Located near Tarzana, Vanalden Cave is one of the most unusual sandstone formations in the Santa Monica Mountains. It has been carved out over thousands of years by either wind and water or tectonic movements. The result is a sandstone cave with a roof that’s only a few feet thick, allowing natural skylights to illuminate the inside of the cave.
There is street parking available at the trailhead of Vanalden Cave, which can be reached from US-101. Exit Tampa Avenue south (right off the ramp if you’re going northbound) and follow the road 0.7 miles to Wells Drive, making a left turn. You’ll reach a dirt parking lot, which has plenty of space for your car and the trailhead to the Vanalden Cave Trail.
The Vanalden Cave Trail starts out easy-going and well-groomed before a steady climb begins that steepens as the hike progresses. Along the way, you’ll see a variety of desert plants like chaparral yucca and coastal sagebrush.
Once you get to the 0.3-mile mark, a trail splits off from the main Vanalden Trail. The offshoot descends to a large oak tree before gradually ascending upward for 0.1 miles over a 108-foot total elevation gain from the trailhead to Vanalden Cave, a sandstone den with a unique ceiling.
It’s a fun and spooky spot to explore, with plenty of interesting carvings and graffiti that make it feel both mystical and modern. It’s a great place to take family and friends for a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains.
You can also extend your hike to 1.55 miles round trip with 350 feet of elevation change to a nearby vista point on the Vanalden Trail that provides an ampitheater-like view of the Santa Monica Mountains.
In addition to the cave, you’ll find an abundance of wildlife on the trail, including desert cottontails, badgers and bobcats. There are also scrub jays, California quail, acorn woodpeckers and western screech owls.
The cave is a cool spot for a picnic, too, as it’s nestled in a small oak grove. The area is also home to some native wildflowers, such as cactus, wild rose and wild plum.
This hike is a good option for families, as it doesn’t involve strenuous exertion and offers plenty of opportunities to stop and rest along the way. It’s also an excellent choice if you’re looking for a quick and relatively inexpensive day out with your kids in the Santa Monica Mountains. The entire trail can be completed in less than half a mile, but it’s recommended to allow yourself at least 1.5 hours to enjoy the scenery and stop for a break.