Inveterate spring-watchers say the Palos Verdes Peninsula is one of the best places in Los Angeles to enjoy that glorious season. And Malaga Cove, the northernmost community in Palos Verdes Estates, displays it like none other on the peninsula.
Here, where Mediterranean villas hug the hillsides and the fragrance of sweet anise and sage fills the air, gardens, topography and architecture conspire to make a spring walkers' paradise.
What follows is a three-hour exploration of this secluded community. Choose an early morning outing or late afternoon stroll. Either way, you will stroll under Italian Renaissance porticos, through eucalyptus forests, up hidden stairpaths and, above the roar of the surf, along pathways set in fields of wildflowers. And incidentally, along the footpaths and stairways, you'll be well served by sturdy shoes and casual clothes.
Getting to Malaga Cove
To get to Malaga Cove, take the 405 San Diego Freeway south and exit on Crenshaw Boulevard. At Palos Verdes Drive North, turn right (west). As the road meets Palos Verdes Drive West, turn left and follow it two blocks to Malaga Cove Plaza, the community's commercial center. There's usually ample free parking on streets around the plaza.
Begin the walk at the Neptune Fountain in the center of the Plaza. Donated by the Palos Verdes Project to Palos Verdes Estates in 1930, this marble fountain is a two-thirds scale replica of the famous "La Fontana del Naptunno" in Bologna, Italy. Trident in hand, this life-size Neptune faces the sea with his foot on a dolphin atop three successive pedestals supporting cupids, sirens, and scrollwork. This replica graced the courtyard of an old villa north of Venice for more than a century before it was given to the community.
Now stand back and observe the colonnaded commercial structures facing you. When the project's master plan was completed in the early 1920s, each of its four principal communities (Malaga Cove, Lunada Bay, Miraleste and Valmonte) was to be built around a central plaza lined with arcaded commercial buildings. Malaga Cove Plaza, with its striking Spanish Colonial Revival strucures, was the only plaza built according to those original concepts.
Designed by Webber, Staunton and Spaulding from 1924 to 1930, the plaza buildings are accented with patterned brickwork, intricate grillwork and porticos. Curiously, even this plaza is reminiscent of the streets of Bologna, Italy, which contain 16 miles of similar covered walkways.
Together the plaza and fountain testify to the vision of the original developers of Palos Verdes Estates. In 1921 E. G. Lewis, an experienced and successful real estate promoter, formed a partnership with Frank A. Vanderlip, a wealthy New York financier, to develop 3,200 acres of the northwest corner of Palos Verdes Peninsula. A select team of city planners, architects and landscape architects was recruited to design the new community.
To enforce strict design regulations, an Art Jury was established. One needed the jury's approval for every exterior design feature, whether the color, the lantern style, or the shrubbery.
Facing Neptune, walk ahead into the portico and turn right, enjoying the variety of archways, columns and painted ceilings. Stroll into the open air courtyard to the Sidewalk Cafe and Bakery at 57 Malaga Cove Plaza, a popular local meeting place. You may want to sit awhile with a cup of coffee or tea and sample the bakery's goods.
Return to the portico and turn left. Follow the walkway as it turns left along the Gardner Building, Malaga Cove's first commercial structure. At Via Corta, turn left again, walking uphill beneath the overreaching Moreton Bay fig trees.
At the top of the street, climb the stairs into Farnham Martin's Park. The terraced stairway, paved with Palos Verdes flagstone, leads to a graceful fountain. Continue up the stairs onto the circular lawn and enjoy the sweet fragrance of the blossoming orange pittosporum. Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. designed this small park in 1928.
Next to the park is the Malaga Cove Plaza Library, a seven-level Spanish Colonial Revival structure built in 1929 and designed by Myron Hunt. Inside, a collection of 35,000 books is set off by beamed ceilings, antique furniture and sweeping views of Santa Monica Bay.
Continue walking uphill alongside the library to Via Pinale and turn left. California sycamore trees, budding new leaves, overshadow quaint Spanish cottages. Peacocks can often be seen perched atop the roofs and trees in this neighborhood. Originally brought to the Peninsula by Frank Vanderlip for his estate in Portuguese Bend, the birds have proliferated. Residents either love the brilliantly feathered birds or hate them as screeching, messy pests.