Explore the Santa Monica Mountains then Treat yourself at a Farm-district Restaurant
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As the car climbed Mulholland Canyon Road away from the Arroyo Sequit, Drew started calling out plant names from the back row.
"Laurel sumac!" he exclaimed.
"The arroyo is verdant in spring, as oaks, plants, grasses and wildflowers BLOOM. Visit after a good rain and you'll find water trickling through."
We had just spent three days in the Santa Monica Mountains on a science field trip with Nature Bridge, a non-profit that runs outings in various national parks. And, my 11-year-old son discovered that he has an eye for plants.
With boundaries stretching from Point Mugu in Oxnard to Runyon Canyon Park in Hollywood, SMMNRA offers a seemingly endless array of discovery options for those willing to venture south of US 101.
Give yourself a morning or an afternoon to wander the Arroyo Sequit, described by LAMountains.com as "one of the most beautiful destinations in the western Santa Monica Mountains." It is several twists and turns away from the main roads like Kanan that connect US 101 in the Conejo Valley with Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, so it offers an opportunity to explore with minimal crowds. And, yes, chances are good you'll see laurel sumac, along with manzanita, yucca, black sage and more.
The arroyo is verdant in spring, as oaks, plants, grasses and wildflowers bloom. Visit after a good rain and you'll find water trickling through the arroyo. A 1.5-mile loop trail gives you a glimpse of everything. And it carries you past a wide open meadow perfect for throwing down a blanket and enjoying a leisurely picnic.
If you prefer your meal served, rather than packed, you're in luck. On your way back to Santa Clarita, stop in Calabasas, just off the 101, and discover a unique eatery.
Part bike shop, coffee shop, bar and restaurant, Pedalers Fork suits any occasion. Post-hike lunch, pre-ride carbs, hard-earned beer or even a quiet dinner for two. They brew 10 Speed Coffee, pull craft beer and serve a changing seasonal menu that sources its ingredients from local farms and ranches.
The restaurant fills quickly on a Saturday evening, but if you can, get a patio seat. We found ourselves at a table for two near the bike shop. The setting sun filtered through the oak, eucalyptus and willow trees growing along the adjacent creek.
With a diverse array of selections, from ceviche to fried squash blossoms, the menu requires careful studying. We couldn't decide what to order, so we started with drinks. From there, we committed to being impulsive, ordering one course at a time and seeing where our appetites led.
First up was a generous bowl of hand-cut Kennebec truffle fries, topped with shaved Parmesan, parsley and truffle oil. They came with organic ketchup and herb aioli (no squirt bottle condiments here). And yes, you have permission to lick your finger after you run it across the bottom of the empty bowl.
Next came a vegan baby kale Caesar salad, with cherry tomato, broccoli, baby squash, almonds and gluten-free garlic croutons. And then, we faced a key decision - main course, or dessert? The half-pound burgers sounded delicious, but too filling. We pondered the quinoa cakes as a lighter alternative, but ultimately went straight for dessert. Smart decision on our part.
A lemon raspberry tart landed on our table. Toasted creamy meringue topped the smooth, sweet lemon curd, which was complemented by a raspberry sauce. We savored dessert and sipped our lattes (try the maple latte for a distinctive treat) while the creek's resident frogs serenaded us from the darkness.
It was the end of a very pleasant evening. But really, it may have been a beginning, the first of many visits. With more than 500 miles of trails to explore, we have plenty of reasons to visit the Santa Monica Mountains again. And with only three items sampled on the menu at Pedalers Fork, there's plenty more to discover there, too.
Eric Harnish lives, hikes, pedals and
eats in Castaic.
Arroyo Sequit www.nps.gov/samo
Pedalers Fork www.pedalersfork.com