While I was sitting there taking this picture (I used the self timer on my phone, super talented, I know), I heard two guys coming up the trail and one said to the other, "Wow, this is awesome. I think this is my favorite SoCal hike I've ever done." And I just thought, "Me too, man, me too."
Hiking the round-trip trail up to Sandstone Peak was the longest hike I'd done in a while (I think my Fitbit tracked me at about 7 miles), but it's really not all that difficult. There are a few points in the trail that gain elevation quickly, but for the most part the elevation gain is slow and steady. And when you reach Sandstone Peak, you're sitting on top of the Santa Monica mountains at 3,111 ft.
Getting there is a trip in itself - the trailhead sits up in the mountains on a road of switchbacks and tight turns off the PCH. It's a fun drive but important to remember that cyclists traverse these roads often and could be just around any turn. In short, be careful and drive slow! But the trailhead is easy to find - there's a huge sign on the side of the road and a few parking lots that are conveniently placed right at the beginning of Backbone Trail.
The nice part about this trailhead is there's actually multiple trails to hike - Mishe Mokwa, Backbone (I did a combination of the two), and there's also a trail that heads out to balance rock that's almost an entirely different hike in itself. So once I was up there, I rarely ran into other people. Which for me, is really nice. I thoroughly enjoy silent hikes, and this was definitely the place for it.
The silence was soothing but what I loved most about this trail was the varying landscapes it took me through. The north side of the mountain was shaded and the trail was slightly muddy, which is a huge change from what SoCal landscapes are typically like. It almost reminded me of hiking back east in the foothills of the Appalachians.
The trail eventually comes out of the shade and opens into a valley with spectacular views of the mountain range. If you look close enough it's possible to see climbers across the valley scaling the walls of the mountains.
Just before the peak, there's a shrouded trail that jaunts off to the south to a little spot called Inspiration Point. Even hiking on a cloudy day like I was, I could look over the mountains and see the ocean in one direction, and the San Fernando Valley in the other.
The last leg of the trail up to Sandstone Peak is by far the most difficult part of the trail. There's some relatively steep stairs, and then if you really want to make it to the actual peak of the mountain, the climb requires some handhold assistance. But who wants to hike 6 or 7 miles to not actually sit at the very top of the Santa Monica mountains? So I made it up there, found my little perch, and took out my Polaroid camera to snap a shot of some snow-capped mountains way off in the distance. And then realized I was out of film. And my phone was dead. Yep.
So I have no documentation of peaking the Santa Monica mountain range, no proof of what SoCal looks like from 3,111 feet above sea level, no selfie at the summit. So maybe...maybe that view was just for me.