Los Angeles is often thought of as a polluted wasteland of cars, traffic, and more cars. Sure, this is sort of true, but L.A. is also surrounded and partially settled into a beautiful wilderness. The city is flanked by forests, mountains and the Pacific Ocean, and on a clear day there is no better view than a high point in L.A.
Los Angeles is filled with outdoors enthusiasts, and they’re making their mark on the food scene. The city has long been a place for creative culinary fusion, and the caliber and diversity of its restaurants and chefs continues to grow. L.A. has become a real eating city, with a slant toward local ingredients and a focus on reconnecting with nature.
If you like food and nature, too, then why not experience both at the same time? The following restaurants offer some of both, and are a real escape from the smoggy traffic. Some are a reward for a hike well done, some are fine dining in a unique setting, and some are located in parks that take you worlds away. These unique Los Angeles dining destinations are located in the wilderness…or transport you there.
Top of the Notch
If you’re a hiking enthusiast, make your next excursion the highest point in Los Angeles County, Mt. Baldy. Not only will you be rewarded with big beautiful pine trees and amazing views, but you can stop off at Top of the Notch, a restaurant halfway up the mountain. The diner-style breakfast and lunch spot can only be reached by hiking up or taking the ski lifts. Many hikers trudge up, some to the very top of the mountain, before descending back down to Top of the Notch and rewarding themselves with a breakfast burrito or a burger. Full and happy, they ride down on the ski lift and enjoy the views. If you’re not feeling up to the 6-10 mile steep hike, just ride up and enjoy a meal and the surroundings. The restaurant is open seven days a week during ski season and on weekends the rest of the year.
The Inn of the Seventh Ray
For a more pampered experience, visit The Inn of the Seventh Ray, a fine-dining restaurant nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains. The menu is organic and locally sourced, some of it from the farmers’ market down the street. You’ll enjoy your meal seated next to Topanga Creek in a covered outdoor setting. The intimate, wild garden aesthetic is romantic and the restaurant is often full of couples. The Inn serves lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, and reservations for all three are a must.
Griffith Park is famous for it’s idyllic observatory, but it’s also a beautiful piece of land just east of the heart of the city. It’s a refreshingly wild park, filled with trees and trails rather than manicured lawns. Beyond one entrance to the park is a small cafe called Trails, which offers a small breakfast and brunch menu. Orders are placed at the counter and the seating is picnic tables off to the side. The adorable cafe offers coffee, lemonade, sandwiches and sweets like pie. It’s a relaxing scene, and many people bring their dogs. It’s a perfect stop before or after a hike, or with your kids during a morning in the park.
Saddle Peak Lodge
For a piece of L.A. history and that old-world lodge feeling, you can’t beat Saddle Peak Lodge. The restaurant is located next to a creek in the Malibu hills, nestled among the Santa Monica Mountains. It sits beneath a rock formation of the same name, and has been a stop for mountain visitors for 100 years. The location was a quick-stop cafe and store, and was popular with movie stars in the 1920s who were frequently filming in the area. The restaurant has a long history and a wealth of stories, including a few ghost stories. The menu is focused on wild game such as elk, ostrich and boar, and the decor reflects the same taste. The terraces overlook mountains and canyons, and some locals ride their horses to brunch.
Cosmic Cafe on Mt. Wilson
If you’re looking for an excuse to venture up Mt. Wilson, then please, let us do the honors. Just outside of the city and a lovely drive, the mountain has a few things worth visiting at the top (you can drive up or hike it). The observatory is a must visit, with tours available and opportunities to look through their amazing telescopes. The views of the world down below can be pretty stunning, as far as Catalina Island on a clear day. Plus, there’s a little cafe perched next to the observatory called The Cosmic Cafe. The cafe’s menu of lunch options isn’t what makes it special—sandwiches, hot dogs, Frito pies and sweets—it’s the surroundings. The proceeds go to the observatory, and it has a real feeling of community. Plus, if you’re hearty enough to hike up, you’re going to need a Fritos pie.
Chinese Garden Tea House at Huntington
The Huntington Gardens are always worth a visit, with huge grounds, multiple impressive gardens and a great museum. They also offer food, and while none of it is blow-your-mind good, it’s a very pleasant way to spend your lunch. We’d suggest trying the Chinese Tea House, which serves typical Chinese-American dishes. The real reason for going is the location—the traditional-looking tea house is perched in the Chinese garden overlooking the beautiful lake. It’s a peaceful spot, and you can find yourself feeling miles away from real civilization.
Eat in a Field at Wattles Farm
Outstanding in the Field was started in 1999 by Jim Denevan with the goal to bring people closer to the origins of their food. The OITF team sets a long table right in the middle of a chosen farm and has a local chef come and prepare the very local ingredients for diners. Over the years it’s turned into quite a tour, and adds cities, farms and chefs all the time. They’re coming to L.A. in June and October of 2015 and will be setting up shop at Wattles Farm, an urban garden enclave just blocks off of bustling Hollywood Boulevard. Chef Steve Samson from Sotto will head up the June dinner, with the October chef T.B.A. Tickets go on sale the first day of spring, March 20.
Foraging with Urban Outdoor Skills
You asked for wilderness, here’s your wilderness. Foraging is about as wild as eating gets, and you can learn all about it by participating in an Urban Outdoor Skills walk. Pascal Baudar, a long-time foraging expert, will guide you on a search for edible plants in the forest. You’ll be surprised at how much he’ll find, from edible cactuses to wild mint to mushrooms. After you walk, you will learn about preparing your newly found food and enjoy some foraged treats. Baudar offers planned walks in specific locations, along with private walks that are tailored to the group. He can focus on certain aspects of foraged food, like medicinal plants, wild brewing and more.
Laurel Randolph is a food and lifestyle writer hailing from Tennessee and living in Los Angeles. She enjoys cooking, baking and candlestick making. Tweet at her face: @laurelrandy