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Where To Find A Peaceful Oasis In LA

(credit: Joy Bitonio)

Have you had your dose of Vitamin N (nature) lately? Getting in touch with mother earth has a myriad of mental and physical benefits. Exercise, fresh air and sunshine provide the necessary escape from daily routines and the constant distractions of modern society.

Nature is one of the most effective (and affordable) forms of therapy available to help you recharge, de-stress and get an energy boost for extra credit. As if that wasn't already convincing enough, research has shown that attention span and memory increases by an impressive 20 percent after just a single hour interacting with nature. So get outside and walk, hike or simply enjoy the natural escapes Los Angeles has to offer; they are not as elusive as you think.

(credit: Joy Bitonio)

Switzer Falls

34-14 Angeles Crest Hwy
La Canada Flintridge, CA 91011

Although popular among seasoned hikers, the average city-dwelling Angeleno is unaware that a 50-foot waterfall exists in Los Angeles County. The falls can be found on a four-and-a-half-mile (roundtrip) hike in the San Gabriel Mountains. The trailhead is located at the Switzer Picnic Area; head across the bridge that follows the Arroyo Seco stream along a mostly shaded path. Expect to play leapfrog on rocks and logs to cross the stream at various points along the trail. About a mile in, ascend up a zigzag path to climb up the canyon wall, offering breathtaking scenery and a healthy shot of Vitamin D. A view of the top of Switzer Falls can be seen at the vantage point near the chain-link fence lining a portion of the trail. Continue along the canyon to descend into the creek and follow the trail upstream to the lower falls. This peaceful enclave contains small pools beneath the cascading falls; sit on one of many large rocks in the area and take it all in.

When exiting the freeway to get here, stop at the Shell station at Angeles Crest Highway and Foothill Boulevard to purchase a mandatory $5 Adventure Pass (display in your parked vehicle). The US Forest Service offers fee-free days four times a year; check out the details and dates. When you arrive at Switzer, drive down the road to park in the lot located in the picnic area. Switzer Falls is an easy-to-moderate, dog-friendly destination. Be sure to bring water and snacks and leave the trail better off when you leave by picking up wayward trash if you see it.

(credit: Yelp user H.Q.)

The Japanese Garden

6100 Woodley Ave
Van Nuys, CA 91406
(818) 756-8166

Officially named Suiho En, this tranquil garden spans more than six acres of authentic Japanese design. In a part of the Valley, where you wouldn't think something like this would exist, it is truly an unexpected and delightful place to take a stroll with someone you love. The garden features ponds and water elements that use reclaimed water from the adjacent treatment plant. Naturally, koi fish, ducks and elegant white cranes find oasis here.

The gardens are open for self-guided tours Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Docent-led tours are offered by advanced reservation on Monday and Thursday mornings, with evening tours offered during the summer only. It is recommended to call on the day you wish to visit to verify hours of operation. Admission for self-guided and docent-led tours is a budget-friendly price of $3 per person ($2 for seniors and children 10 and under).

(credit: Joy Bitonio)

The Huntington Library

1151 Oxford Rd
San Marino, CA 91108
(626) 405-2100

The grounds of The Huntington Library contain art collections and research libraries, but the most coveted of reasons to visit are the immaculately maintained botanical gardens. It is comprised of 120 acres of constantly evolving exhibitions. A dozen specialized gardens are arranged on the grounds, with favorites such as the Japanese Garden, Desert Garden, Chinese Garden and Rose Garden.

Check out the current hours of operation before planning a visit. Admission for adults is $20 on weekdays and $23 on weekends, while seniors get $5 off. Admission for kids ages 5 to 11 is $8 on weekdays and weekends. Children under 5 are free. A free day is offered for all visitors the first Thursday of every month with advance tickets. Free and plentiful on-site parking is available.

(credit: Lake Shrine Temple)

Lake Shrine Temple

17190 Sunset Blvd
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
(310) 454-4114

This is a place where quiet solace can be found. A walkway surrounding a lake provides areas that welcome visitors to sit, meditate, relax and find peace. Flowers, swans, koi fish, and plaques engraved with inspiring words are just a few slices of heaven that can be enjoyed here. Self-guided tours are welcome; however, temple tours are available weekend afternoons at 3 p.m. for those wanting to learn more. A small gift shop offers an array of spiritual gifts to keep the zen feeling alive when you head back to the city.

There is no entrance free, however donations are welcomed. Hours vary, check the website for information before visiting. Parking is available in the temple lot and at the lower lake level. Additional parking can be found at the Waldorf School just 100 yards west of the main entrance on Sunset. Avoid parking in the neighboring dirt lots or on private property.

(credit: Joy Bitonio)

Topanga State Park

20829 Entrada Rd
Topanga, CA 90290
(310) 455-2465

Located in the Santa Monica Mountains, this park offers 36 miles of trails through open grassland, live oaks and gorgeous views of the ocean. Plan to start at Trippet Ranch, since many of the hiking trails are accessed here. Eagle Rock is one of the most prominent boulder outcrops on the trail that juts over the side of the canyon with nooks and crannies that hikers like to sit in while enjoying the view. The Santa Inez Trail features sandstone formations with pockets that form tiny cliff gardens; if you continue onto a side trail, it will lead to a waterfall.

To get to the park, take the 101 (Ventura) Freeway, exit at Topanga Canyon Boulevard, drive south over the crest of the mountains and proceed three miles to Entrada Road and turn left. If parking can't be found along the canyon residential streets, parking at the trailhead is $10. This is not a dog-friendly hike area.

Joy Bitonio has the phrase "Joie de Vivre" tattooed on her shoulder, a reminder to enjoy life every single day. She has a voracious appetite for fun, adventure, food, good cocktails and works out like a madwoman to keep it all together. Check out her other articles on CBS L.A. She also covers fitness on Examiner. Follow her on Twitter.

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