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Lofty Peeks

Southern California offers great views from high places. Check out the scene from some of the best lookout points.

November 05, 1998|JIM BENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They rise above the urban sprawl, inviting us to seek them out, and to linger once we get there, taking in their unique views.

Lookout points. Whether natural or man-made, they give us a chance to soak in the landscape, to ponder our place in it and to savor a sense of freedom and possibility.

Southern California has loads of lookouts, from tall buildings to soaring hilltops and dramatic coastal bluffs. They're great places to spend part of a day or evening, at least when skies are clear.

Here are 10 Southern California lookout spots, from Santa Barbara to San Diego, worth a visit.

Knott's Berry Farm's Supreme Scream Ride

If you're looking for thrills with your views, Knott's Berry Farm's Supreme Scream ride could be for you.

The ride climbs 30 stories--that's 252 feet high. On a clear day, depending on the seating, thrill-seekers enjoy a sweeping glimpse of Orange County, the ocean and even downtown Los Angeles.

The view is fleeting--about seven seconds. That's because once riders reach the top, they are propelled downward at more than 50 mph and left to bounce on a cushion of air.

If you're not ready to bounce, try the Sky Cabin, a relaxing three-minute ride that slowly elevates visitors to 225 feet for a revolving panoramic scene of the park and its surroundings.

* Knott's Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. Admission is $36; $26 for children 3-11 and seniors; children younger than 3 admitted free. Parking is $7. (714) 220-5200.

Orange Hill Restaurant

When the skies clear after heavy rains, the staff will tell you, locals flock to this upscale restaurant perched high on a hill east of downtown Orange to take in the sweeping view of Southern California.

Dine on broiled lobster tail at a window-side table and look out to see Disneyland's Matterhorn in Anaheim, the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, Long Beach and even Catalina Island more than 20 miles off the coast. At night, city lights sparkle for miles.

The staff recommends arriving by 5 p.m. if you want to avoid a wait for a window table. Reservations are accepted, but the best tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

While waiting to be seated, step outside, where cocktails and appetizers are served around small fire pits.

* Orange Hill Restaurant, 6410 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 997-2910.

O'Neill Regional Park in Orange County

If it's true that the harder you work for a goal, the more you appreciate it, then visitors who make the relatively steep, milelong hike to Vista Lookout in O'Neill Regional Park are especially grateful for the spot's rustic, panoramic view.

At 1,492 feet, the lookout offers spectacular glimpses of nearby Modjeska Peak and Santiago Peak, as well as miles of brush-lined canyons. On a clear day, which of course is the best time to go, Catalina Island appears in the distance.

A short hike to the lookout is about two miles round-trip. Pay the day-use fee and follow the park road that parallels Live Oak Canyon Road until it dead-ends at the trail, where parking is available. Hop from your car and hoof it, following the trail as it meanders under sycamore and coastal live oak trees, then cuts left toward the lookout.

There you'll find several picnic benches offering a great place to relax. Have lunch and soak in the wide-open spaces.

* O'Neill Regional Park, 30892 Trabuco Canyon Road, Trabuco Canyon; open for day use 7 a.m.to sunset, $2 fee per vehicle weekdays, $4 Saturdays-Sundays. (949) 858-9365.

Dana Point Bluffs

Back in the 1800s, men stood on the bluffs overlooking what is now Dana Point Harbor and tossed cowhides over the edge so they could be loaded onto trading ships anchored below.

These days the historic bluffs are the place to enjoy salty sea breezes and to take in an inspiring view of the picturesque harbor and the blue Pacific.

A number of spots offer postcard-perfect scenes.

Tiny Ken Sampson Overview Park, next to the Blue Lantern Inn on Street of the Blue Lantern, features a gazebo on the bluff, a shady spot to watch sailboats motor past the breakwater.

Nearby, Bluff Top Trail off Amber Lantern features a short walk along the cliffs and offers equally impressive views. The trail passes "The Hide Drogher"--a statue of a barefooted worker tossing a cowhide off the edge.

* Ken Sampson Overview Park on Blue Lantern near Santa Clara Avenue and Bluff Top Trail between Amber Lantern and Violet Lantern, Dana Point, (949) 496-4251.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

The clock tower standing watch over this historic courthouse is known as El Mirador--Spanish for "lookout point." The tower rises high above downtown Santa Barbara and offers a perfect place to take in the city's stunning scenery.

Take the elevator to the fourth floor and walk the small staircase to the tower's deck, 85 feet above street level. Then marvel at the view from the building, dedicated in 1929.

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