Santa Monica Mountains
The Canyons


The Santa Monica Mountain range is intersected by 28 canyons, listed west to east below.
These north-south passes start at the Ventura County line and end in Hollywood near Griffith Park.

Some of them are drivable, others barely hikable. But they are pivotal ribs which cross or approach the ridge roads of Mullholland Drive and Mullholland Highway.

These canyons link the San Fernando Valley with Hollywood, the Los Angeles basin, and beaches galore.

Number Canyon Photos


2 Encinal  
3 Trancas Zuma Ridge trails            more
4 Kanan-Dume  
5 Latigo Castro Peak
6 Corral  
7 Puerco  
8 Malibu the pink lady
9 Carbon  
10 Las Flores  
11 Tuna view to south
12 Topanga  

The canyons above connect Pacific Coast Highway with the San Fernando Valley-Agoura areas.
Continuing eastward:

13 Temescal-Santa Ynez  
14 Chautauqua  
15 Rustic  
16 Sullivan Westridge fire road towards Santa Monica, Palos Verdes, Catalina
17 Mandeville another Westridge fire road towards Santa Monica, Catalina
18 Kenter  
19 Sepulveda bulldozing the freeway
20 Roscomare  
21 Beverly Glen  
22 Benedict  
23 Coldwater  
24 Laurel 1635 Woods Drive, Hollywood Hills perch house
25 Nichols Hollywoodland & Hollywood Signs   2010
26 Cahuenga Hollywood Bowl
27 Western
28 Vermont  
thanks to Robert Peoples for several photos above taken while mountain biking

Home in the mountain range

During a grade school reunion, a classmate asked why I had compiled and emailed a nostalgic list of Santa Monica Mountain canyons.

In reply I commented how as a San Fernando Valley youth I hiked and ran parts of canyons Sepulveda, Chautauqua, Topanga, Malibu, and Latigo. Being a pedestrian on those streets and trails grants intimate insight into their makeup at a level often lost while whizzing through in a car.

But there were occasional family trips in the car heading beachward, those few precious hours where we all seemed to get along, both parents and siblings. Drives through these canyons seemed a frontier that brought us urban slicker pioneers into an unfamiliar but welcome harmony.

Sepulveda canyon was the route to Grandma's West Los Angeles house or to La Barbera's Pizza on Wilshire Boulevard, first via the winding Sepulveda Pass through the famous honking tunnel (recent view), later up the southbound I-405 freeway's Mulholland grade in our 1960 Pontiac Safari stationwagon. Dad and Mom were not shy about letting the GTO-caliber V-8 unwind, and I loved to see that speedomter needle pegged at the apex of the hill.

Topanga Canyon was a high-walled gorge where we took stationwagon drives to Malibu beaches. Our beagle Little Girl scratched for traction once her brown carpet scrap shifted on the curves.

Corral Canyon was near the Malibu Beach Colony, and where family friends the Bohrmans lived. Stan Bohrman was an LA TV & radio broadcaster on KHJ and other stations.  It was at the Bohrman's beach house that I vividly remember watching for the first time "Leave It to Beaver" with his son David.  Whenever I see Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow in Beaver episodes, I smell chaparral brush and salt water.

The pink lady above the tunnel welcomed us when returning to the Valley.


Soon I was armed with driver license, and the canyons were routine private arteries both to the array of beaches and the magic of Hollywood.

Topanga then meant rides to my first job at Woodland Plaza Liquors in Calabassas, making deliveries using the boss's van and Cadillac. Laden with beer, wine, and ice, deserted Cold Canyon Road was a joy to drive at 95 mph, sometimes lit safely in the mountian moonlight, usually with a generous tip from someone grateful to have party provisions brought to their doorstep.


Later I attended UCLA and lived "over the hill" in West Los Angeles for nineteen years. It was intriguing to reverse periodically the persepective ingrained as a Valley boy: now I'd start in W.L.A., run up Mandeville, catch Mulholland drive, and then descend into the Valley via Reseda Canyon to Ventura Boulevard. I could connect dots I only dreamed of when little, stuck on the Valley floor and faced with those lofty Santa Monica hills. They seemed like towering Himalayas when all I had was a Schwinn and Converse tennies, but was leashed by orders to stay close to home.
After marrying in W.L.A, we drove our Ford F-250 and went 4-wheeling on the fire roads of Topanga, Tuna, Carbon, and Latigo Canyons.
We also took this Chevy Malibu, later converted to a stock car, out to a meadow high up between Tuna and Topanga. There we drove in ovals while learning to navigate grass and dirt. (some photos from Topanga-Malibu, others way out in Gorman).

Here's the field at the hidden summit of Tuna Canyon with my dad taking in the view.


Malibu Canyon also was the route of drives at any hour. Many turnouts offered panoramic views, lofty spots to transmit global skip on the Citizen Band frequencies.

Bob Dylan's home was in Trancas and we used to run into him on occasion when my friend Bill lived in a geodesic dome he'd built near Castro Peak atop Latigo Canyon.

When my wife worked at Mayfair Market in Pt. Dume, many of her customers were Hollywooders living in the western-most canyons, Kanan and Decker. Martin Sheen would shop with his teenaged sons in tow, as would Lee Majors. No comment on which boys were more skillfully misbehaved.

Above Brentwood, many of our son's friends lived up Roscomare and Mandeville. You get to know the places intimately when you carpool and Little League up and down them so much.


East of the Sepulveda Canyon & the Interstate 405 divide, Frank Zappa lived just below Mulholland on a spur off Laurel Canyon called Woodrow Wilson Drive, 7885. I was their family gardener 1969-1970. Moon Unit Zappa was a twoish toddler, and she used to hurl her diapers into my mower's blades, apparently proving she was no docile Valley girl.

Laurel Canyon opened down into the Westwood-UCLA area, and I had many student friends living in that rustic ravine while we attended the university.  There were music jams on backyard stages that stopped traffic on that bucolic road. I once shared some mandolin riffs with Sky Saxon of the Seeds on that impromptu podium.
Laurel Canyon also featured Houdini's Castle-home, just above the gateway to wild Hollywood.

Nichols Canyon was in the Griffith Park area, home to L.A.'s splendid observatory and more parking spots excellent for CB radio transmissions. The Hollywood Sign was famously perched above Nichols. (recent)


So to me those canyons were paths to adventure, conveniently juxtaposed to our otherwise rigid, urbanized environment.

A line from "Twelve-thirty" by the Mamas & Papas:

"Young girls are coming to the canyons.
And in the morning you can see them walking..."

The Santa Monica Mountain canyons are like those fresh mornings, full of potential, mischief, and mystery.


For a Valley boy, the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains
were southern portals to Hollywood & the beaches

From the summit of Reseda Canyon on the San Fernando Valley side, atop Mulholland Drive, facing south, foggy 1982

to: The Coast

Updated 5 October 2013
© 1982-2013 Derrick Garbell      All Rights Reserved
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