From the shore of the Pacific Ocean, just west of Santa Monica, the fluted slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains rise like rumpled bedsheets after a night of tossing and turning. From a vantage point known as Parker Mesa Overlook, slightly more than a horizontal mile from the beach and 1500 feet higher, you get a bird's-eye view of surfers off Topanga Beach, the crescent shoreline of Santa Monica Bay, L.A.'s west-side cityscape -- and much, much more if the air is really transparent.
The five-mile round-trip hike to the overlook is especially rewarding when done early on mornings when tendrils of soupy fog fill the canyons, leaving higher elevations high and dry. For a special treat, try this walk on any clear, full-moon evening between May and August. In the fading twilight you'll watch the moon's pumpkin-like disk silently materialize in the east or southeast, hovering over a million glittering lights.
To reach the most convenient trailhead, turn north on Paseo Miramar from Sunset Boulevard 0.3 mile north of Pacific Coast Highway. This intersection is one block north of a turnoff for Los Liones Drive. Drive up narrow Paseo Miramar to or near its dead end, and find parking wherever you can. (Alternately, you can drive to the end of Los Liones Drive and utilize the Los Liones Trail, a longer alternative route.)
Starting from the sturdy vehicle gate at the end of Paseo Miramar, walk uphill on the unpaved East Topanga Fire Road, passing the upper end of the Los Liones Trail after about 200 yards. Farther ahead you briefly traverse a cool, north-facing slope overlooking Santa Ynez Canyon and neighboring ridges. At 2.0 miles, you arrive at a fire-road junction overlooking Topanga Canyon to the west. Turn left (south) and walk out along the bald ridge to Parker Mesa Overlook.
Down below in front of you are Parker and Castellammare Mesas, parts of a striking marine-terrace structure that continues east into Pacific Palisades. Marine terraces were carved into the Southern California coastal landscape at various times in the "recent" geologic past -- as early as one or two million years ago.
When it's time to go back, return the way you came.