Soothing places

Decompress at these Southern California centers of tranquility

Matthew Jaffe and Peter Jensen

How best to slow the world, see nature untrammeled, and regain a sense of calm? Sometimes the simplest answers lie closest to home: an hour spent in a small park or shrine in the midst of the city, a short break in a quiet corner of a well-traveled attraction, or a brisk hike up a seaside bluff that welcomes both your footsteps and beating heart without any fear factor at all. These four soothing spots are just what the spirit needs at this time of year.


Point Dume Natural Preserve: With dolphins feeding off the point, whales spouting in the distance, and wildflowers blooming in the coastal scrub, Point Dume is more about paradise than peril, even though most locals pronounce the point's name "doom." This 200-foot headland that forms the northwest boundary of Santa Monica Bay offers long looks up Zuma Beach and all along the bay down to Palos Verdes. An informal trail network winds among the bluffs.
TIME TO REFLECT: Wander a bit, but find time to sit down and take in the point's sensations, from the hypnotic undulations of kelp waving in the current to the gong of a buoy's bell, rising and fading with the wind.
DETAILS: Dawn to dusk; $2-$5 parking fee. From Pacific Coast Hwy. (State 1) in Malibu, head west on Westward Beach Rd., continuing past Zuma Beach to end of parking lot; from here, walk up path to point.


Self-Realization Fellowship's Lake Shrine: Amidst all the excesses of the good life along Sunset Boulevard, there is a place for the inner life. At the shrine, ponder the big questions or simply escape into beauty for a while. The fellowship's multifaith approach is exemplified by monuments to all major religions, including a memorial containing a portion of Mahatma Gandhi's ashes.
TIME TO REFLECT: Follow the path beside the lake. With wisps of fog slipping through eucalyptus and swans gliding across the lake's surface, the shrine is its own hidden world.
DETAILS: 9-4:30 Tue-Sat, 12:30-4:30 Sun. 17190 W. Sunset Blvd.; (310) 454-4114.


Pacific Rim Park: In the late 1990s, artist James Hubbell and his students built a soaring pearl-like sculpture in the park on Shelter Island's west end, creating a place ideal for watching the traffic on San Diego Bay.
TIME TO REFLECT: Sitting beneath the sculpture, you can watch large ships enter the harbor. As the ships approach, they follow a deep channel that heads straight toward the sculpture. Each ship's bow towers silently, seemingly right overhead, then swings away at the last moment.
DETAILS: Open daily; free. At the west end of Shelter Island Dr.; or (619) 686-6200.

San Diego Zoo: Spend an hour in either of the zoo's largest two serene, lush aviaries, and you'll find a world far different from the nearby superstar exhibits. Let the twitters calm your jitters in the Scripps Aviary, or relax at the Owens Rainforest Aviary, where light filters through the trees' canopies while blue-naped mousebirds flash overhead.
TIME TO REFLECT: Bring your binoculars, perch quietly on a bench, and observe the antics of birds from around the world. Be sure to sit within sight of a feeding station.
DETAILS: 9-4 daily; $20. 2920 Zoo Dr., Balboa Park.

Around The Web