You can start the scenic drive along the coast by taking Pacific Coast Highway to Palos Verdes Boulevard in Torrance. Head south: Turn right if you’re heading east from Redondo Beach, left if you’re heading west from the 110 freeway or Long Beach. It becomes Palos Verdes Drive West when you pass Malaga Cove Plaza. (But watch out!)
To reach Malaga Cove from Palos Verdes Drive West, turn right at the first street past Malaga Cove Plaza (Via Corta). Turn right again on Via Arroyo, past Malaga Cove School (with its distinctive tower) to Paseo del Mar.
To get to Lunada Bay from Palos Verdes Drive West, look for the parking turnoff on the right, just after Palos Verdes Drive West turns into a divided road. The turnoff, marked by a small brown sign, provides a nice view from the southern end of Bluff Cove. At the parking area, turn right onto Paseo del Mar. (This is a different Paseo del Mar from the one that leads to Malaga Cove). Ignore the sign that says “Lunada Bay”; following it will take you along Palos Verdes Drive West to the residential area and shopping arcade named for Lunada Bay.
Take Paseo del Mar past Rocky Point Road until you get to what looks like a stretch of undeveloped land to the right. (On weekends there probably will be lots of cars parked there.) This is Lunada Bay; it’s marked only with a small trident “shoreline access” sign. You can hike down one of the steep trails to the ocean. Past Lunada Bay, Paseo del Mar turns into Paseo Lunado before it rejoins Palos Verdes Drive West. Turn right to continue to Point Vicente.
To get to the cliff-top trails north of Point Vicente from Palos Verdes Drive West, turn right onto either Calle Entradero or Via Vicente. Follow either road as it curves toward the ocean, and park on the street. Walkways lead from the road to the trails. Via Vicente (the southern entrance) has a traffic light and is a westward extension of Hawthorne Boulevard. If you continue on Palos Verdes Drive West, it becomes Palos Verdes Drive South and leads to the Wayfarers Chapel (on the left) and Abalone Cove (on the right).
Mirlo Gate Lodge Tower is on Via Valmonte, near Hawthorne Boulevard. If you’re heading south (up the hill) from Pacific Coast Highway, Via Valmonte is the next traffic signal past Newton Street. Turn right. If you’re heading north (down the hill) on Hawthorne, look for Via Valmonte at the bottom of the hill. Turn left. From Hawthorne, the first cross street you’ll see is Paseo de las Tortugas (“Turtle Way”), beyond which the road makes a U-shaped loop. Near the end of the “U,” you’ll see a large stone sign on the right indicating the boundary of Palos Verdes Estates (you’ve just left Torrance). The tower is across the street from the sign, partially obscured by some large pepper trees (as of mid-2012).
From the Wayfarers Chapel and Abalone Cove, you can continue on Palos Verdes Drive South through the Portuguese Bend Landslide Area. Do heed the speed limit signs! Because of the continually shifting ground, the road is bumpy, full of dips, and constantly under construction. (You might notice the above-ground sewer pipes along the road, made necessary by the moving land.)
Once you get into San Pedro (actually the City of Los Angeles), the road changes its name to 25th street. Continue on to Gaffey Street and turn right. You’ll get to Angel’s Gate Park and the Korean Friendship Bell (on the right) before the road ends at Point Fermin Park. Coming back, simply head north on Gaffey Street until it turns into the 110 freeway.
If you don’t want to continue to San Pedro, you can head back toward Point Vicente and continue to Hawthorne Boulevard. Turn right and head up the hill for some very nice “high altitude” views of the Peninsula and the ocean. As you head down the hill you’ll get a panoramic “city view” of the entire Los Angeles basin. It’s best to downshift your car’s transmission.
Navigating Malaga Cove Plaza
Malaga Cove Plaza is the northern gateway to the scenic coastal drives and views in Palos Verdes Estates. Unfortunately, it’s also a shameful travesty of road design. Whoever designed it seems to have put the city’s desire for exclusivity and seclusion ahead of either practicality or safety. An utterly illogical convergence of divided roads, with inadequate signage and no traffic lights, it’s diabolically hazardous and confusing even to long-time Peninsula residents.
For many years there were two southbound lanes on Palos Verdes Boulevard from Redondo Beach and Torrance. They suddenly merged into a single lane as you entered Palos Verdes Estates. That created a significant hazard as vehicles in the right lane accelerated to merge after discovering that their lane was disappearing. A road improvement project in 2015 finally eliminated that hazard by reducing the former two southbound lanes to one.
As you round the curve and pass Malaga Cove Plaza (on your left), the single lane divides into three lanes. Get in the middle lane as you approach the stop sign at the south end of the Plaza. That’s the only one that goes straight through to Palos Verdes Drive West.
You might not notice the inconspicuous sign that shows where the three lanes lead. It’s about 50 meters from the intersection on the right edge of the road, under a large tree that isn’t always trimmed. If you blinked when you passed that sign, arrows painted on the asphalt just before the stop sign at the south end of the intersection are the only other indications of where each lane goes. But if there’s any traffic, the queue of cars at the stop sign will cover those arrows; you won’t see them until it’s too late to change lanes.
If you weren’t confused about which lane to use, you surely will be confused about who should proceed next through the stop signs scattered around this very wide intersection. Look very carefully in all directions— for pedestrians and bicycles as well as vehicles— before proceeding!
The lack of traffic lights means that at any time of day both sides of Palos Verdes Drive West can accumulate a lengthy backup of vehicles waiting at those stop signs. Police officers direct traffic during peak morning and afternoon rush hours to mitigate the congestion. But at other times, a large reserve of patience is necessary.
Speed Limits and Enforcement in Palos Verdes Estates
In keeping with its original concept as an exclusive planned community, the City of Palos Verdes Estates strives to maintain a tranquil and rural setting that’s unusual in Los Angeles County. There are no traffic lights anywhere in the city. The maximum speed limit in Palos Verdes Estates is 35 miles per hour (56 km/h), and many streets are posted at 30 or 25 (48 or 40 km/h).
The three other cities on the Peninsula have contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff for their law enforcement needs. But that’s apparently not good enough for Palos Verdes Estates. The city has its very own highly professional police force, equipped with state-of-the-art laser radar. Especially on summer weekends that attract interlopers from warmer, smoggier parts of the Southland, these officers assiduously dispense their very special brand of warm welcome to as many sightseers as they can.
The charmingly bucolic streets of Palos Verdes Estates don’t have sidewalks or lighting. But they do have plenty of places where police can conceal themselves, so they can most effectively execute their mandate to inform intruders about how much the city’s government and residents cherish their treasured tranquility and seclusion.
So when you visit Palos Verdes Estates, please remember to pay very close attention to the posted speed limits. If you savor the scenery at the appropriate leisurely pace, you’ll have pleasant memories of coastal splendor instead of an extremely costly “souvenir.”
(Any traffic citation in California carries a mind-boggling price. In recent years, the Legislature has addressed an ongoing budget crisis by increasing the base fines for traffic violations, and then piling on a continually-expanding heap of surcharges, fees, levies, and “penalty assessments” that inflate the cost of even trifling violations to astronomical levels. It amounts to an invisible tax, which most people aren’t aware of until the unfortunate day when a traffic cop gleefully hands them a shocking bill. But politicians around the country seem to find this approach greatly preferable to visible taxation. Fortunately, this tax is relatively easy to avoid. Fastidious adherence to traffic laws— including vigorously-enforced speed limits— can save your bank account as well as your life. It’s utterly perverse that “civil obedience” is the only way to protest the abusive reliance state and local governments now seem to have on revenue from traffic and parking enforcement.)
Abalone Cove Parking
Rancho Palos Verdes has its own “gotcha.” The only parking anywhere near Abalone Cove is in a city-owned lot for the shoreline park, off of Palos Verdes Drive South. It costs $5 to park in that lot. Parking is prohibited on a stretch of several kilometers of Palos Verdes Drive South. The Wayfarers Chapel has its own free parking lot, but signs warn ominously of “No Beach Parking.”
The coastal route is not the only scenic drive on the Peninsula. Palos Verdes Drive North, which splits eastward from Malaga Cove, is a countrified tree-lined route where you’ll often encounter horses (and their riders). This road intersects the main arteries of Hawthorne and Crenshaw Boulevards that lead to the Los Angeles freeways.