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Picnic Tableaux : A space to park your basket, with deep shade and stretch of lawn, is just around the corner.

June 23, 1995|MARYANN HAMMERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Maryann Hammers is a regular contributor to The Times

A perfectly fine picnic can be enjoyed almost anywhere, from the neighborhood park to your own back yard. But a really great outing calls for a special setting.

Lucky for us, the San Fernando Valley boasts several oases where you can dip your toes in a creek, relax under an oak or enjoy scenery from a mountaintop while you dine al fresco. Here are some places to try:


During the early part of the century, Orcutt Ranch was the vacation retreat of geologist William Orcutt. Now owned by the city of Los Angeles, the historic 24-acre estate in West Hills provides a glimpse of old California.

Gravel pathways wind through the ranch's lush grounds past rose gardens, citrus groves, gazebos, sundials and fountains. Picnic tables are scattered along nature trails, near a trickling creek and under towering oaks.

If you visit Orcutt Ranch July 8 or 9--the days of the ranch's annual public fruit harvest--you can pick as many oranges and grapefruit as you like for $2 a bag.

23600 Roscoe Blvd., West Hills. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Open to groups of 10 people and fewer only. (818) 346-7449.


Though Los Encinos State Historic Park borders car-crazed Ventura Boulevard, the only thing you hear honking are the geese gliding along the lake.

Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans inhabited a village at the site. They relied on water from natural warm springs that still flow there. Pepper, olive, orange and pomegranate trees were planted by Spanish missionaries more than 200 years ago.

Sadly, the park's historic 19th-Century buildings--an adobe ranch house, limestone farmhouse and blacksmith shop--were badly damaged in the Northridge quake and are closed to the public until they are restored. In the meantime, visitors can sprawl on the wide expanse of lawn with a book, picnic under oaks and feed ducks.

16756 Moorpark St . , between Balboa Boulevard and Havenhurst Street in Encino. 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. (818) 784-4849.


Franklin Canyon, a pocket of wilderness between Studio City and Beverly Hills, is an ideal place to introduce the entire family to the outdoors.

Sycamore-shaded picnic benches line Franklin Lake. No swimming and fishing are allowed, but you will have great views of the ducks, coots and other waterfowl that make the reservoir their home.

To build up an appetite, explore one of the hiking trails winding through the area. You have your choice of nature walks for children, Braille-signed trails, wheelchair-accessible paths or strenuous walks that offer a great workout and outstanding views. (Pick up a free trail map at the visitor center.)

From the Ventura Freeway, drive south on Coldwater Canyon Drive. Turn right onto Franklin Canyon Drive. Follow signs to visitor center. Open daily, sunrise to sunset (unless you're participating in a group-led evening hike). (310) 858-3090.


If you don't mind toting your own water and lugging a blanket to sit on, you can really leave the city behind in Chesebro and adjoining Palo Comado canyons in Agoura.

Together forming almost 4,500 acres, these canyons lack ranger stations, naturalist programs, drinking fountains and other amenities--but they are perfect for savoring our local wilderness.

Sage-scented trails meander through grasslands, chaparral and oak savannas. Gently rolling hills were Ireland-green a few months ago; now they are bright yellow with fields of head-high mustard.

From the Ventura Freeway, exit on Chesebro Road. Turn right on Palo Comado Canyon Road and right again on Chesebro Road. Drive one mile to park entrance. Open daily, sunrise to sunset. (818) 597-9192.


Oscar Trippet, a federal judge during Woodrow Wilson's Administration, named his ranch Las Lomas Celestiales, which translates to "The Heavenly Hills."

Today, Trippet Ranch is the headquarters of Topanga State Park.

Nature trails, canyon and ocean views, lots of trees and a calm pond provide an ideal outdoor experience, while benches, drinking fountains and restrooms cater to our fondness for civilization.

For even more solace, venture a few miles on one of the many trails that wind through the 9,000-acre park.

The Musch Ranch trail is one good option. Begin at the trail head past the bulletin board. Walk just over a mile, crossing a grassy meadow, shady woodland and chaparral. You will find water, restrooms and picnic tables at Musch Ranch.

From the Ventura Freeway, exit on Topanga Canyon and head south. Turn left on Entrada Road. Continue on Entrada about a mile to the park's main entrance. Parking is $5. 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. (818) 880-0350.

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