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A DAY IN

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A Tale of Two Canyons

October 22, 2006|Jessica Gelt

Santa Monica and Rustic canyons snuggle side by side in the hills between Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades. Locals prize the staircases that connect streets at different elevations, a celebrated collection of log cabins from the '20s and two pedestrian tunnels under Pacific Coast Highway to the beach. The canyons used to be affordable retreats for writers and artists; photographer Edward Weston lived in Santa Monica Canyon in the '30s, as did Salka Viertel, who held salons frequented by Greta Garbo, Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann. Today a bungalow can command $1.5 million and residents include movie stars and moguls. The Santa Monica Pier is just down PCH, but the canyons, dense with eucalyptus and sycamore trees, feel like small country towns.

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FOOD, DRINK

The Bull Is Golden and the Pasta Divine

The Golden Bull is up the block from the elegant Brass.-Cap., but you wouldn't confuse the two. At the Bull there's a tropical fish tank wedged behind the bar, no-frills cocktails and a crew of unpretentious regulars, like John Dratz, a former area resident who always goes to the Bull whenever he's in town. "It's an old-time beach place," Dratz says. 170 West Channel Road, (310) 230-0402 . . . Caffe Delfini is owned by two Romans who stopped in SoCal on a world tour and never left. Co-owner Alex Ercoli says that Delfini's success is due in part to "the bond we form with our customers." Ercoli acknowledges a healthy competition with Giorgio Baldi, the other Italian joint on the block. "We're really happy to have Giorgio there," he says. "We want the canyon to be a dining destination." It's a little Little Italy by the sea. 147 West Channel Road, (310) 459-8823.

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ONE THING TO DO

Take a Hike

(It's Easy)

From Will Rogers State Beach, stroll under PCH, follow West Channel to East Rustic and turn left. At Sycamore, turn right. Climb the shady staircase beside 380 Sycamore and emerge on Mesa. Turn left. At Latimer, turn left again, and pass the site of the Santa Monica Forestry Station, the nation's first experimental trees plantation, founded by Abbot Kinney in 1887 and now a eucalyptus grove. Turn right on Haldeman and bear right around a loop (pausing at a log cabin at 38 Haldeman that was moved from Lake Arrowhead). Turn right at the end of the loop and take the first right to rejoin Latimer. Have a rest beside a picturesque wooden bridge that leads to a private home at the end of the street. Reverse course, and in about 30 minutes you'll be back at the beach. Unless you stop at oak tree-filled Rustic Canyon Park. Its rec center at 601 Latimer was the headquarters for a notoriously rowdy Prohibition-era club called the Uplifters; today it offers classes in yoga, ballet, ceramics and more. And in the summer, for just $1.50, you can spend the whole day at the pool.

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189:

The number of butt-sculpting steps at 4th Street and Adelaide Drive

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Literary Landmark: In 1948, the writer Christopher Isherwood, whose short stories about Berlin inspired "Cabaret," rented Lee Strasberg's house at 333 East Rustic Road and came to believe it was haunted. He wrote in "Lost Years: A Memoir 1945-1951" about "the intensity of the unpleasant psychic atmosphere." Isherwood, who lived in Santa Monica Canyon until his death at age 81 in 1986, called it "our western Greenwich Village."

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