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Starting from Seaview Park in the city of Laguna Niguel, a brief walk on a popular trail will take you past several interpretive panels annotating the common species of coastal vegetation found throughout coastal Southern California. The path leads to a concrete viewing platform offering one of the very best views of the fabled Orange County coastline. In early morning the coast may lie in a blanket of cottony fog, you just above it. By morning or midday, the Pacific Ocean spreads blue and nearly infinitely to the west. Finally, toward evening, the ocean shimmers with a million points of reflected sunlight.

You start at the end of Talavera Street, off Pacific Island Drive, 1.6 miles north of its intersection with Crown Valley Parkway -- which is a short way uphill from Pacific Coast Highway. On some maps, the starting point is identified as Niguel Hill (936 feet elevation). Start walking at the west end of the grassy strip running along the brink of a deep gorge -- Aliso Canyon. Follow a wide, ridge-running path going west. Notice the differences between the types of vegetation growing on the two sides of the path. Dense chaparral clings to the steep, north-facing slope to the right, which drops a sheer 800 feet to Aliso Creek. A sparser assemblage of mostly coastal-sage-scrub plants lies exposed to the sun's harshest rays on the left, south-facing side of the path. The more or less unspoiled expanse of canyon bottom to the north is included in Orange County's Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.

Only a few minutes walk takes you to the concrete platform. Most casual hikers will likely want to turn back there. Beyond the platform, a narrower trail continues: it pitches sharply downward, skirts a residential street, and then rises a little to reach Aliso Peak (Aliso Summit). From there the ocean shore lies just 0.4 mile away -- 600 feet below.

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