelled me to go for the first time. If I had to guess, it could be because a friend or two stayed at Terranea Resort, and seeing their photos made me wonder what the heck was going on in LA that I didn’t know about. Or maybe it was because of my coworker, who lives in Palos Verdes and shares his postcard-worthy, wish you were here view on Instagram on the regular. Whatever it was, I finally decided to make the short drive over to Palos Verdes, and I was completely blown away.
Palos Verdes is not one of those places, like many of the more ‘hot’ hotspots in Los Angeles, that necessarily screams ‘look at me.’ It’s out of the way with no convenient freeway. The beaches are rugged and for the most part, not swimmable. There’s no booming hotel scene or cluster of restaurants or nightlife options to congregate at. Instead, it’s just a gorgeous place, with a pretty affluent neighborhood of South Bay LA residents, that still manages to be both approachable and unexpectedly inviting.
If you’re an outdoor lover and adventurous spirit, Palos Verdes is chicken soup for the urban-dweller’s soul.
Where is Palos Verdes?
Palos Verdes is south of Los Angeles and part of the city’s South Bay. Its proper name is the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and it’s broken into a couple of different neighborhoods – Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, and Rancho Palos Verdes. If you’re familiar with the area, you might agree that, like most worthwhile beach towns in California, Palos Verdes is a little out of the way. But that’s part of what makes it so special!
Out of all the neighborhoods on this peninsula, Rancho Palos Verdes is where most of the action is in terms of things to do.
The Best Things to Do in Palos Verdes
If you visited Palos Verdes without getting out of your car, which I’ve done countless times, I’m sure you wouldn’t be disappointed. This peninsula is wild and rural in the best possible sense, worlds away from the sights and sounds of the rest of LA. On the road, you’ll find yourself tracing the coastline, weaving up and down and winding around along with the area’s rugged, craggy terrain.
Take Palos Verdes Drive (East-West or vice-versa), which is approximately a 20-minute (12-mile) drive without stopping. But, there will be stopping. Lots of it!
There are miles and miles of hiking paths all over the Palos Verdes peninsula. Since everything is close to or within a residential area, most trails are generally well-maintained and well-marked. Palos Verdes peninsula is said to have a true Mediterranean climate, with predominantly dry, temperate days. The surrounding chaparral and shrubs are vaguely reminiscent of other shrubby, coastal areas in far-off places like Spain, Italy and Greece, making for some truly unique California hiking.
Abalone Cove Trail (1.4 miles)
Paintbrush Trail (5.7 miles)
Klondike and Portuguese Canyon Trails (5.0 miles)
Pescadero Trail (0.6 miles)
Shipwreck Hiking Trail (4.6 miles)
You actually don’t need to take a hike to get an incredible view, if that’s not your thing. There are several vistas worth stopping at that will reward you with scenery you may have never seen before, even if you’ve lived in Los Angeles all your life.
Beaches in Palos Verdes are a bit tricky. You’ll notice that a lot of beaches here have limited parking, or a steep walk down to the water. Many more also have rocks and pebbles instead of sand. But they’re all gorgeous nonetheless because they feel so untouched and rugged compared to anything else you’ll experience near LA.
- Cabrillo Beach
- White Point Park
- Sacred Cove Beach
- Terranea Cove Beach
- Portuguese Bend Cove Beach
- Abalone Cove Beach
- Pelican Cove Beach
The Dominator was a Greek freighter that got caught off the rocky coast of Palos Verdes in 1961, and was unable to be freed. Ever since, the shipwreck has remained underwater off the coast, but various remains of the ship can be found scattered along the shoreline. To view the shipwreck, take the Shipwreck Trail.
Terranea Resort is a luxury resort in Palos Verdes that spans a massive 102 acres. You can stay here if you’re looking for a posh coastal vacation with unobstructed sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Or, if you’re just stopping by for the day, you can check out the resort’s spa, golf course, or restaurants that are open to the public. Terranea is known as an eco-friendly resort, with importance placed on creating minimal impact, preserving the surrounding ecosystem, and educating guests about sustainable practices.
Point Vicente Lighthouse
Point Vicente Lighthouse, listed on the National Registry of Historic Sites, has been around for just about a century. In its early years, it was one of the brightest landmarks on the west coast, and actually needed to be dimmed during WWII so enemy submarines wouldn’t be able to find land. Today, the lighthouse still functions with an automated light, and has actually even starred in a couple of Hollywood movies! You can’t go inside, but the view of the lighthouse from the nearby walking path is amazing. And, there’s an Interpretive Center and museum onsite so you can learn more about its history, if you’d like to.
Wayfarers Chapel looks like it was pulled straight out of a fairytale. This small chapel has glass walls and ceilings that are surrounded by giant redwood trees, making you feel as if you were standing in the middle of a forest. The Chapel operates like a normal place of worship and a popular wedding destination. When there isn’t a service going on, the architecture, designed by Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright’s son!), is well worth stopping by to check out.
Tips to Know Before You Go
1. GETTING AROUND: Because it’s a bit removed from the rest of Los Angeles, you definitely need a car in order to get around Palos Verdes. You can try Uber or Lyft, but you may have to wait longer to get a driver to accept.
If you’re visiting Los Angeles, rent a car on Expedia here.
2. PARKING: Parking availability varies greatly around Palos Verdes. Sites like the lighthouse and the chapel have big, dedicated lots. But at many beaches and lookout points in the area, you’ll find tiny lots that can fill up easily, especially near sunset.
Several trailheads and popular hiking spots in Palos Verdes begin in residential areas. Here, you’ll want to pay close attention to signs and make sure you’re parking somewhere legal that’s not designated for the people that live there (usually marked as ‘permit only’).
3. ETIQUETTE: Speaking of not parking in spots meant for residents, since Palos Verdes is a residential area, it pays to be mindful and respectful while you’re visiting, which should go without saying. Don’t trash the beaches, don’t block or slow down traffic (no matter how pretty the view is), and try not to be loud or disruptive if you find yourself walking through neighborhoods in order to access trailheads. Common courtesy, sure, but a reminder never hurts!
4. GAS, GROCERIES, AND OTHER ESSENTIALS: There aren’t many gas stations in Palos Verdes, so make sure you’re filled up prior to visiting. If you need groceries or other essentials (for a picnic or a beach day), there’s a grocery store, a pharmacy, and some restaurants at Golden Cove Center (31176 Hawthorne Blvd) which is just off Palos Verdes Drive, not far from the lighthouse.
5. WHAT TO PACK: If you plan on hiking or visiting Palos Verdes’ beaches, plan on packing clothes you don’t mind getting a bit dirty, as the trails here can be dusty. Also, I strongly recommend wearing long pants when hiking, as there are catci and other poky (technical term, right?) plants in the area. Last but not least, the beaches here are rocky, so water shoes will be your best friend.
Are you planning on visiting Palos Verdes? Tell me below!
Tours in Palos Verdes
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