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Elevated Views

San Vicente Mountain Park offers vistas and bike and hiking trails.

August 11, 2000|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

David Updike, a ranger with the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, gets paid to work at a place with one of the best views in Los Angeles County. His domain is San Vicente Mountain Park, which he says is the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains.

"You're pretty much on top of the world here," Updike said recently. "You can see from Calabasas to Catalina to downtown and from the Valley to Santa Monica."

Situated between the San Fernando Valley and Brentwood, where Mulholland Drive meets Encino Hills Drive above Encino, the site was used as a military radar station from 1956-68 because of its elevation 2,000 feet above the city. This 10-acre mountaintop became part of the adjoining 20,000-acre Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in 1996.

Mountain bike enthusiasts and hikers who used the trails near the area discovered the charm of the mountaintop park right away. Scores pedal or stroll up from the Valley and West Los Angeles every week.

"It's a stopping point on their workout," Updike said.

Kerrie Nicholson of Venice packs her mountain bike in the car, drives to a trail head on the Brentwood side as often as three times a week and pedals up to the park.

"It's a good ending to a day of work, or a weekend," Nicholson said. "I know people who cycle up here from Van Nuys in the mornings."

Visitors traveling by car have to drive up a mile-long dirt road once they leave Mulholland and Encino Hills drives. At the top of the hill is a park sign that reads "LA96C," a reminder the place once fed radar signals to the Nike rockets installed in the Sepulveda Basin down in the Valley.

But once parked, visitors will realize the military gear has been removed. Public picnic tables, shade canopies, water fountains, bathrooms, pay phones and other amenities have been installed. The base of a military observation tower, which the public can use to take advantage of a coin-telescope mounted on it, remains.

The car entrance gates are open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The best time to visit in summer is early morning or late afternoon when the angles of the sun make the view more spectacular. And there is a breeze in the late afternoons. It's a great place to exercise your dog, but they must be leashed.

"Mountain bikers and hikers can come and go at all hours and are advised to travel with their cell phones if they do so after hours," Updike said.

If they have an accident, they can summon help by calling (310) 456-7049.

Visitors often choose the site for weekend picnics. Barbecue fires are not allowed.

"People stop off at a Ventura Boulevard deli on the way up here," he said.

BE THERE

San Vicente Mountain Park in the Santa Monica Mountains. Gates for car access open at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Mountain bike and hiking access is unlimited. Entrance at Mulholland Drive-Encino Hills Drive, which is 1.7 miles west of the San Diego Freeway. Drive west through the park gate 1.1 miles to view site and park facilities. (310) 858-7272.

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