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Ask the Locals City Guide: Palos Verdes, California

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Palos Verdes rocksThis weekend, Peter is broadcasting his radio show from the new Terranea Resort on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

So we decided to ask the locals more about this rather unique part of the Los Angeles metro area …

Palos Where-des?

This dramatic peninsula is located about 30 miles south of Los Angeles, and it comprises four separate cities: Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, and Palos Verdes Estates.

Terranea ResortTerranea, which takes its name from “Mediterranean,” is a $480 million property that sits on 102 acres in Rancho Palos Verdes, high above the Pacific Ocean with 270-degree ocean views.

So besides lounging in this new destination resort’s ocean-view spa, multiple restaurants or nine-hole golf course, we checked in with the locals to see where they like to spend their free time.

Barbara Dye, author of Exploring the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and Fmr. Exec. Director of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy

Located just west of Terranea is the Point Vicente Interpretive Center a small city museum that offers an overview of the peninsula’s history, geology and habitat. You enter through a sea cave lined with real fossils of marine mammals that lived in the area’s long-ago oceans. There are artifacts and a diorama about the Native Americans who called this place their home, and displays on the early Spanish colonization and the development of one of the nation’s first planned communities by a group of visionaries including the Olmstead brothers.

Headed to Southern California? Don’t miss our Off the Brochure Travel Guide to San Diego, California.

The main emphasis in the museum is the gray whale, with models of a baby whale (with lift up windows to see the anatomy), interpretive exhibits, and a collection of intriguing (and occasionally disturbing) whaling items.

Migrating Sea Mammals (not gray whales)And here’s a tip: the patio outside is one of the best places in California to see the gray whale migration from December through April, with docents helping visitors spot the whales offshore. This is also an excellent place to navigate easy pathways along the clifftops to get incredible views of Los Angeles beaches and the hills of Malibu.

Working together, the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy and the City of Rancho Palos Verdes created the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, which encompasses 1,500 acres of open space containing coastal sage scrub habitat—one of the most endangered plant and animal assemblages in the world. More than 20 miles of trails traverse the preserve, providing an opportunity for hikers to see rare wildflowers and endangered birds like the small gray California gnatcatcher.

For time of year, I’d recommend a hike to Sacred Cove. After parking at Abalone Cove, a hike eastward either along the Drive or along the shoreline will take visitors to this isolated cove. It’s a perfect crescent, with sharply defined points embracing it, and the active Portuguese Bend landslide slumping into the ocean in its center.

Palos Verdes coastline - not Sacred CoveHeading toward the western point, visitors will see concentric circles of dramatically colored altered rock in vibrant colors, harbor seals perched on the rocks, and a sea cave with surf crashing through the opening. Except when the tide is really high it’s possible to cross in front of the cave to the large flat platform of volcanic rocks at the point and walk around to look back through the sea cave. Tide pools full of colorful creatures (one time I saw a brilliant orange garibaldi fish caught in one of the pools), a vein of shiny barite crystals, and a blowhole that shoots up when the tide is right all add to the unique attractions of this site. There are sandy beach areas in the corners of the cove, perfect for a picnic. It’s one of my favorite spots in the world.

Point Fermin LighthouseThe undiscovered attraction of Point Fermin Park is a local gem in nearby San Pedro. Point Fermin Park is home to another historic lighthouse with a small museum, beautiful expanses of lawn under spreading trees, and views of the ocean and Catalina. The adventurous can ignore the “Do Not Enter” signs and find their way around the fence to the Sunken City landslide, an area that slumped into the ocean in 1929. Foot paths lead to chunks of land at distorted angles with extraordinary graffiti.

Those who want a real local experience can visit Walker’s Café, a restaurant popular with bikers that has a long history, including being featured in the movie Chinatown.

Up above Point Fermin is Fort MacArthur, full of attractions but practically unknown. It’s the site of the Korean Friendship Bell, donated to the people of the United States in honor of the Bicentennial, with its ornately carved pavilion overlooking the Pacific. A small museum tells the story of its construction. Further into the site you can visit the Fort MacArthur Military Museum, a fascinating exploration of the military history of the area and the huge gun emplacements that were constructed along the coast.

Sea Lion restingAlso within Fort MacArthur is the Marine Mammal Care Center, where you can observe (and hear the barks of) wounded seals and sea lions being nursed back to health, and the International Bird Rescue Research Center which serves all of southern California and has an education center.

Finally, the Angel’s Gate Park and Cultural Center is there, located in former military barracks, with contemporary art exhibits and performances, and galleries open to the public.

Kevin Cody, editor and publisher of Easy Reader weekly paper serving L.A.’s South Bay area

Palos Verdes and the neighboring beach cities offer more than 15 miles of beautiful, uncrowded beaches. The reason for the absences of crowds is, unlike the northern end of the Santa Monica Bay, Palos Verdes and neighboring Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach are not easily accessible by freeway. The 405 freeway, which runs north/south, bends inland when it passes through the South Bay.

Palos Verdes rocksJust about every aspect of Palos Verdes and the beach cities, from its Pacific Rim architecture and cuisine to its music and literature, is informed by the ocean.

Palos Verdes is home to several of the best big wave winter breaks in California. The kelp beds off the coast offer some of the most dramatic free diving and scuba diving in the world. On winter days, the neighboring beach breaks offer consistent, uncrowded waves.

Winds bouncing off the Palos Verdes cliffs above Torrance Beach make Torrance Beach one of the few areas in Southern California with sideshore winds suitable for kite surfing.

Palos Verdes shoreDuring the summer, every weekend features a different beach competition. That includes the recent 48th Annual International Surf Festival, which the highlight was the Taplin Bell relay competition between lifeguards from throughout Southern California. The event includes swimming, paddleboarding, and dory rowing.

The recent 2-mile Dwight Crum Pier to Pier Swim, from the Hermosa Beach pier to the Manhattan Beach pier, drew more than 1,000 competitors. The notorious six-man, six-woman volleyball tournament had nearly 50 teams dressed in costume, and garnered more than 10,000 cheering spectators.

Beach volleyballOn August 8-9, 2009, Hermosa Beach will host the AVP Hermosa Beach Open, featuring the world best beach volleyball players, including two-time Olympic Gold medalist Kerri Walsh who will compete for the first time since the birth of her baby last year.

Also coming up August 16 is the International Surf Festival Surf Contest at the Hermosa Pier, and on August 20, top competitors in the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Race will start paddling at 7 a.m. at the Catalina Isthmus to cross 22 miles along the Catalina Channel, dodging freighters and sharks, and then paddle another 10 miles north along the coast to Manhattan Beach—with the goal of reaching within four hours.

However, the slower paddlers (including me!) take seven to nine hours to finish the race.

Todd Majcher, landscape architect of Terranea Resort

The first thing that comes to mind is surfing but I would be lynched if I discussed these locations …

Check out this tip on Surf Spots for Beginners.

Malaga Cove is a historically rich and charming area that was designed as central component in the original master plan for Palos Verdes. (That plan was originally drafted by Charles Cheney of the architectural firm The Olmsted Brothers—their father designed Central Park in New York.)

Proud PeacockIn addition to the quaint shops and markets, this area also offers great hiking trails through forests of eucalyptus and along tall oceanfront bluffs with striking views of the ocean. Peacocks roam wild here, and you will often run across them on your travels.

Architecturally, there are great examples of local the eclectic styles found in 1920’s Palos Verdes. Both the Malaga Cove School and the Haggarty Mansion were two of the first buildings constructed in Palos Verdes. The mansion was constructed in 1928 for J.J. Haggarty of Haggarty’s Department Stores. It was never occupied by the family, as Mrs. Haggarty preferred to stay at the family estate closer to the city of Los Angeles.

It remained vacant for many years, and was rumored to be haunted. Sometime in the early 1940s, an eccentric inventor purchased the property, and furnished it with a large collection of nude statues and paintings. Finally, the Neighborhood Church acquired the property in 1950 for only $70,000.

A short hike one mile to the south of Terranea is Abalone Cove Shoreline Park featuring two great intimate beaches (Abalone Cove and Sacred Cove), tidepools, bluff top viewing areas and trails crisscrossing the area. The park contains a State Ecological Preserve and both the tide pools and the snorkeling are fantastic experiences.

Wayfarers ChapelAcross from the Abalone Cove Trail Head and nestled in a grove of pine trees is Wayfarers Chapel designed by renowned architect Lloyd Wright, son of the pioneering American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Lloyd Wright’s design is one of the foremost examples of organic architecture, relying on the principle that the trees are the forms and the space within the forms is sacred space.

For more information, tune in to Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio this weekend when Peter broadcasts from Palos Verdes.

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