Why Hiking Runyon Canyon Is the Best Way to See the Stars
Channing Tatum, Justin Bieber, Amanda Seyfried and Natalie Portman are just a few of the Hollywood insiders you could spot when you lace up for L.A.'s most central — and poop-strewn — hiking trail.
Nobody famous eats at The Ivy anymore. The Polo Lounge isn’t the celebrity magnet it used to be, either. No, if you want to spy stars and other industry hotshots in public these days, you have to take a hike in Runyon Canyon, arguably the best spot in town for encountering the rich and renowned (and stepping in their dogs’ poop).
“For a while, you would see Charlize Theron and her son here a lot, entering from Mulholland Drive,” says one Runyon regular. Another frequent visitor recently spotted CAA partner Bryan Lourd at the park, “looking pensive.” Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom, Justin Bieber, Channing Tatum, Kathy Griffin, Alexander Skarsgard and Elle Macpherson are all Runyon fans. Amanda Seyfried lives next door, as does Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson and Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball. Until recently, Matthew McConaughey also owned a home nearby — and could frequently be seen strolling through the park (shirtless, naturally).
Director Patrick Brice (The Overnight) says he likes taking visitors to Runyon "simply because it's such a crazy scene. It's maybe one of the best people (and dog) watching spots in L.A."
Part of the appeal for stars and industry titans is location, location, location. Perched just west of Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre between Franklin Avenue and Mulholland Drive, it’s more convenient than Griffith or Will Rogers State Park, and it's close enough to the heart of the city that industry hikers still can get a clear signal on their smartphones. “It’s just easy,” says film-marketing executive Maxine Leonard. “It’s 30 minutes up, 30 minutes down, and you’re done. Perfect!” Another attraction: It’s one of L.A.’s only parks with large off-leash areas, making it a favorite for dog owners. That means hikers have to be careful about where they step, and the dog excrement tends to give the park an earthy aroma. But regulars don’t complain. “I’ve gotten used to it,” says Leonard.
The biggest thing Runyon has going for it, though, is its spectacular view of L.A. “It makes you connect with this wonderful city that always seems so disjointed and spread out when you’re alone in your car,” says talent agent April Lim.
"When you’re hiking someplace like Runyon Canyon, there is the illusion that you’ve gotten away from all the insanity. And yet we have actually passed other hikers on their phones doing business calls," say Showtime's Episodes creators David Chase and Jeffrey Klarik, whose meta industry series shoots mainly in London with a few L.A. pickups, including Runyon Canyon walk-and-talks.
The 161-acre property always has been a lodestone for the rich and famous. In the 1950s, Errol Flynn would throw wild parties at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed “pool pavilion” that, until it burnt down in 1972, sat on the overlook facing Hollywood (Flynn was the houseguest of the estate’s then-owner, A&P grocery heir George Huntington Hartford II). Through the ’70s and ’80s, developers and city officials wrestled over the land’s commercial potential, until the estate ended up getting purchased by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which opened it as a public park in 1987. Now it's run by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, which, together with the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council (HHWNC) and Friends of Runyon Canyon, has been ferocious about protecting the land’s integrity.
Still, there are those who continue to see commercial possibilities: Last year, sports-marketing entrepreneurs Jeff Pruitt and Ryan Woods petitioned the parks department to allow them to open a zip-line attraction in Runyon, offering the park a $700,000 donation and an ongoing percentage of the zip-line profits (Pruitt and Woods declined comment). But the idea quickly was nixed, and again this April when the zip-line developers approached HHWNC. "I took a straw vote," says HHWNC president Anastasia Mann. "There was 100 percent negativity. Nobody wanted it."
After all, who needs a zip line when you’ve got the greatest natural attractions Hollywood has to offer — you know, Bieber and Seyfried?