Best Things to Do in La Canada, CA
La Cañada Flintridge is a semi-rural community located only 13 miles north of Los Angeles. Despite its location on the country’s second most populous metropolitan area, it manages to hold tight to its equestrian/hiking/bicycling culture that has been years in the making.
In the midst of this natural beauty that has been enhanced by restaurants, retailers and other accoutrements of modern life, are several attractions that fascinate, educate and entertain residents and visitors alike. Annual special events also enhance community life and attract visitors to the community.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
One of NASA’s 11 major centers is located on 177 acres in La Cañada Flintridge and is open for free, pre-scheduled tours on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. So space aficionados, as well as those with an interest in rocketry and science, in general, need not travel to Florida or Houston to get a glimpse into the world of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“You can schedule a tour by visiting www.jpl.nasa.gov, clicking on ‘public events’ and then on ‘tours’,” explained Kim Lievense, manager of the Public Services Office for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “The tours involve lots of walking and stairs and must be scheduled at least three weeks in advance. The average wait, however, is five months. So visitors need to plan ahead.”
Those who schedule a visit will see a multi-media presentation; browse the Jet Propulsion Laboratory visitors’ center/museum; and then view the Space Flight Operations Facility and the laboratory’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility for many of its robotic missions.
JPL’s roots date to 1936 when a group of Caltech students and experimenters tested rocket engines in the Arroyo Seco on the border of what is today La Cañada Flintridge. During World War II their tiny effort grew into the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. ›
JPL developed missiles for the Army during the 1940s and 1950s, then created America’s first satellite (and entry into space), Explorer 1, launched 60 years ago – in 1958. Later that year, NASA was born and JPL took on the role of robotic exploration to the moon, planets and beyond, according to Erik Conway, JPL historian.
“The Defense Department, Army included, spent an enormous amount of money during the 1950s to develop ballistic missiles and the rocket technology that they developed was used to help get our exploration of space started,” he said.
Explorer I was America’s answer to Sputnik, and went further by founding the era of space science. The satellite carried history’s first space experiment, which confirmed the existence of the Van Allen radiation belt around Earth.
Later, JPL switched its emphasis to planetary voyages, starting with lunar missions to survey and photograph the moon, and then moving on to explore planets, starting with Venus and later moving on to Mars, Saturn, and the others.
Robotic explorers with names like Mariner II, Voyager, Viking, Cassini and Mars Pathfinder were all developed in La Cañada Flintridge.
Space technology is also being used to study the Earth from space, studying everything from moisture in the soil to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
JPL scientists are also employing orbiting infrared telescopes to study star and planet formation and planets orbiting other stars.
This year is expected to bring the first science results from the interior of Mars, as JPL’s InSight probe begins to measure marsquakes and the planet’s interior heat flow. The next rover mission to the Red Planet, Mars 2020, will move into final assembly and testing, while 2012’s Curiosity rover, still rolling along, will begin exploring clay formations on Mt. Sharp.
The Juno spacecraft will continue to deliver spectacular images and data from its orbits of Jupiter, and JPL will launch the Deep Space Atomic Clock instrument, 50 times more accurate than today’s best navigation clocks, as well as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, the next in a series of missions to explore important questions about the distribution of carbon dioxide on Earth as it relates to growing urban populations and changing patterns of fossil fuel combustion.
Approximately 6,000 engineers, scientists and support personnel are employed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
La Cañada Flintridge’s best-known attraction is Descanso Gardens, a cultural institution and botanical garden at 1418 Descanso Dr. Approximately 350,000 visitors come to Descanso Gardens annually to experience its collections – including camellias, roses, oaks, California native plants and lilacs – and to enjoy family-friendly programs, summer concerts, classes for all ages and more. The Sturt Haaga Gallery also presents three curated art exhibitions each year.
From mid-November till January Descanso displays Enchanted: Forest of Light. It is an interactive, nighttime experience unlike anything else in Los Angeles, featuring a one-mile walk through unique lighting experiences in some of the most beloved areas of Descanso Gardens.
The Descanso property was purchased in 1937 by E. Manchester Boddy, owner of The Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News. He named his estate “Rancho del Descanso,” which means “Ranch of Rest,” and managed his property as a working ranch while also running his successful newspaper. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, when people of Japanese ancestry were forced into internment camps, Boddy purchased almost 100,000 camellia plants from two local Japanese American-owned nurseries that formed the basis of the camellia collection that continues today. Later, he added roses, lilacs and other flowering plants to Descanso.
In 1953, Boddy sold the property to the County of Los Angeles and four years later local volunteers formed the Descanso Gardens Guild to maintain and care for the land. The guild’s public-private partnership with the county continues today. In 2004, Descanso Gardens was accredited by the American Association of Museums as a “museum of living collections.” Descanso Gardens is a member-supported garden. Members receive free admission to the garden and summer concerts, discounts and other benefits.
Descanso Gardens is an “International Camellia Garden of Excellence,” according to the International Camellia Society, and the Canadian Garden Tourism Council deemed it one of the “Top Five Gardens Worth Traveling For” in North America. National Geographic even named Descanso Gardens one of the world’s ten most beautiful gardens.
Descanso Gardens is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (closed Christmas Day). Admission is $9 (general); $6 for seniors 65 and older as well as students with ID; $4 for children 5 to 12; and free for children 4 and younger. For more information, visit descansogardens.org or call (818) 949‑4200.
The Trails of La Cañada Flintridge
La Canada Flintridge boasts a unique and extensive, 22-mile trail system is a hidden gem, popular with equestrians, hikers, runners, mountain bikers and dog walkers. It consists of a series of easements through private property, public fire roads and public paths and bridges that are maintained by both the City and Los Angeles County. It is protected for the future by the city’s master plan and even connects to the Pacific Crest Trail.
In 2016 the city’s former mayor, Jon Curtis, established a Mayor’s Hike on the trails, designed to get residents to pull out their hiking boots and get some exercise while enjoying the city’s beautiful trails. It has been an annual event ever since. On Nov. 3, 2018, Mayor Terry Walker led the hike and was accompanied by L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and a number of current and former LCF city government members. Tom Reynolds, the current president of the LCF Trails Council which co-sponsored the event, also participated.
The hikers assembled at the Flintridge Riding Club; hiked five miles on Flint Canyon Trail; and then returned to the Riding Club for Stella’s Pizza Kitchen and refreshments donated by Gelson’s Market and Renaud’s Bakery.
The trails enjoyed by so many people today have a long and colorful history. If it were not for a dream and a small group of dedicated equestrians, hikers and open-space advocates, the trails as we know them today might not exist for the enjoyment of the public.
U.S. Senator Frank P. Flint, founder of Flintridge, built approximately 35 miles of bridle paths through his land in the early 1900s and his neighbor, Will D. Gould, did the same on his land. In fact, Gould opened his trails to the public shortly before his death in the 1920s.
Throughout the Depression and World War II, local residents enjoyed the use of the extensive trails that Flint and Gould had created. So, when post-War expansion and the Baby Boom caused much of the area’s open space to be replaced by homes during the 1950s and ’60s, Trails users became concerned about their way of life.
By the late 1960s, the Trails system had become fragmented as developers built over them and land owners fenced them off because of worries about liability and privacy.
In the past 40 years, the Trails Council has worked with the City, Los Angeles County, Southern California Edison and other groups to preserve, extend and improve the multi-use, multi-ability trails, creating an uninterrupted 12-mile loop around the community, as well as many off-shoot trails.
An old flume over the 210 Freeway, for instance, was enhanced to provide a trail crossing over that impediment. Retaining walls and drainage pipes have been installed to stabilize hillsides; court cases have been fought and won; and the 40-acre Cherry Canyon parcel has been purchased by the city and preserved as open space. A tree-shaded water station for both horses and people has even been established at the Ultimate Destination Point in Cherry Canyon.
The Trails Council continues to look for new trail opportunities, as well as work with City of LCF and L.A. County to keep trails open and safe for all types of users. It maintains an internet presence with an interactive website at LCFTrails.org. In addition, local events may be found on their Facebook page: Facebook.com/LCFTrails. Maps and a beautiful historical DVD, “The Trails of La Canada Flintridge” are available at Flintridge Bookstore.
The council continues to educate trail-users on how to safely use multi-use trails that horses, dogs, humans and bicycles routinely share.
For more information, visit www.LCFTrails.org.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the impressive home of Dr. Roy Lanterman and his wife, Emily, is now owned by the City of La Cañada Flintridge and maintained and administered by a nonprofit foundation. The home covering 11,500 square feet, including the basement, was the first totally reinforced concrete home built west of the Mississippi River. It was designed by Arthur Haley in 1915 and features a U-shaped Mexican Colonial hacienda design with a fountain courtyard in the middle, pergolas with plantings on all four sides and English Arts and Crafts design elements throughout.
Roy Lanterman’s parents initially settled in the Crescenta- Cañada Valley in 1875. After a career in medicine, he decided to retire there with his wife and two teenage sons. His wife, Emily, was from a wealthy Santa Monica family and was reluctant to move out to the rural and isolated location. This lavish house, which included many modern conveniences, was Dr. Lanterman’s way of persuading his wife that life in La Cañada could still be comfortable. He even included a ballroom on the second story of the house.
Dr. Lanterman was particularly interested in building a concrete house not only because of the high risk of fire from the native chaparral surrounding the property, but also because he had seen firsthand the dangers of fire while running an emergency hospital in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.
Roy and Emily Lanterman lived in the home from 1915 until their deaths in 1948 and 1949, respectively. Their son, Lloyd, was a mechanical engineer who was known for designing race car engines. He left the family home and all of its original furnishings to the city in 1987. His brother, Frank, was an accomplished silent movie organist until “talkies” ruined that gig. In 1950 he was elected to the California State Assembly and he became a famous and powerful politician who, among other things, championed the rights of the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill, authoring landmark legislation that acknowledged their rights and provided them with state services.
The home was opened as a museum in 1993 after undergoing years of exterior restoration using money raised by the museum foundation and through both city and state grants. Interior restoration continued until 2008. It has a volunteer board of directors and a staff of three, all part time.
“The house has been beautifully restored and retains almost all of its original furnishings,” said Executive Director Laura Verlaque. “It offers visitors a rare opportunity to see what life was like in early Los Angeles County.”
The home-turned-museum at 4420 Encinas Dr. is open for group and school tours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings and to the general public Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and the afternoons of the first and third Sundays of every month. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors and free for those under 12.
In addition, the museum holds a range of special events including two annual open houses, lectures, exhibits and an annual ragtime tea dance. Its extensive archives are open for research on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment.
For more information, call (818) 790‑1421 or visit