For most tourists, visiting Los Angeles includes stopping in Hollywood and making a side trip to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Getting around means dealing with traffic and freeways.
But in historic Griffith Park, known for the famous Hollywood sign that overlooks the city, you can hop on a horse for a sunset ride and leave the clogged streets and smog behind. The ride includes a panoramic view of the San Fernando Valley and dinner at a Mexican restaurant with your horse hitched to a nearby post.
"It's like being out in the country in the city," Griffith Park Horse Rentals owner Julie Schad said. "It's a change of pace. A lot of people come from out of town and they want something different. It's a popular ride."
The horseback tour, led by a guide, starts with a 90-minute ride up one of the hills in Griffith Park, where you'll also find hiking trails and Griffith Observatory, which houses science exhibits and a planetarium. The observatory has been the setting for numerous movies, including the James Dean classic "Rebel Without a Cause," and a bust of the actor welcomes visitors.
The horses pause atop a peak for a romantic view of the sunset over the valley. Couples have jumped off their horses here and proposed marriage looking out at the picturesque landscape — something Schad and her staff sometimes conspire to set up.
The ride stops along another trail at Viva Fresh Mexican Restaurant, where you can tie your horse up at a hitching post and enjoy dinner and a margarita.
"It's kind of a classic sit-down Mexican restaurant and bar — not fancy, not expensive, but it's a quaint location with good prices," Schad said.
Then it's a 20-minute ride on flat ground back to the stables.
Miguel Alcantar, 26, took his wife on a ride on Valentine's Day earlier this year.
"We left the kids at home with grandma, and we enjoyed some beers at Viva. The ambiance was really nice," Alcantar said. "It was also great to take a day off from the boys."
The Griffith Park stable also offers daily horse rentals by the hour, but the sunset dinner ride is an old tradition. A version of it has been around for nearly 50 years, something Schad continued when she bought the rental location six years ago.
"It was important to keep it going," Schad said. "People love it and you can tell how relaxed they are when they return."
Horses for hire include two brown and white Belgian draft horses, brothers Rocky and Rollin, who stand 18 hands high, or about six feet at the shoulders. They've been working in Griffith Park for the last six months and have become popular even though Schad charges more to ride them than any of the other horses — $95 instead of $65. The breed is known for pulling power and size, typically weighing in around 2,000 pounds.
The ride isn't just for couples, and Schad often gets families celebrating birthdays.
"I loved the view, everything was really neat," 12-year-old Kara Waldron said. "My friends wanted to go with me and so did my mom. It was fun."