A community in Southern California where transcendent beauty comes with the territory
High above Pacific Palisades, the view from Temescal Ridge takesin a vast area of Santa Monica Bay. As the sun drops to thehorizon, a hiker pauses to watch the denouement to the day.
“Struck by beauty?” asks a smiling woman passing him as sheraces down the trail.
Well, as a matter of fact, yes. It’s one of those SouthernCalifornia moments when the light brings the ocean, the mountains,and the city into perfect harmony. “I’m giving in to it,” hereplies. “Just for a few minutes.”
Seconds later the big payoff comes. Along the upper edge of thesetting sun, a vivid emerald orb appears ― a variation on thefabled green flash ― that lingers like a spotlight beforeseemingly dissolving into the sea.
For the record, there are no guarantees that Pacific Palisadescan deliver another sunset like that. But in no other part of LosAngeles will you find a community where transcendent beauty justseems to come with the territory.
Local life centers on a commercial area known as the Village,its name a reminder of how residents cherish the Palisades’small-town, family-friendly ways. That was what drew KatieO’Laughlin, owner of Village Books, when she moved here in theearly 1980s. A sense of community is also central to herindependent bookstore, which has evolved into a gathering place forPalisades residents. “We really are a community bookstore,” saysO’Laughlin. “The bookstore is a reflection of the Palisades, andwe’ve developed a good feeling for what people like to read. Aftera year or two here, you get to know everyone by name.”
Even with its small-town vibe, though, Pacific Palisades isn’tlikely to be confused with Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. Main Streethere is the fabled Sunset Boulevard. And, as O’Laughlin describesit, the annual Fourth of July Parade features not just the usualprocession of dressed-up dogs and Girl Scouts but celebrityresidents too.
Nor can the average small town boast three major landmarks fromthree famous folks: the legendary humorist Will Rogers, thespiritual leader Paramahansa Yogananda, and J. Paul Getty, one ofthe world’s wealthiest men.Will Rogers’ ranch, now a state historic park, offers anescape into a more rugged Palisades. Filled with Western art andmemorabilia, the ranch house sits against chaparral-covered hillswhere Rogers once rode his horses. Head out on the Backbone Trail,and you gradually leave some of Southern California’s mostexpensive real estate for some of its wildest terrain. “When I goto the ranch, I just get goosebumps,” O’Laughlin says. “It’sprobably the combination of its history and the fact you’re soclose to the city, but can get out into such a beautiful part ofnature.”
The ranch isn’t the only unlikely retreat found in thePalisades. Set inside a hillside amphitheater on Sunset Boulevardis Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. Here, alonga spring-fed lake, he created an earthly paradise where shrines tothe world’s major religions inspire meditation and prayer amidsprays of flowers and swaying palms.
With a sarcophagus bearing a portion of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes,it’s a deeply spiritual place, but also not without its quirks. Inaddition to the more traditional elements, such as the Golden LotusArchway in front of the sarcophagus, you’ll find a houseboat whereYogananda sometimes stayed, along with a working replica of a16th-century Dutch windmill built by a movie studio executive whoonce owned the property.
Much to the consternation of residents, the Palisades’ mostfamous destination, the Getty Villa, is typically described asbeing in Malibu ― by a Google landslide. Once knocked forstrangely dark spaces and odd flow patterns, the Getty has beenreinvented after a $288 million renovation.
Natural light now fills the Getty’s galleries, washing overVenetian plaster walls painted in a brilliant, classical palette.As for the collection, with pieces dating back to 6500 B.C., theGetty displays one of the world’s great collections of antiquities:Greek, Roman, and Etruscan. The museum brings ancient worlds andcultures alive, as do its gardens, which include fruits and herbsused in daily Roman life.
At the Getty too, it’s easy to be struck by beauty ―beauty that has survived the millennia instead of being gone in aflash.