If you’re looking for a less-traveled, hidden gem of a hiking spot in Los Angeles, Tuna Canyon Park in the Santa Monica Mountains is it. The 1,255-acre park parallels more than two miles of the Pacific Ocean above Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, providing dramatic 360-degree views from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Santa Monica Bay. I almost hate sharing our little secret with you here, but I’m nice like that.
Even before you reach the park, you’ll start to feel like you’re leaving Los Angeles far behind. The road to the trailhead is narrow and windy, giving your trip that added sense of remoteness. (Take it slow, though – The Little Explorer felt kinda queasy by the time we arrived.)
Just finding Tuna Canyon Park is an adventure. The park entrance is actually just an unmarked fire road, easy to miss if you’re not paying close attention. (See “Getting to the Trailhead” below for detailed directions.)
Once you find it, walk around the gate and up the path about .15 miles until you reach an unmarked junction.
From here, you have a couple of options. Turn left for a 1.6-mile roundtrip trail to Hearst Tank Motorway. En route are breathtaking views of the Pacific. Plus, there’s a fun find for kids at the end, a stone labyrinth.
Turn right for a longer, 3.8-mile trail to Big Rock Lateral. From my research, the hike to Big Rock appears to be just as stunning, perhaps more so. You get more mileage and more views, but no labyrinth. So we opted to head to Hearst Tank Motorway instead.
This is a mostly unshaded, uphill path. Which means there was a bit of complaining as we started off. We took plenty of breaks and stopped to enjoy the view whenever the opportunity arose. It helped that there was a “surprise” at the end and plenty of Skittles in my backpack.
Unlike many other trails in Los Angeles, this one was quiet and anything but crowded. We saw people walking their dogs and people taking the trail briskly for a nice workout. We even saw a few moms and kids, littler ones in baby carriers rather than strollers.
When you reach trail’s end, you won’t be disappointed. The view is simply stunning. It’s a very serene space up here at some 1,775 feet, one I enjoyed having to ourselves for quite some time.
The real treat here for the kids is the stone labyrinth. I couldn’t find much information about it online, except that park visitors built it at some point. Left behind within the labyrinth are people’s special mementos to lost loved ones, even pets. It’s tempting for little ones to pick things up – be sure they put everything back where they found it.
After several minutes at the viewpoint, we headed back the way we came. It’s mostly downhill from here, and if you’re like The Little Explorer, you might want to run it.
There aren’t any picnic tables at Tuna Canyon Park, but we still wanted to eat. We found a shady spot, sat down and enjoyed our lunch with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean all to ourselves.
- Distance: 1.6 miles roundtrip to Hearst Tank Motorway
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trail condition: Wide, dirt road is steep and uneven in parts, NOT stroller friendly
- Breathtaking, dramatic 360-degree views of the Pacific Ocean from several points along the trail
- Kids might enjoy walking the stone labyrinth at the end of the trail
- Suggested time: A little over an hour, depending on how much you rest on the way up, and how long you spend at the labyrinth
- Entrance to Tuna Canyon Park is free
- No dedicated parking lot; street parking is free
- No restroom facilities
- No picnic tables
- Minimal shade coverage along the trail, so bring a hat, water and sunscreen on warm, sunny days
- Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Tuna Canyon Park page
- Official park map
Getting to the Trailhead
From Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, take Topanga Canyon Boulevard 3.8 miles to Fernwood Pacific Drive. Turn left. (From the 101, take Topanga Canyon Boulevard 8.6 miles to Fernwood Pacific Drive. Turn right.) The road gets narrow and very windy here, so take it slow. Fernwood Pacific eventually turns into Tuna Canyon Road. About 3.8 miles after turning onto Fernwood Pacific, the park entrance will be on your right at the intersection of Tuna Canyon and Hearst Tank Motorway.
The park “entrance” is actually just an unmarked fire road, easy to miss if you’re not paying close attention. Look for cars lining the street as you approach. Tuna Canyon Road becomes one-way not far from the entrance – your marker that you’ve gone too far. (Don’t worry, though, there’s room to turn around if this happens.)
Tuna Canyon Park does not have a designated parking lot. Park on the street and enter the park by walking around the gate on the fire road.
Tuna Canyon Park Trailhead address:
Tuna Canyon Road & Hearst Tank Motorway
Topanga Canyon, CA 90290
For more LA hiking inspiration, head over to my Family hikes in Los Angeles board on Pinterest.