Whittier Narrows Recreation Area is one of those LA gems where there’s everything to do—pedal a bike, pedal a boat, paddle a kayak, hike, jog, fish, dog-walk, bird-watch, or just plain enjoy 1,492 acres of lovely public space. The “Narrows” appellation refers to a water gap between the Puente Hills and the Montebello Hills, through which flow both the Rio Hondo and the San Gabriel River.
Park and start at Lot D, where there are plenty of spaces and a rental shop for surrey bikes, pedal boats, and even kayaks. Or you can simply trek afoot on the flat paved path that loops through the recreation area. Choose your locomotion method and head north as the track hugs the northern section of Legg Lake. You will constantly have opportunities for some great up-close bird-watching. Flocks of Canada geese dominate, reluctantly sharing the shoreline with other waterfowl. Look out for a colorful array of ducks, coots, and our favorite winged “greats”—great blue herons and great egrets—near the water throughout the rest of the hike.
After a mile, take a left to continue along the lake, with a second lake now in view to the south. You’ll soon reach your first (of six in the park!) playground art sculpture—a two-headed dragon perfect for a child’s imagination or your Instagram feed. Continue on, crossing a small bridge, and stay right with a third lake in view to the south featuring two small islands. This is a great spot to rest at a table for a picnic, or fish for stocked rainbow trout. As you continue around the peaceful body of water, you’ll notice a dock specifically for model remote-control boats, and you may catch a glimpse of some zipping across the bounding main.
At the eastern edge of the lake, after passing another fantastical climbable sculpture, you’ll reach a junction. Briefly take the left path to check out a mini waterfall and stream as well as an octopus statue. Cross the lawn to rejoin the right path, passing a blue-whale slide and eventually returning to your car…or passing it up to do the loop all over again!
TREAT: After your lake loop, head to nearby Garcias Fruits (just north of the Narrows) for the ultimate refreshing treat. The options range from raspados (Mexican shave ice) to ice cream to aguas frescas, but we’d opt for the chamango, or mangoneada. A portmanteau for the chamoy sauce and mango pieces, this treat also has lime juice and chili powder for a kick and is topped with a tasty tamarind straw. And why not add sandia (watermelon) to it too? ¡Que rico!
Whittier Narrows is in South El Monte. To get to Lot D, take the CA-60 to the Santa Anita Ave. exit and turn south on Santa Anita Ave.; the parking lot will be on your immediate right. Parking $6 on weekends and holidays. Dog-friendly!