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A Pleasant Spin Through an Assortment of Peaceful Oceanside Scenes

June 25, 1998|JOHN O'DELL

Total time: 90 minutes at speed limit, no stops

Distance: About 30 miles

Level of difficulty: Easy

Sometimes, good things really are in our own backyard. One of them is the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the roads that circumnavigate it.

A spin around the peninsula--with its sweeping ocean views and vibrant flashes of bougainvillea and wildflowers--can do more for the psyche than a trip to the shrink.

The drive isn't a technically challenging one, although the road surfaces change dramatically--from new asphalt in Rancho Palos Verdes to the washboard texture of the nearly mile-long "Constant Earth Movement" zone at Portuguese Bend.

The peninsula route is divided into four distinct parts.

Starting from Redondo Beach and heading south along Palos Verdes Drive West, you'll see Santa Monica Bay and an assortment of expensive homes on the ocean side and lots of lush landscaping and more lavish homes on the inland side of the road.

As the asphalt curves around and becomes Palos Verdes Drive South, the landscape becomes less tame, more early California. The ocean-side panorama is of Catalina Island--seemingly closer than ever. There's also a lot of grading going on as developers prepare to carve more luxury estates out of the coastline.

Palos Verdes Drive East and North take you inland. The winding east drive climbs through the interior hills with peekaboo views of Los Angeles Harbor.

The north drive runs though equestrian-oriented Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates. It is a road, bordered by horse trails and stands of tall eucalyptus and willowy pepper trees, that evokes a Southern California far different from the one that parallels it a few miles north on the San Diego Freeway.

And for those who don't mind dismounting every so often, some key spots are:

* The Korean American Friendship Bell in Angels Gate Park on the bluff at the tip of Point Fermin. Presented as a bicentennial gift by the South Korean people in 1976, the intricately cast bell weighs 19 tons--making it the largest bell in the United States--and is housed in a gorgeous Korean-style bell house.

* The Wayfarer's Chapel, 5755 Rancho Palos Verdes Drive South, just north of Portuguese Bend. This breathtaking glass-and-redwood "tree chapel" was designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. The chapel, nestled in a cove of coastal redwoods on a bluff overlooking the ocean, is open daily.

* The Point Vicente Interpretive Center, 31501 Palos Verdes Drive West. The center, open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the summer, features exhibits on the Pacific gray whale and the landslide activity now affecting the peninsula. (See "Constant Earth Movement" at Portuguese Bend, above.)

Quick Tip: For a more challenging trip, drivers can check out Ortega Highway (California 74) from San Juan Capistrano to Lake Elsinore. The difficult, winding route has even inspired "I Survived Ortega Highway" bumper stickers. Along the way--allow at least 40 minutes--the route cuts through the Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park and offers a chance to see a mountain lion or two bounding across the road.

FELLOW TRAVELERS

Got a favorite California drive you'd like to suggest to other readers? Send ideas (general route, places of interest along the way, distance and duration of trip) to Highway 1, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Via e-mail: highway1@latimes.com.

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