Topanga Canyon - Where The Mountains Meet The Sea

By Katie Stumpf


Hidden in the canyon, where LA's "city life" surrenders to wild terrain, dwells a town steeped in bohemian infamy. The city of Topanga is tucked away in the Santa Monica mountains, reachable by only two different outlets. It winds a mere 12 miles, delivering its travelers between the Pacific and the valley, with the serpentine flow of its resident reptiles (don't worry - most are harmless).

It's the perfect stop for any adventurer looking to trade that urban slickness for a more vintage vibe. Where the call of nature stifles the drone of traffic and the chorus of coyotes announce sunset.

The following is your field guide to adventuring in LA's favored utopian outpost.

You wouldn't hit the trails without checking the map, and you shouldn't meander the curves of Topanga Canyon without knowing its vibrant history. The prize gems of this area come from the two defining cultures of its past: the early natives and the free-thinkers of 1970's post-war Los Angeles. The word Topanga itself means "where the mountains meet the sea” and was bestowed by the Tongva people, the original coastal dwellers. Head into Topanga State Park and all perceptive explorers are sure to find bewitching remnants of this otherworldly culture. This sacred pulse of the canyon would later set the stage for Topanga's next set of significant settlers, those looking to change the world through meditation, mysticism, and good ole rock n' roll.

In its hippie heyday, Topanga was a raw frontier for those seeking experimental expansion in the city of Angels. The area attracted transient souls and artistic minds alike, seducing its journeyers with a not too distant break from suburban reality. Some of the most notorious townsfolk in this time included members of The Doors, The Eagles, Neil Young, Hendrix, and even the eerie Charles Manson (pre-grisly years). And while this bohemian byway still echoes loudly with its vivid past, one can easily find an organic peacefulness. Topanga has always been that special spot, a vortex if you will, where travelers can connect to themselves by simply tuning into the pulse of the canyon.

One With Nature

For the wild heart, your first stop should meander through the extensive trail system of Topanga State Park. The park offers venturers a total of 36 miles through open grassland, mighty oak trees, and dazzling scenes of the Pacific Ocean. This recreational landscape has trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian lovers alike! You can find park information here, including trails safe for your four-legged companions. My personal favorites are Red Rock Canyon and any trail that leads to the towering Eagle Rock. If the ocean breeze is calling your name, then this is the right spot for you too! Topanga Canyon ends at Topanga State Beach right off of the infamous Pacific Coast Highway. This stunning beach offers both breathtaking backdrops of Malibu to the North and Santa Monica city-scape to the south— a perfect depiction of the Topanga as the divide. No matter what path you choose, expect to find wild geological formations, hidden local features (hello waterfalls when it rains), incredibly cool wonders (marine fossils galore), and most certainly a sturdy appetite at the end of your adventuring!

Creative Circuit

When you're there it's obvious, that Topanga's magic heartbeat is preserved by its residing artists, dreamers, and poetic seekers. So if you plan to drop by, you better carve out some time for pure creative enjoyment. The easiest place to start is at the Topanga Art Gallery in the center of town. Here you can view rotating pieces from various artists within the canyon AND pick up your tickets for the incredible annual studio tour! Every June, artists within the Topanga community open up their PRIVATE studio doors to the public. Prepare to be impressed, by both the artwork and studio properties. These workspaces and homes alike may have you feeling like you've jumped down Alice's rabbit hole. If you're more of a hands-on creative, then head over to Wild Mesa for workshops, wellness, and music. They offer everything from pottery classes, hand dying with elements from nature, jewelry making, and many more DIY varieties of artistic exploration.

Rare & Retro

The one thing you'll never find in Topanga is the "typical" or "ordinary"-- and that extends equally to the shops selling local take-me-home goodies. What you will find, is carefully curated treasures that'll satisfy any handcrafted, small batch, and retro heart. Topanga's eclectic shopping scene is mostly huddled around a laid-back center of town. Two quaint plazas (literally across the road from each other), a post office, and a trickle of funky shops sit along one long bend in the canyon road. Swing by Topanga Home Grown first and snag your new favorite handmade soaps or a one of a kind gift! Afterward, you'll no-doubt gravitate towards the magnetic charm of the Flower Power wagon. This groovy botanic boutique offers an array of loose leaf teas, spices, herbs, and colorful flowers! It's easy to spend a breezy afternoon meandering through all of the beautiful stores and soaking up their bewitching ambiance. Here are some personal faves BouboulinaLuv & SunshineDust & FogBe Love Apparel.

Your next stop better be at the shining jewel and dare I say the FUNKIEST vintage shop ever-- Hidden Treasures. Impossible to miss from the road (seriously, its covered in sequins & movie prop memorabilia), it is equally impossible to forget once you step inside. The building itself is a house that has lived MANY lifetimes. In the 70's, it was the neighborhood kickback for hungry rockstars, ready to late night grub after playing a nearby canyon show. Today the house feels as if it has been turned upside down and then set right side up again! From the moment you step in, all of your senses are electrified with it's wild and entertaining decor! The walls are lined with pristine vintage finds, ranging from as far back as the 50's and as current at the early 80's....it is also now a reliable costume shop for burning man adventurers! Wander the house, get lost in the vibes, and don't forget to snap a quick pic in front of the gorilla circus cage, the velociraptor, or the nautical copper diver! 

Musical Beat & Dancing Feet

Considering its rebirth in the time of revolutionary music, Topanga is no stranger to the power of melody and rockin' out. In the summertime, this area comes alive with the yips and hollers of festival goers. Between May and July, these two established musical events take over the canyon: Reggae On The Mountain & Topanga Days. Both are decently sized festivals where you can find an eclectic mix of world-renowned performers, local artists, and bask in the beauty of the canyon! You can also catch live music at the long-standing Theatricum Botanicum outdoor theatre. No matter where you pick up your entertainment, you'll have the company of the California Oaks around you.

Food & Drinks

Snag the reusable water bottle and leave your sack lunch at home; this town has some serious grub. Start your day off right with a homemade biscuit and cold-brew milkshake at The Topanga Table. If you can muster the willpower and walk away from their killer outdoor patio, make sure to mosey over to The Reel Inn. With a salty breeze and a view of the waves, you'll be craving their seafood tacos before you even get your first taste. If you're looking for a second wind, swing by Topanga Living Cafe for an espresso. If you get a look at their Indonesian inspired menu and decide to go for a second lunch, we won't judge you. Whether you end up and one or all three of these restaurants, you'll be able to take it easy in their laid-back atmospheres.

For many, Topanga seems like a passageway to a wild, carefree moment.  And while it still certainly peeks behind that curtain, the bohemian richness and connection to the earth stand to do more than chill you out. If you find yourself following this guide be sure to let us know. 

Authored & Photographed by Katie Stumpf @hello.ktlou