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Upcoast from Malibu, in the serene western half of the Santa Monica Mountains, Leo Carrillo State Beach encompasses a bit more than a mile of ocean frontage plus 2000 acres of interior hillsides and canyons. The state beach has a large, deluxe campground (with showers) just inland from the Pacific Coast Highway, plus smaller camps for RVs and organized groups nearby. Camping is pleasant during this, the warmest time of year, though reservations are virtually required. Besides an appropriate focus on water-sport activity -- beachcombing, surfing, swimming, and sailboarding -- at least one short hiking route on state-beach property begs to be explored, especially when the sun is coming up or going down.

For the moderate effort of walking the looping, two-mile "Ocean Vista" trail, you get to stand atop a 612-foot-high crest and enjoy one of Southern California's better views of the Pacific. On fog-free early mornings or late afternoons, you'll watch the sun rise or set more or less parallel to the coastline, all the while hearing the surf booming in down below. Unlike our coast here in San Diego County, this stretch of coastline is oriented east-west, and south is the direction you face when looking directly out to sea.

Day-use parking (for a fee) is available near the entrance to the Leo Carrillo Campground. Take the trail going right (east) from the campground entrance. Up ahead there's a split -- go either way, and later use the other leg of the trail on your return trip.

Whatever path you choose on the way up, you arrive at a four-way junction of trails on a saddle just north of the Ocean Vista. Take the path to the south to reach the 612-foot hillock. The path to the north leads farther uphill and inland into the Leo Carrillo backcountry, a good choice for a several-mile hike best done in a cooler time of year.

If you chance upon very clear weather (common only during November through March), try spotting the Palos Verdes peninsula far down the coast to the southeast. Out to sea, look for Santa Catalina Island and several of the other Channel Islands, which lie off the Ventura County coastline. In the north, the toothy crest of Boney Mountain barely peeks over a rounded ridge. Sandstone Peak, elevation 3111 feet and the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains, crowns this crest.

For more information about Leo Carrillo State Beach, call 805-986-8591.

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