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Vista Hermosa: The best park in L.A. you've never heard of...

Did you know that there is a 10.5 acre park chock full of nature between Downtown Los Angeles and Echo Park? I had driven past this park dozens of times completely oblivious to its existence until I discovered it online one day. Yup, I learned from a screen about a park that I ignored in person:

Vista Hermosa Natural Park

I don't know about you, but after spending a few thousand hours pretending to watch my child at local playgrounds while I was actually scrolling through Facebook, one of my pet peeves is that all of the parks look the same. They're like Stepford playgrounds. With the exception of the sand they throw in there to collect animal feces and give our children a place to fight over construction trucks, all the parks have the same plastic jungle gyms with the same plastic rock walls and the same plasticky, plastic sameness. The playgrounds feel like they were designed by lawyers afraid of accidental falls onto non-rubberized surfaces.

Vista Hermosa, designed by the renowned landscape architecture firm Mia Lehrer & Associates, has the sculptured, natural beauty of Manhattan's Central Park while maintaining a distinctly California vibe. Kids climb rocks. Kids play hide and sneak behind concrete snake sculptures. Kids run in grassy meadows. The park doesn't tell them how to play. They figure it all out on their own. Unlike the rugged beauty of Griffith Park's hiking trails, Vista Hermosa is kid friendly nature. As a cherry on top, it has one of the best selfie spots in all of Los Angeles:

How do I bike there?

The park is located near the 101/110 interchange where Glendale Blvd, Beverly Blvd (also known as 1st Street downtown), and 2nd St all intersect here:

If you are biking from the east (downtown) it couldn't be easier:

1. Take 2nd Street. There is an awesome bollard protected bike lane that carries you through the 2nd Street tunnel.

2. Once you exit the tunnel there is a bike lane on 2nd almost the whole way to the park. I feel safe in this bike lane, but If the cars passing you next to the bike lane are making you nervous, this sidewalk is a good, wide sidewalk with a minimum of blind driveways and storefront businesses.

3. Take a right on North Toluca Street. The entrance to the park will only be about thirty meters up the hill on your right. The hill is quite steep, there is no dishonor in pushing your bike.

4. Bask in the natural awesomeness.

If you are coming from the west (Silver Lake):

1. You have the option of riding in the Sunset Blvd. bike lanes or the sidewalk. I personally choose the sidewalk on Sunset Blvd. all the way uphill to Alvarado. This has the added bonus of giving you and the kiddo the chance to check out the fire trucks at LAFD Station 20 near Alvarado.

After you cross Alvarado, Sunset starts going downhill. If there are no pedestrians on the sidewalk, I will stick to the sidewalk. But, the sidewalk gets skinnier here, there is often a crowd at the bus stop, and it's downhill, so you can pick up speed without realizing it. It's not the best place to mix bikes with pedestrians unless you want to travel at the speed of a pedestrian. I will often jump into the Sunset bike lane for 100 meters before quickly turning right onto Park Avenue where you glide downhill to Echo Park Lake.

This is one of those places where the car-centric layout of Los Angeles is utterly ridiculous. It is impossible to ride a bike on the Glendale Blvd. sidewalk. It's practically impossible to WALK ON THE SIDEWALK because there are UTILITY POLES IN THE MIDDLE OF IT! (WTF!!!????) Therefore, to avoid biking on the highway speed of death that is Glendale Blvd., you have some choices:

You may bike all the way around the edge of Echo Park on the side streets or sidewalk to arrive at the intersection of Bellevue and Glendale Blvd. Or you can enter the park and ride your bike (illegally) on the pedestrian promenade bordering the lake or walk your bike (legally) on the pedestrian promenade. If you do choose to be a scofflaw, ride no faster than the speed of a slow jogger. Take care of those around you.

2. Okay, you've made it to the intersection of Bellevue & Glendale Blvd. I personally stay on the same side of Glendale Blvd. as Echo Park Lake and ride the on the sidewalk all the way down to the intersection of Glendale & 1st St. Since I am riding on the sidewalk downhill against the flow of traffic (salmon cycling), it is incumbent on me to be aware that cars and people are not expecting fast moving bikes on the sidewalk traveling in opposite direction of the nearest road lane. So, apply the brakes and keep everyone safe especially at driveways, streets, and doorways.

3. At the bottom of the hill where Glendale Blvd. turns into 2nd Street, I take a quick left onto the sidewalk past the Bob Barker Marionette Theatre and then another left at the the next block (N. Toluca Street).

3. The entrance to the park will only be about thirty meters up the hill on your right. This hill is quite steep. There is no dishonor in pushing your bike.

Here is more of what awaits you:

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