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Orange County ITINERARY

Taking It From the Top

It's all see-level on the scenic South Laguna Ridge Line Trail.

September 04, 1997|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Aliso Peak lies almost 600 feet above sea level, and you can experience every foot and more along the South Laguna Ridge Line Trail. This is one peak experience you can enjoy from the top down--all the way to the beach if you like.

MORNING 1

The start of this hike alone is worth the trip. Park benches lining the top of Talavera Drive offer heady views into Aliso Canyon--steep-cliff warnings are posted with good reason--and stunning vistas of Santiago and Modjeska peaks (Old Saddleback). You can pick up a South Laguna Ridge Line Trail Map at the end of the street, at the Laguna Sur development guardhouse.

Seaview Park serves as an entry to the South Laguna portion of Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park. According to a large plaque at the site, rare and endangered flora among the coastal chaparral include the Orange County Turkish rugging and, ironically, the Laguna Beach live-forever and many-stemmed live-forever.

A footpath leading west along the cliff finds shady picnic tables, continuous panoramic views and smaller plaques identifying other native plants. (Due to inherent wilderness dangers, children on the trail must be under constant adult supervision.) On the north-facing slopes are plants as diverse as milkmaids and Jesuit flower, on the south-facing slopes chamise and sun rose; on the ridges you might encounter big-podded, warty-stemmed Ceanothus.

A few minutes' effort brings you to a concrete platform with fantastic coastal views.

The most casual hikers can turn back here, but even slightly hardier souls should consider continuing to Aliso Peak; the summit is below. (The precise height is 567 feet, round-trip about a half mile.) The Laguna Sur guard may tell you that the only access to Aliso Peak is through the development's streets, which bear French names such as Nice and St. Tropez. In fact, the trail narrows past the platform and parallels St. Tropez, so there is no reason to enter the development (unless you want to look at the new homes).

Either way, the trail veers right near the St. Tropez cul-de-sac, then drops sharply; where it rises again toward the summit, railroad ties have been provided for steps. Your reward at the summit is a bench with views of Aliso Pier and the shore, solitude and, amazingly, the sound only of waves crashing far below.

Those in reasonably good shape should consider continuing to the beach; the shore lies another half-mile beyond and below the summit. Retrace your steps down the railroad ties to the Valido Trail, which heads south and descends through a shady canyon, letting out on the streets of South Laguna.

BREAKFAST / LUNCH 2

Coyote Grill offers Baja cuisine, thatched-roof ambience and partial ocean views from its patio.

In addition to a variety of Mexican-influenced egg dishes, the house favorite for breakfast is fluffy beer-batter banana pancakes (short stack $3.25, tall $4.25). Under "eggcetera" is an oatmeal sundae--oatmeal spiked with cinnamon, raisin, brown sugar, bananas, nuts and whipped cream ($3.95). Lunch specialties include shrimp deep-fried with coconut beer batter and served with fresh fruit and black beans ($7.95), and Cove Chicken, Southern-fried ($5.95), with all the trimmings, served for almost 30 years at the location, formerly known as the Cove.

EARLY AFTERNOON 3

Take the public stairway to dramatic Table Rock Beach, a small cove below a sheer bluff face that derives its name from a distinctive formation at the shore. Cool off, relax, recharge for the return trip. It's sure to be a high point of your day.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

1) Seaview Park (access to South Laguna Ridge Line Trail)

Talavera Drive, Laguna Niguel, (714) 834-6667.

7 a.m.-sunset daily.

2) Coyote Grill

31621 S. Coast Highway, (714) 499-4033.

7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. 3) Table Rock Beach

Public access at Bluff and Table Rock drives.

7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

Parking: Free street parking for Seaview Park along Talavera Drive. Free parking in lot at Coyote Grill. Beach parking very limited.

Buses: OCTA Bus No. 1 runs along Pacific Coast Highway with a stop at Catalina Avenue. Bus No. 85 runs along Crown Valley Parkway with a stop at Niguel Road. Bus No. 377 runs along Crown Valley Parkway and Alicia Parkway--northbound it stops at Alicia Parkway and Pacific Island Drive, southbound at Alicia Parkway and Ivy Glenn Drive.

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