81 Year-Round Activity Defines L.A. Outdoors

"If you can do it in July, you can do

it in January," said Jean Bray, public relations officer at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

She was referring to hiking, jogging, picnicking and other outdoor activities in Los Angeles, where Angelenos, native and transplants alike, moan and groan when storm clouds take more than 24 hours to pass through. Recent studies about the downside of those gorgeous suntans have sent outdoor lovers scrambling for the sun block - but don't seem to have sent anyone running for cover.

"The park areas are busy year-round," Bray continued. "The best way to tell the seasons is by the wildflowers and the hours of sunlight. We may have a few rainy days in winter, and August can get hot, but people are out and about pretty much every day of the year." And not just in the mountains: City parks and Los Angeles County beaches are busy throughout the year. The Pacific Ocean's winter waters may appeal only to diehard swimmers, but beach sunbathers find the rays are perfect for basking on many January afternoons.

The Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, L.A.'s premier outdoor spot, is a 65,000-acre park that runs from the Hollywood Hills to the Ventura County line. There's something for everyone, from casual saunterer to Olympian. Even on a hot summer day, the Peter Strauss Ranch (donated by the star of Rich Man, Poor Man) in Agoura beckons hikers with a mile-long path along a stream bed that's shaded the entire way. Clear winter days offer hikers who make it to the hilltops the best views: Santa Catalina Island and, with a 180-degree turn, snow-capped peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Although Los Angeles has plenty of state-of-the-art

indoor sports clubs, there are plenty of outdoor "facilities" for those who find gyms tedious.

Forget stationary bicycles. Local biking enthusiasts use the 22-mile beach bikeway, with its views of broad beaches, high surf and mountains. The north end is at Temescal Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway; the south end, at the edge of the hilly Palos Verdes Peninsula. Savvy locals bring along locks and some cash: They find the raucous "boardwalk" at Venice Beach is a great place to shop, pause for lunch or watch L.A.'s most outrageous street performers vie for attention. Rental bikes are available from shops along Washington Street at the south end of Venice.

For pumping iron al fresco, L.A. has just refurbished Venice's Muscle Beach, where the most muscular hunks work out to the encouragement of passersby on the bikeway and the boardwalk. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu frequented this weight pen when they were training for body-building titles.

At first glance, L.A.'s beaches look strikingly similar: Most are broad expanses of well-kept sand. But Angelenos know that each beach has a reputation for attracting a different crowd. Serious surfers head for Surfrider Beach in Malibu, where the waves are predictably perfect. Teens head for Zuma, farther north in Malibu,

while college students with an inalienable right to party prefer Hermosa Beach. Families with toddlers can relax at Marina del Rey's Mother's Beach, where waves are almost non-existent.

Angelenos also know that the best place to don a wet suit and Scuba tank is Santa Catalina Island, especially at the new Underwater Park. Tide pools? Two beaches draw low-tide explorers: Leo Carrillo in Malibu and Cabrillo in San Pedro.

Joggers have found safe pathways despite the traffic. Westsiders are fond of the grassy median strip that runs along San Vicente Boulevard from Brentwood to Santa Monica. Runners at Palisades Park, a narrow park north of the Santa Monica Pier, must dodge both kinds of strollers (babies and slow walkers), but the view, especially at sunset, makes it worth their while.

The golf-playing elite tees off at the private Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades; celebs make up many of the foursomes there and at the Hillcrest Country Club just south of Beverly Hills. Angelenos without private club membership are just as enthusiastic, and most play year-round. Rancho Park is the top public course. The Los Angeles Open was held there for 16 years before moving to Riviera, and golfers still rave about the course's playability, although a plaque pays tribute to the 12 Arnold Palmer once took on the 18th hole

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