A guide to Topanga Canyon: What to do, see, eat

There’s still magic in Topanga Canyon.

The fabled mountain community famed for its bohemian sentimentality and artistic mythos has, for decades, garnered a reputation as L.A.’s funky, hippie, commune-happy enclave that bridges Woodland Hills and Pacific Coast Highway. The notoriety is well-earned. A restorative drive through the canyon’s roughly 20-mile main road reveals art installations, roadside vendors and sun-dappled oak trees through twists and turns and vistas each more scenic than the last. It’s a drive worth making, especially now.

After a particularly rainy season, multiple mudslides have blocked Topanga Canyon’s entry from PCH for more than a month. Shops, restaurants and other businesses that depend on visitors are struggling, with access more or less limited to Route 27’s northern entrance, in Woodland Hills.

handwritten text title: This must be the place

Get to know Los Angeles through the places that bring it to life. From restaurants to shops to outdoor spaces, here’s what to discover now.

It’s a great time to explore the canyon and support its tight-knit community and natural beauty.

According to linguist, author and Native American language specialist William Bright, the Tongva tribe, who originally occupied the land, named the canyon, though he could not provide a translation. Multiple scholars have speculated it could mean “a place above” — fitting for a region that, on overcast days, can feel above the clouds, its mountains peeking out just over them.

During Hollywood’s Golden Age, some of the world’s most famous stars commissioned homes in the canyon, using Topanga as a weekend getaway. Will Geer and Woody Guthrie created an artists commune that blossomed into a beloved theatrical stage. Neil Young famously recorded “After the Gold Rush” at his home there, and countless other musicians of the 1960s, ’70s and beyond — including Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Marvin Gaye and Colin Hay — have looked to Topanga for inspiration, if not a place to dwell. It’s seen darkness too, including the Manson Family murder of Gary Hinman in 1969. Accusations of healers and spiritualists veering into cult leadership. A collection of burned-out ruins that could have housed a commune of Nazi sympathizers.

Topanga’s juxtaposition of light and dark only adds to the mystique and the mythos of one of L.A.’s most scenic locales. But its intrigue and popularity, as well as its location, could have contributed to making the enclave more inaccessible.

In many ways, like much of Los Angeles, the canyon’s demographics have shifted and metamorphosed in recent history. What was in decades past a mix of homes and ranches accessible for musicians, visual artists, actors and other creatives of varying levels of success and fame has gradually set an increasingly high bar for financial entry. Luxury homes have begun to replace some of its more humble abodes on the cliffsides, and luxury cars line the boulevard.

“Before, people didn’t have fences,” said Patrice Winter, a Topanga resident of more than 50 years and the community fixture behind the Canyon Bakery. “They minded their own business and were neighborly at the same time. In the late ’80s they started building fences, and then the war of how high the fence could be had begun, and that was the change. That’s when I started to notice, ‘You know what? There are people here who think they can move up here into a community and block themselves off because they need peace, and they don’t want to know who their neighbor is.’”

Still, in many ways, the canyon remains the same, in part due to Winter and other locals keeping the community spirit alive. In spring, locals and visitors flock to the community center’s sprawling annual fundraiser, Topanga Days, where the music of live bands floats through the air. In fall, roughly two dozen films from residents, indie talent, up-and-coming directors and more screen in the canyon during the annual Topanga Film Festival. Shop owners and restaurants often can be found collaborating with one another and hosting independent artists with gallery shows and live music nights.

Earlier this year, a pair of longtime residents revitalized the Topanga Farmers Market to help showcase local vendors and revive the weekly event, which had gone dormant for nearly six years. When it returned in early March, the buzz was palpable; it hosted nearly 40 vendors, many of which sold out of their goods entirely.

Topanga’s neighborly mindset also prompts residents to band together to raise awareness for efforts and fundraisers, and regularly use whatever platforms they possess to spread the word about businesses adversely affected by natural disasters and other misfortunes — especially in the wake of the recent mudslides and road blockages.

Despite its changes, modern-day Topanga Canyon is just as full of whimsy, beauty and neighborly love as it ever was. Here are just a few ways to explore its bakers, artists, yoga studios, restaurants and shop owners — with a few suggestions on how to bring a bit of the Topanga spirit home with you.

What’s included in this guide

Anyone who’s lived in a major metropolis can tell you that neighborhoods are a tricky thing. They’re eternally malleable and evoke sociological questions around how we place our homes, our neighbors and our communities within a wider tapestry. In the name of neighborly generosity, we included gems that may linger outside of technical parameters. Instead of leaning into stark definitions, we hope to celebrate all of the places that make us love where we live.

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