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Prowling mountain lions, a home built like an ancient Mayan temple, a cinema full of dead people. It must be… Los Angeles?

Go urban mountaineering with the beautiful people along Runyon Canyon
Los Angeles doesn’t flaunt its public spaces. It’s happy for out-of-towners to come, get sucked into the concrete vortex of 12-lane freeways and 20-mile-long boulevards, and leave with the words of American writer and poet Gertrude Stein on their mind: ‘There is no there there’ (the quote was originally directed towards Stein’s torn-down childhood home in Oakland, California, hundreds of miles to the north).

Of course, there is plenty of here here; you just have to know the city, give it some time and some respect, before it rewards you. Nothing proves that more than Runyon Canyon, a protected urban wilderness of sheer rock face, hidden trails and parched scrubland in the section of the Santa Monica Mountains known as the Hollywood Hills. At the highest lookout point, you find yourself at eye level with the circling newscopters and LAPD air patrols as they track car chases below. To the east, there’s the famous Hollywood sign and triple-domed Griffith Park Observatory set against desert brush and the epic, white-peaked San Gabriel Mountains. To the west lies the vast circuit board of LA’s grid, with the city’s major boulevards cutting skyscraper-lined paths to the Pacific shoreline. If you peer over the cliff edge to the east, you can also see the rusting hulk of the old Outpost Estates sign, built in the 1920s to promote a rival development to Hollywoodland.

The best time to experience Runyon is just before dusk, ideally after a smog-cleansing rainfall. It’s worth bearing in mind that getting to the top from the entrance on Fuller Avenue, a few blocks north of Sunset Boulevard, is quite a workout: in fact, the locals use it as a gym – or at least as an advertising opportunity, this being a neighbourhood popular with expertly toned wannabe actors. Dogs are another crucial element of the Runyon experience – there’s every size, shape and breed imaginable, most of them running free of their leads.

There are less friendly animals, too: coyotes, rattlesnakes, bobcats and even the very occasional mountain lion. ‘Oh, I don’t worry about that,’ says Jake, a scriptwriter I meet who’s setting out on a hike to clear his mind between penning TV pilots. ‘The last time anyone in California got eaten by a mountain lion was in 2004, I think.’

  • Runyon Canyon’s entrance is at the top of Fuller Avenue in Hollywood – turn north from Sunset Boulevard. It’s open from dawn until dusk.

Take-away via Twitter: Experience the food truck revolution
Lunch trucks, also known as ‘roach coaches’ due to their reputation for less-than-perfect sanitation, have always been a part of life in LA. Every day, they make their way slowly through the Hollywood Hills, sounding steam horns which, like Mississippi steamboats, you can hear for miles around as they pass mountainside construction sites. Customers are pretty much exclusively Hispanic labourers and menu items are usually limited to burritos and tacos, along with the typical rice and beans accompaniments and sweet Mexican refrescos (brightly coloured soft drinks).

Yet the mobile food concept has taken on a new meaning since the recession, which has devastated many of the city’s fancier restaurants. Kitchen staff were made redundant and aspiring restaurateurs weren’t able to launch new concepts because the banks were too cautious to hand out loans.

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