I was driving West on Jefferson Blvd. in Culver City recently, when a steep hill and sign touting the “Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook“ caught my eye. I quickly turned in, followed the winding road uphill, passed several hikers huffing and puffing in the roadway, then turned around before reaching the top when I saw the sign: “Parking $6”.
I exited the park, continued West on Jefferson a short distance, then saw the entrance to the Culver City Park. I’m familiar with this place, know the parking is free there, and decided to catch a few glimpses of the L.A. area from the top. So I parked at the bottom near the dog park, and followed one of the walking trails to the top.
In addition to some excellent views of Culver City, as well as points West and North, Culver City Park has some first-class baseball fields at the top, with grandstands, foul poles, and appropriately old-timey facilities. A handful of oil derricks operate nearby, giving a hint as to one former (and still, to some degree, current) use of this land.
Making my way past the baseball fields for the first time, I saw a stone wall, walking path, and a gateway that read “Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook.” Aha, I just saved myself 6 bucks, and now so can you.
A few more steps, and the scene opened up on the more wild Overlook. I saw a perfectly positioned picnic table, and beautiful windswept grasses. It looked like something out of the Great Plains, or an Andrew Wyeth painting. Now I saw why our own Will Campbell enjoyed this place some time ago. To my right was plenty more uphill. I opted for the dirt trail that winds its way up next to the roadway. A couple of parts of the trail are a bit steep, and were slippery for my skateboard shoes. Something a bit more off-road for the feet is recommended.
The higher you climb, the better the breezes and the views get. And those views are the best thing about the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. They encompass a panorama from Playa Del Ray to the West, to the Santa Monica Bay and Mountains, the Mid-Wilshire Corridor, Century City, Downtown, and the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains to the East. It’s a snapshot of much of the Los Angeles Basin, and an instant education about the tension between nature and man-made development.
At the top of the Overlook was a nice surprise: a visitor’s center seemingly inspired by Eero Saarinen‘s Dulles Airport, or perhaps California’s own Googie style architecture. Outside are some gardens and walkways, with signs pointing out the various flora. Inside is an educational nature exhibit. In one window is a large graphic comprised of the words “Balance”, “Conflict”, and “Growth”.
According to its website, the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook is part of California’s State Parks network, rises 511 feet, and covers 58 acres. The Overlook contains “restored native habitat,” and is a “once drilled and exploited land which has now become a symbol of restoration, conservation and hope. ” It is thus similar in concept to the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, which can be seen across La Cienega Blvd.
Near the top is a plaque that reads: “What would L.A. be without concrete?” Taking a look at your surroundings at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, you get a pretty good idea.