Mark J. Terrill  /  AP
While the rest of the country suffers through snow, sleet and freezing winter weather, Los Angeles offers bright sun year-round, so the hills that stretch and swerve away from the city's concrete, cars and grime can be explored any season.
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updated 2/9/2011 1:39:42 PM ET 2011-02-09T18:39:42

You can see the stars all dressed up on the red carpet at the Oscars. But if you want to see them in their sweats, head to the Hollywood Hills, from Runyon Canyon to the west, to Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park, with its 53 miles of paths, to the east.

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Jennifer Aniston, Sheryl Crow and other celebrities have been spotted on some of the trails, particularly in Runyon, but regular, nature-loving folks flock to the trails on a regular basis as well. And while the rest of the country suffers through snow, sleet and freezing winter weather, Los Angeles offers bright sun year-round, so the hills that stretch and swerve away from the city's concrete, cars and grime can be explored any season. Although the trails are located in the hills just above the famous Hollywood sign, in spirit they're far from the glitz and glam of the city below.

RUNYON CANYON PARK: With the 83rd annual Academy Awards around the corner on Feb. 27, your best bet for seeing some famous faces hiking in the Hollywood Hills is to head to Runyon Canyon Park, located a few blocks above Hollywood Boulevard.

I grew up in Hollywood and have been hiking in the hills since I was a kid in the 1980s; my dad took me from the age of 7 on. I started visiting Runyon in the '90s, after a conservation group and the city of Los Angeles bought 160 acres there, reclaiming the area from squatters. The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks designated 90 of the acres off-leash for dogs, according to Kevin Regan, the department's assistant general manager, and the area is now enormously popular among dog-lovers — including celebrities like Jessica Biel, who was photographed hiking its 3-mile round-trip loop with her two pooches, and buff "Twilight" star Kellan Lutz running with his own floppy-eared friend.

Slideshow: City of Angels (on this page)

The top peak boasts vast views of Hollywood, including the Capitol Records building to the east, below. "You can experience a getaway that's close to home," says Regan. "That's the allure of any great urban park, that you leave the hustle and bustle of the city to get centered again before you go back."

GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY: One of my favorite hikes is going up to the Griffith Observatory, the 75-year-old domed L.A. landmark perched in the hillside of Griffith Park, which encompasses 4,217 acres of wild land east of Runyon.

It's a roughly 2.5 mile round-trip trek to the observatory and back from the base of the trail in the Fern Dell picnic area located off Fern Dell Drive, in the neighborhood of Los Feliz, just east of Hollywood. Chaparral and bushes of wild yellow flowers named Sticky Monkey pack the trail in the spring.

A playground with swings surrounded by ferns, sycamore trees and picnic tables sits across the way from a newer addition to the park, The Trails cafe, a tiny, cozy shack on 2333 Fern Dell Drive. The cash-only eatery, with its outdoor tables, chalkboard menu and hippie-ish vibe, attracts every outdoorsy type, from hikers to cyclists, mommy-and-me groups and celebrities such as Amanda Seyfried and Flea. The scones are tempting on the way back.

Hiking in Griffith means seeing more animals than any Angeleno is used to. I regularly come across coyotes, rabbits, gophers, squirrels, deer and the occasional French bulldog. During a recent hike, a lone, giant, wild-eyed coyote stepped into the middle of the path several yards ahead of me. We stared at each other for five minutes, both of us still as glass. Eventually, the coyote turned and sauntered off the path.

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"Don't feed them. The coyote is interested in observing you and will mostly not invade your space," says Albert Torres, a park ranger. "When I take my family on hikes in Griffith, I'm observant of coyotes, rattlesnakes, poison oak. Always keep an eye on small children."

Griffith Park remains a busy filming location for everything from theatrical features to commercials, and the observatory appears in "Rebel Without a Cause." A bust of actor James Dean is located on the observatory grounds.

The area is also dry and prone to fire. In May 2007, a massive blaze consumed more than 800 acres of the park.

BRONSON CANYON AND THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN: On the southwestern flank of Griffith Park, Bronson Canyon is best known for its famous "Batcave," where the "Batman" television series used to film in the '60s, and opens up into gorgeous hikes near the Hollywood sign.

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To see the short hillside tunnel, drive north up Bronson Avenue, off Franklin Avenue, until it curves into Canyon Drive and ends at a dirt trail and parking lot. Hike above the lot, take a quick right and go up about a quarter of a mile. Hiking straight from the lot leads to a snaking path to the Hollywood sign. The immediate area surrounding the sign is restricted and monitored by surveillance cameras and motion detectors.

Any hiker needs to be aware of high temperatures, especially in L.A., so pack water. I look like a super-nerd wearing my water fanny pack, leggings and wide-brimmed straw hat, but I'm prepared. Quentin Tarantino film editor Sally JoAnne Menke, 56, died last September while hiking with her dog in Griffith Park in record heat.

A shorter 3-mile round-trip hiking path to and from the Hollywood sign starts in the hills of nearby Beachwood Canyon. You'll end up above the sign, able to see the large, looming letters from behind, plus a sweeping view of L.A., from sparkling Lake Hollywood to the west to the Griffith Observatory to the east.

Surrounded by fennel, rosemary and wild grass, this is what the Hollywood Hills mean to me: glitz and glam, from a distance.

If you go ...

RUNYON CANYON: 2000 N. Fuller Ave., Los Angeles, http://www.ci.la.ca.us/RAP//dos/parks/facility/runyonCanyonPk.htm.

GRIFFITH PARK: 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, http://www.ci.la.ca.us/rap/dos/parks/griffithPK/

GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY: 2800 E. Observatory Blvd., http://www.griffithobs.org/. Open Wednesday-Friday, noon-10 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Free admission.

THE TRAILS CAFE: 2333 Fern Dell Drive, in Griffith Park; http://www.thetrailslosfeliz.com/ or 323-871-2102.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Los Angeles: City of Angels

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  1. Los Angeles has a stunning and recognizable skyline and is a great spot to see Hollywood's A-listers, but is also known for sprawl and smog. L.A. is home to nearly 10 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2008 figures). (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. The East Pavilion at the Getty Center is pictured in L.A. "The J. Paul Getty Museum seeks to further knowledge of the visual arts and to nurture critical seeing by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting works of art of the highest quality," according to The Getty's Web site. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Venice Beach has the boardwalk, Muscle Beach, volleyball courts, a bike trail and many other attractions that have been luring people for decades. "Venice has always been known as a hangout for the creative and the artistic," boasts venicebeach.com. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. If you're a nut about pumping iron, you'll want to one very specific part of Venice Beach. "Muscle Beach is a special area where fanatic bodybuilders pump iron in a public show of strength," according to L.A.'s Department of Recreation & Parks. This photo shows Larry Pollock striking a pose in the finals of the annual Venice Classic bodybuilding competition at Venice Beach back in 2003. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Two women walk past businesses that cater to high-end luxury item consumers along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. "The famed shopping street is known throughout the world as the epicenter of luxury fashion," claims Rodeo Drive's official Web site. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Looking for stars in L.A.? You need not look beyond The Griffith Observatory. OK, maybe these aren't the stars you had in mind, but the observatory overlooks Los Angeles from atop the Hollywood Hills. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland is the centerpiece of Fantasyland, and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. (Paul Hiffmeyer for Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Visitors raft through realistic looking hot springs and geysers on the ''Grizzly River Rapids'' ride at Disney's California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, Calif. The 55-acre park next to Disneyland is based on California themes, and opened to the public in 2001. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A Cownose Ray glides past as divers feed tropical fish in the Tropical Pacific Gallery at the Aquarium of the Pacific. The Aquarium features a shark lagoon and three main viewing galleries where visitors can learn about ocean issues and conservation. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A simulated "Jaws" shark attack is just one of the attractions that draws in visitors to Universal Studios Hollywood. Park rides include Revenge of the Mummy, Shrek 4-D, Jurassic Park, The Blues Brother, The Simpsons, and more. (Universal Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The Hollywood Sign was refurbished in 2005. The sign is one of the better-known landmarks in America, and sits atop Mount Lee in the Santa Monica Mountains. (David Livingston / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is best known for the Oscars, an annual telecast set to run for the 82nd time. "More than 6,000 of the most accomplished men and women working in cinema" make up the Academy's membership, according to oscars.org. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The Galleria Studio Hollywood sells merchandise along the Walk of Fame, where Hollywood's icons are immortalized. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Stars have left their hand and foot prints in concrete for more than eight decades at the original Graumans Chinese Theatre forecourt. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Dodger Stadium, opened in 1962, has seen more than 125 million fans come through its gates. Baseball fans can purchase a famed Dodger Dog and a beer, soak up some sun, take in a breathtaking view of downtown L.A., look for celebrities -- oh, and watch America's favorite pasttime. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The Museum of Contemporary Art houses more than 500 pieces of art created by more than 200 artists. MOCA was founded in 1979 and "is the only museum in Los Angeles devoted exclusively to contemporary art," its Web site says. (Ted Thai / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Visitors to Olvera Street can stroll around the marketplace and shop for Mexican-inspired souvenirs. On weekends, revelers can enjoy entertainment by roaming musicans, Mariachi bands and performances by Aztec Indians. (L.A. Convention & Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. The 2,265-seat Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, designed by architect Frank Gehry, is clad with more than 6,000 steel panels. The hall is home to the Music Center of Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The Farmers Market started in July of 1934 when some farmers pulled their trucks onto some empty land known as Gilmore Island. The farmers displayed their wares, and customers came, parked, strolled around and purchased fruit, vegetables and other goods. "The atmosphere was casual, the open air commerce enticing, the goods fresh, and the result remarkable," farmersmarketla.com claims. "Farmers Market became an instant institution." (Farmers Market) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. This diorama of a mastodon trapped in the La Brea Tar Pits is featured at the Page Museum. "Rancho La Brea is one of the world's most famous fossil localities, recognized for having the largest and most diverse assemblage of extinct Ice Age plants and animals in the world," the Page Museum's Web site claims. (David Peevers / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A surfer heads toward the water at Laguna Beach in Orange County, Calif. The state's myriad beaches draw a large number of tourists and surfers from across the country. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The $1.5 million solar-powered ferris wheel runs at Pacific Park amusement park on the Santa Monic Pier. Even with its 160,000 lights, the ride is 75 percent more energy efficient than the Pacific Wheel -- the ride it replaced -- which was auctioned off on eBay for $132,400. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 3, 2009, in Hollywood. The Philharmonic regularly performs at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Mathew Imaging / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Manhattan Beach is located about 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles, and features more than 2 miles of beach front, 40 acres of recreational beach area. The scenic 928-foot-long pier at the end of Manhattan Beach is easily recognizable, and fishing is permitted all year long. (Richard Cummins / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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