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San Rafael Hills Scenic Drive

Mountain Route

California, USA

Experience the best of the San Rafael Hills with stunning views over LA and the surrounding mountains. Plus travel into the heart of buzzing Glendale and Pasadena.

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Rolling Hills, City Views

19 mi / 31 km

Not Required

Los Angeles (LAX)

Sealed Road

Spring, Summer

Art, Ancient oaks, and Spectacular Views of LA

Go from Glendale to Pasadena in this romp through the San Rafael Hills. It fuses buzzy urban areas, art galleries, and creative arts districts with the wilder side of LA, as you creep up zigzagging mountain roads to chapparal meadows and butterfly-filled woodlands high above the freeways.

Start some 10 miles north of Downtown LA. There, the city of Glendale is steeped in history. It's home to the Catalina Verdugo Adobe, a 17th-century ranch building that's thought to be among the oldest in the whole city. But it's the bright lights of the Museum of Neon Art that lead the way today. That institution is filled with neon bulbs and eye-catching light art. Plus, they run courses in glass bending for anyone feeling creative!

Now it's time to hit higher ground. The route goes north then east, skirting the southern ridges of the San Rafeal Hills. The views here are special: The blocks of Glendale glistening just below, the peaks and troughs of the Santa Monica Mountains marking the horizon.

Soon, there's a little dip in the mountains as you cross the Glendale Freeway before going up again; up to the wide streets and lawn-fronted homes of affluent Emerald Isle. There are multiple access points there to Cherry Canyon Park, a 130-acre sweep of chapparal hills that has a challenging hike. At the top of it, you can sometimes make out mighty San Jacinto and the Santa Ana Mountains through the heat haze.

Here hidden within the rugged beauty of the San Rafael Hills lies a forgotten tale and an extraordinary archaeological revelation. In the 1920s, a lively community called 'the City of the Hills' thrived in this idyllic setting with small homes, gardens, and picturesque views of the surrounding hills. However, the construction of the 134 Freeway in the 1940s divided the neighborhood and pushed residents away, leaving behind abandoned homes swallowed by nature.

Decades later, in 2008, intrepid hikers stumbled upon the remnants of an ancient village, unlocking a window into the past. These discoveries revealed an intricate civilization that flourished thousands of years ago—the Tongva people, the original inhabitants of the Los Angeles Basin. Intricate tools, pottery fragments, and evidence of an advanced agricultural system showcased the ingenuity and deep connection this society had with their land.

As you move down into Pasadena to finish up the drive, look forward to some enthralling Californian history. It's palpable between the Mexicana frontispieces and colonial-styled buildings of Old Pasadena, one of the original commercial districts in the LA region. The town also happens to be known for its prestigious art galleries, most notably the Norton Simon Museum – there's a Van Goch, a Rembrandt, and a Raphael in there somewhere!

The San Rafael Hills offer more than just breathtaking vistas; they harbor a rich tapestry of history and natural wonders. Along the route, you may encounter remnants of a forgotten community, a testament to the ebb and flow of time. The hills have seen the rise and fall of civilizations, the passage of generations, and the resilience of nature reclaiming what was once abandoned.

Glendale offers a variety of hotels and resorts, such as the luxurious Glenmark Hotel and the modern Embassy Suites by Hilton Los Angeles Glendale, providing comfortable rooms and convenient amenities.

Pasadena, known for its historic charm, boasts accommodations like The Langham Huntington, a renowned luxury hotel with beautiful grounds and top-notch services, and The Westin Pasadena, offering stylish rooms and a central location. Additionally, both areas have options for budget-conscious travelers, including well-rated chain hotels like Holiday Inn Express and Best Western.

Parking fees may apply to some areas - see signage on site. Got a tip to share for this route? Send us yours! The roads in Los Angeles are sealed. View current alerts and warnings from the City of Los Angeles.

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