At Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park you don’t choose between taking the elevator and taking the stairs. Here you decide between the stairs and a meandering dirt trail. You can also drive up to a parking lot near the overlook, but we’ll choose to overlook that for now. Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook provides a grand view over LA from a steep hill south of Culver City. The unique perspective looks north over the Los Angeles Basin extending from Santa Monica Bay to the west, across the Hollywood Hills toward downtown Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Mountains to the east. The dirt trail to the top gains 315 feet over 1.25 miles of zigzagging trail through the 58-acre park. At several points, the trail crosses the stone staircase, which takes a direct line to the top, tackling the same elevation in less that two tenths of a mile for a challenging workout. You can take the stars up and back for a 2/3 of a mile round trip exercise, or stroll up to the summit and down on the single track for a 2.5-mile hike. Of course you can go up one way and down the other. There’s no wrong way to visit Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. You can’t mess up the views!
Park along the south side of Jefferson Boulevard at the base of the park. The trail begins from the east side of the intersection of Hetzler Road, a paved roadway into the park and up to the overlook. There is a large concrete sign for Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park at the start of the trail, making it hard to miss. Proceed to the left of the sign up a wide dirt single track, reaching the bottom of the stone staircase after 0.15 miles. Here the choice must be made. The stairs are a straight shot tackling approximately 300 vertical feet in 0.18 miles. The trail is more gradual and presents a greater variety of views as it switchbacks up the hillside.
To continue up the trail, circle around the base of the steps and head west, gaining an elevated perspective over Culver City. There are several recognizable landmarks in the cityscape below like Sony Pictures Studios and the triangle-shaped Culver City Hotel in downtown Culver City.
The trail continues up the hillside through three more crossings of the stairs. At around 0.6 miles from the start, stay to the left through a junction with a trail descending toward the road, and continue to climb toward the overlook. Since the overlook is visible for most of the hike, it is easy to stay on course. There is one short steep section about halfway up the trail, but otherwise it is steady all the way.
The hillside is largely grass covered, dotted with clumps of sagebrush and bushes like toyon. The park asks that you avoid trail cutting to help the vegetation grow and prevent the Baldwin Hills from balding.
The final crossing of the staircase comes just below the overlook. From here, the trail makes an oversized curve to the right to reach the overlook itself. Just before the vista point, a trail to the left takes you to the Baldwin Hills Visitor Center and Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, due to state park budget cutbacks the beautifully designed new visitor center is almost never open. However, the bathrooms remain unlocked an the botanical gardens continue to be maintained. Just beyond the visitor center there is a parking lot that those less inclined to hike may use to reach the overlook. There is a $6 fee to park in this lot.
After stopping by the visitor center, continue up to the overlook where panoramic views await. To the west, the cityscape stretches toward Santa Monica Bay. To the northwest, the mountain ridges of Malibu are in view. The Getty Center is visible in the mountains beyond Century City and the Hollywood Sign and the Griffith Observatory can be seen above Hollywood. Finally to the east, downtown LA is visible, framed by the San Gabriel Mountains beyond. It is an expansive view of Southern California’s great metropolis, and a more than worthwhile destination for such a short trail.
Return by taking a calf-stretching descent of the staircase or weave your way back down the trail (or combine the two). Dogs and bicycles are not allowed on Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook Trail. No permit is required and parking is free at the lower trailhead, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From the Overland Exit of the 10 Freeway, just east of the 405, take Overland Avenue south for 1.2 miles to Washington Boulevard. Turn left and drive 0.6 miles into downtown Culver City and turn right on Duquesne Avenue. Proceed another 0.6 miles to Jefferson Boulevard. Turn left and drive 0.4 miles to the intersection of Hetzler Road. Park on Jefferson Boulevard just before or after Hetzler Road. The trailhead begins from the southeast corner of the intersection.
Trailhead address: Hetzler Road & Jefferson Boulevard, Culver City, CA90232
Trailhead coordinates: 34.020234, -118.382324 (34° 01′ 12.84″N 118° 22′ 56.36″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Los Angeles trails and campgrounds.
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