Perched above the San Fernando Valley on one of the more prominent bumps of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Cold War-era Nike missile site at San Vicente Mountain has become a destination for hikers, mountain bikers, and passing drivers maneuvering the unpaved section of famed Mulholland Highway. On occasions when "dirt Mulholland" closes to motor vehicles (likely most of this wet winter season), it can still be used by hikers willing to hoof it a mile or so. You shake off most of the crowds and enjoy an extraordinary view from the mountain itself.
To get to the start, drive west from Interstate 405 near Encino on a paved section of Mulholland Drive. The blacktop ends after 2.1 miles at an intersection where Encino Hills Drive descends north toward the San Fernando Valley. Park along the roadside here, and walk or bike past the sturdy gate, heading steeply up the wide, rutted dirt roadway. The steady ascent takes you to the old Nike missile installation, which is now a popular interpretive site within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Between 1956 and 1968, soldiers from the LA96C battalion manned the site, which was part of a continental system of defensive missile-launch sites.
At best, the view from San Vicente Mountain Park includes the Tehachapi Mountains to the north, a distant Pacific Ocean horizon to the southwest, and the urban sprawl of the Los Angeles Basin and San Fernando Valley lapping at the Santa Monica Mountain foothills. The park also serves as a primary trailhead into spacious parcels of undeveloped land to the south: the Mulholland Gateway Park and a spread of canyons and ridges becoming known as the "Big Wild" -- 20,000 acres of wilderness and wildlife habitat practically on the edge of the West L.A. metropolis.