Topanga, California

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census-designated place
Location of Topanga in California and Los Angeles County
Location of Topanga in California and Los Angeles County
Coordinates: 34°6′10.8″N 118°36′18″W / 34.103000°N 118.60500°W / 34.103000; -118.60500Coordinates: 34°6′10.8″N 118°36′18″W / 34.103000°N 118.60500°W / 34.103000; -118.60500
Country United States
State California
CountyLos Angeles
 • Total19.137 sq mi (49.563 km2)
 • Land19.129 sq mi (49.543 km2)
 • Water0.008 sq mi (0.020 km2)  0.04%
Elevation1,084 ft (330 m)
Time zonePST (UTC-8)
 • Summer (DST)PDT (UTC-7)
ZIP code90290
Area code(s)310, 818
GNIS feature ID2583164
U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Topanga, California
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census-designated place
Location of Topanga in California and Los Angeles County
Location of Topanga in California and Los Angeles County
Coordinates: 34°6′10.8″N 118°36′18″W / 34.103000°N 118.60500°W / 34.103000; -118.60500Coordinates: 34°6′10.8″N 118°36′18″W / 34.103000°N 118.60500°W / 34.103000; -118.60500
Country United States
State California
CountyLos Angeles
 • Total19.137 sq mi (49.563 km2)
 • Land19.129 sq mi (49.543 km2)
 • Water0.008 sq mi (0.020 km2)  0.04%
Elevation1,084 ft (330 m)
Time zonePST (UTC-8)
 • Summer (DST)PDT (UTC-7)
ZIP code90290
Area code(s)310, 818
GNIS feature ID2583164
U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Topanga, California
View of Topanga Canyon from one of the hiking trails

Topanga is a census-designated place[2] in western Los Angeles County, California, USA. It is located in the Santa Monica Mountains. Occupying Topanga Canyon, it is often referred to by that name. Topanga is bounded on three sides by State Park or conservancy lands, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean and a small strip of Malibu, which is the main community to the west. On the east is Pacific Palisades. Topanga had a population of 8,289 as of 2010. The ZIP code is 90290 and the area code is primarily 310, with 818 only at the north end of the canyon. It is in the 3rd County Supervisorial district.

Topanga Canyon[edit]

Topanga Creek drains Topanga Canyon and is the third largest watershed entering the Santa Monica Bay.[3] The creek is one of the few remaining undammed waterways in the area, and is a spawning ground for steelhead trout. The area typically receives about 22" of rain annually.[4] Topanga Beach[5] lies on the coast at the outlet of Topanga Creek. Topanga Canyon Boulevard, State Route 27, is the principal thoroughfare, connecting the Ventura Freeway (US 101) with Pacific Coast Highway (SR 1). The southern portion of the boulevard largely follows Topanga Creek. North of the Old Topanga Canyon Road intersection, the boulevard traverses the Santa Monica Mountains.

Topanga Canyon contains lands of both Topanga State Park, which is the largest park in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. It is part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.


Topanga is the name given to the area by the Native American indigenous Tongva tribe,[6] and may mean "a place above". It was the western border of their territory, abutting the Chumash tribe that occupied the coast from Malibu northwards. Bedrock mortars can be found carved into rock outcroppings in many locations.

Topanga was first settled by Europeans in 1839.[7] In the 1920s, Topanga Canyon became a weekend getaway for Hollywood stars with several cottages built for that purpose. The rolling hills and ample vegetation served to provide both privacy and attractive surroundings for the rich and famous.

During the 1960s, Topanga Canyon became a magnet to many new artists. In 1965 Wallace Berman settled in the area. For a time, Neil Young lived in Topanga, first living with producer David Briggs then later buying his own house. He would record most of his After the Gold Rush album in his basement studio in 1970. Charles Manson had previously been living in Topanga, where he had briefly befriended both Neil Young and Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys. Members of "Manson's family" began their campaign of murder on July 31, 1969 with the murder of Topanga resident Gary Hinman, a music teacher who had opened his home to anyone needing shelter.

The Topanga Corral was a nightclub that featured an eclectic mix of performers, including then Topanga locals Canned Heat, Spirit, Little Feat, Spanky and Our Gang, Taj Mahal, Emmylou Harris, Etta James, Windance, Neil Young, and Crazy Horse, Geronimo Black, and many others. It is rumored that Jim Morrison was inspired to write "Roadhouse Blues" about the drive up Topanga Canyon Boulevard to The Corral. Later in the 1970s, after being destroyed by fire and rebuilt, the club featured many up and coming bands from the L.A. punk scene. In 1986, the Corral again burned to the ground and was not rebuilt. Today, many musicians, artists and actors continue to make Topanga their home.

Due to its location in the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga is a favorite spot for hikers, as well as bicycle, and motorcycle riders/racers. Many movie/TV car/bike chases were filmed on the winding road with the picturesque cliffs in the background. The thick vegetation, steep terrain and frequent (and dry) Santa Ana winds combine to make Topanga an extreme fire danger.

Topanga State Park is one of the largest open space preserves surrounded by a city in the world. It primarily represents a California coastal sage and chaparral ecoregion, with large areas of the California oak woodland plant community, boasting a wide variety of native plants. Streams, waterfalls, cliffs of exposed bedrock, landmark rock outcroppings, and overlooks with panoramic views of the mountains, Pacific Ocean, and urban carpet of Los Angeles. There are many trails for short walks, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, birdwatching, and rock climbing. The main entrance and parking are near central Topanga.[8]


Topanga is known as a bohemian enclave attracting artists, musicians, and others. Numerous music festivals have been organized in the canyon, including the Topanga Days Festival and Topanga Earth Day.

In the 1950s blacklisted actor Will Geer had to sell his large Santa Monica home and move his family to a small plot in the canyon where they could grow their own produce. Geer's friend Woody Guthrie had a small shack on the property. They unintentionally founded what became an artists' colony. Since its founding in 1973, the Geer family has continued to operate the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum. It has grown into an Equity theater, and occupies a natural outdoor amphitheater. It features Shakespearean plays, modern classics, and original productions, as well as musical concerts. Performers have included Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Della Reese, and Burl Ives.[citation needed]

A famous venue in the canyon was the Elysium Institute, also known as Elysium Fields, a nudist club started by Ed Lange in 1967.[9] After surviving extended battles with county officials the 9-acre (36,000 m2) property was sold in 2002 by its founder's heirs.[10]

Every Memorial Day weekend on the grounds of the Topanga Community House, Topanga has an annual fair and parade, called Topanga Days. Topanga Days Country Fair features music, belly dancing, over 80 unique craft vendors and a variety of food from Cajun to hot tamales to sausages. A parade is held on Memorial Day. The parade is said[who?] to have inspired the more famous Doo-Dah Parade in Pasadena.

Two strip malls, one old and the other new make up the local center of commerce. The newer mall, Pine Tree Circle, is home to the Topanga Historical Society. There are no hotels or motels in Topanga. Lodging is provided by the nine-room Topanga Canyon Inn Bed & Breakfast run by former studio trumpet player Warren Roche.

The novel, Mirkwood: A Novel About JRR Tolkien, by Steve Hillard, begins and ends in Topanga Canyon in a fictional establishment called The Mirkwood Forest.

The hit 1990s ABC sitcom Boy Meets World features the character Topanga Lawrence (played by Danielle Fishel) named after this location.

The award winning HBO series Six Feet Under (2001-2005) uses Topanga Canyon as the setting for the home of the recurring character, Aunt Sarah, the artsy sister of major character, Ruth Fisher.

The novel The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle is set in Topanga Canyon in the fictional housing development of Arroyo Blanco.

Topanga is featured in the lyrics of the Billy Joel song "Getting Closer" on his 1986 album The Bridge.


The 2010 United States Census[11] reported that Topanga had a population of 8,289. The population density was 433.2 people per square mile (167.2/km²). The racial makeup of Topanga was 7,313 (88.2%) White (84.5% Non-Hispanic White),[12] 117 (1.4%) African American, 35 (0.4%) Native American, 353 (4.3%) Asian, 3 (0.0%) Pacific Islander, 125 (1.5%) from other races, and 343 (4.1%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 534 persons (6.4%).

The Census reported that 8,289 people (100% of the population) lived in households, 0 (0%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 0 (0%) were institutionalized.

There were 3,442 households, out of which 996 (28.9%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 1,772 (51.5%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 262 (7.6%) had a female householder with no husband present, 140 (4.1%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 239 (6.9%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 49 (1.4%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 903 households (26.2%) were made up of individuals and 256 (7.4%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.41. There were 2,174 families (63.2% of all households); the average family size was 2.87.

The population was spread out with 1,682 people (20.3%) under the age of 18, 333 people (4.0%) aged 18 to 24, 1,917 people (23.1%) aged 25 to 44, 3,188 people (38.5%) aged 45 to 64, and 1,169 people (14.1%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46.1 years. For every 100 females there were 97.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.2 males.

There were 3,750 housing units at an average density of 196.0 per square mile (75.7/km²), of which 2,589 (75.2%) were owner-occupied, and 853 (24.8%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 2.2%; the rental vacancy rate was 3.8%. 6,597 people (79.6% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 1,692 people (20.4%) lived in rental housing units.

Lower Topanga Canyon[edit]

The bottom of Topanga Canyon, where it meets Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean, was owned for many years by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, a wealthy private club in downtown Los Angeles. The 1,659 acre (6.7 km2) parcel was rented out to a variety of businesses and residents for decades at remarkably low rents, considering that it borders the city of Malibu. Thus Lower Topanga became unique as one of the last outposts of the classic Topanga Canyon bohemian hippie lifestyle.

The Chumash considered Lower Topanga a sacred, economic, and cultural meeting place for tribes all along the coast. One of the main neighborhoods, the "Rodeo Grounds," takes its name from an actual rodeo arena that existed there on a Mexican Ranch in the 1800s. (Another neighborhood, "The Snake Pit," was named both for its abundance of rattlesnakes and for the shifty characters who passed through like Charles Manson.)

In the early 1900s, Lower Topanga was a Japanese fishing village. William Randolph Hearst owned the property for a time and turned it into a weekend getaway spot with beach shacks for his and Marion Davies' guests.

Famous residents of Lower Topanga include Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Bertolt Brecht, Carole Lombard, Shirley Temple, Johnny Weissmuller, and Ida Lupino.

In the '60s, a lively community of artists and surfers sprang up in Lower Topanga. They maintained their houses without assistance: sometimes digging them out of the mud after floods, or setting backfires to prevent a spreading wildfire from burning down their neighborhood. The roads remained unpaved.[13]

In 2001, Lower Topanga was sold to California State Parks. Even though the Lower Topanga community occupied less than 2% of the total purchased land, State Parks had an aggressive policy to relocate everyone and bulldoze all of the houses. (State Parks had already evicted residents who lived directly on Topanga Beach in the late '70s.[14])

Arundo, a type of giant reed resembling bamboo that characterizes the Lower Topanga landscape, became a totemic plant for the residents because it was first on a long list of non-native plants that State Parks also condemned to be uprooted in an attempt to restore the land to its natural state.

A group of 10 Lower Topanga poets calling themselves the Idlers of the Bamboo Grove published a book of the same name in 2002, celebrating their community and lamenting the prospect of having to leave. Their publisher, Brass Tacks Press, continued publishing works about Lower Topanga, including The Snake Pit by Baretta (2006), Tool's Snake Pit by Tool (2007), Rohloff's Snake Pit by Chris Rohloff (2009), and Topanga Beach Experience: 1960s-70s by Paul Lovas and Pablo Capra (2011) -- as well as maintaining an online Lower Topanga Photo Archive.

In addition, Austrian filmmakers Natalie Lettner and Werner Hanak shot a documentary film about the neighborhood called Malibu Song (2006), and Topangan Anastasia Fite shot a shorter documentary called Last Bastion (2009).

Even though Lower Topanga residents were given money to leave, some fought bitterly against their relocation in court. However, the last holdouts were forced off the land in March 2006.[15]

Government and infrastructure[edit]

The Los Angeles County Fire Department operates Fire Station #69 in Topanga as a part of Battalion 5.[16]

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) operates the Malibu/Lost Hills Station in Calabasas, serving Topanga.[17][18]

The United States Postal Service Topanga Post Office is located at 101 South Topanga Canyon Boulevard.[19]

The County of Los Angeles Public Library operates the Topanga Library located on 122 N Topanga Canyon Blvd.


Palisades Charter High School
William Howard Taft High School

Most Topanga residents are zoned to schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.[20][21]

The area is within Board District 4.[23] As of 2010 Steve Zimmer represents the district.[24]

Some portions are in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD). Those portions are zoned to Webster Elementary School and Malibu High School.[25]

The County of Los Angeles Public Library operates the Topanga Library.[26]

Natural disasters[edit]

Notable people[edit]

In the music field, Woody Guthrie was one of the first musicians who found a home there. As nearby Los Angeles grew into a major music capital, Topanga became a preferred residence for many performers, including J. B. Eckl, Taylor Hawkins, Neil Young, Chris Robinson, Devendra Banhart, Ryan Ross, Billy Preston, Marvin Gaye, Stephen Stills, Ed Cassidy and Randy California, Bernie Leadon and the Flying Burrito Brothers, Don Felder, Gram Parsons, Jim Morrison and John Densmore, Mick Fleetwood, Spanky McFarland, Lowell George, JC Crowley, Toni Basil, Julia Fordham, Richie Hayward and Fred Tackett, Amy Smart, Colin Hay, Taj Mahal, Pee Wee Crayton, Big Joe Turner, Alice Cooper, Van Morrison, Tim Booth, Ryan Bingham, Mark Andes, Jacknife Lee, Jay Ferguson and John Locke, Justin Chancellor and Adam Jones, Nick Hexum, Bob Hite and Alan Wilson.[citation needed] Children's musician residents include Hap Palmer and Peter Alsop.

Actors who live in Topanga include John Kassir, Billy Gray and his late mother Beatrice Gray, Sissy Spacek, Jordan Bridges, Louis Gossett Jr., Emile Hirsch, D.W. Moffett, William O'Leary. Viggo Mortensen, Will Geer, Dean Stockwell, Joshua Jackson, Lisa Bonet, Teri Garr, Wendie Malick, Eric Mabius, Alex Borstein, Beau Garrett, Keith Carradine, Andy Dick, Ricky Schroder, and Dennis Hopper. Russ Tamblyn raised his daughter Amber Tamblyn, and Lynn Redgrave and husband John Clark raised their children there. Barry Watson from 7th Heaven. Others include Jennifer Holden from the Elvis Presley movie Jailhouse Rock. Also, Billy Gray ("Bud" of Father Knows Best, Kyle Chandler ('Coach Eric Taylor' of Friday Night Lights) and Tony Dow (Leave it to Beaver) currently live there, as well as Jeffrey Tambor (The Larry Sanders Show) with his wife Kasia and 2 children, also child actor Sage Ryan also lives in the area with his family. Screenwriter Jon Povill (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Total Recall, Sliders) also resided there until 2008.[27] Pulitzer prize winning former L.A. Times columnist Al Martinez.

Another famous German-American, Uschi Obermaier, model, actress lives there.[citation needed] Music teacher Gary Hinman, a victim of the Charles Manson gang, lived there on Old Topanga Canyon Road in 1969.[28] Archaeologist Dr. Clement Meighan, UCLA Professor of Archaeology/Anthropology, resided in Topanga over 30 years. In addition, well-known writer and L.A. Times columnist Al Martinez[29] lives there with his wife, and often comments[30] on the nature of life in Topanga. NEA Poet Millicent Borges Accardi lives in Topanga and writes theater reviews for the local Topanga Messenger newspaper. Four times 250cc Grand Prix Champion and 2010 WSBK (World Superbike) Max Biaggi (Italy) has a home in the community. Gangster Henry Hill moved to Topanga Canyon after he was put on probation in 2009.

See also[edit]

Ethnic composition


  1. ^ U.S. Census
  2. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Topanga, California
  3. ^ . accessed 7/1/2010
  4. ^ Topanga Tidbits
  5. ^ Beaches: Topanga
  6. ^ Bright, W. (1998). 1500 California Place Names 3rd Ed. UC Press. pg 155.
  7. ^ Topanga
  8. ^ Topanga State Park. access date: 5/11/2010.
  9. ^ Slater, Eric (16 March 1995). "Nudist Colony Founder Voted Citizen of Year". L.A.Times. Retrieved 27 October 2012. 
  10. ^ Southern California Naturist Association First Press Release
  11. ^ All data are derived from the United States Census Bureau reports from the 2010 United States Census, and are accessible on-line here. The data on unmarried partnerships and same-sex married couples are from the Census report DEC_10_SF1_PCT15. All other housing and population data are from Census report DEC_10_DP_DPDP1. Both reports are viewable online or downloadable in a zip file containing a comma-delimited data file. The area data, from which densities are calculated, are available on-line here. Percentage totals may not add to 100% due to rounding. The Census Bureau defines families as a household containing one or more people related to the householder by birth, opposite-sex marriage, or adoption. People living in group quarters are tabulated by the Census Bureau as neither owners nor renters. For further details, see the text files accompanying the data files containing the Census reports mentioned above.
  12. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Capra, Pablo. Idlers of the Bamboo Grove: Poetry from Lower Topanga Canyon. Brass Tacks Press, 2002.
  14. ^ Lovas, Paul. Topanga Beach Experience. Brass Tacks Press, 2011.
  15. ^ Capra, Pablo. Idlers of the Bamboo Grove: Poetry from Lower Topanga Canyon. Brass Tacks Press, 2002.
  16. ^ Los Angeles County Fire Department - Hometown Fire Stations
  17. ^ "Malibu/Lost Hills Station." Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Retrieved on January 21, 2010.
  18. ^ "Calabasas city, California." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on January 21, 2010.
  19. ^ "Post Office Location - TOPANGA." United States Postal Service. Retrieved on December 6, 2008.
  20. ^ "Topanga, CA." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on October 23, 2011.
  21. ^ Brenoff, Ann. "Topanga, mountain mellow but oh so pricey." Los Angeles Times. December 1, 2002. Retrieved on October 22, 2011.
  22. ^ "Palisades Charter High School Attendance Zone." Los Angeles Unified School District.
  23. ^ Board District 4 Map. Los Angeles Unified School District. Retrieved on November 24, 2008.
  24. ^ "Board Members."
  25. ^ "Malibu Boundaries." Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. Retrieved on October 22, 2011.
  26. ^ "Topanga Library." County of Los Angeles Public Library. Retrieved on March 24, 2014. "122 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd. Topanga, CA 90290"
  27. ^ Jon Povill at the Internet Movie Database
  28. ^ Gary Hinman house
  29. ^ L.A. Times on Al Martinez. Retrieved on March 28, 2009.
  30. ^ Al Martinez's weblog. Retrieved on March 28, 2009.
  31. ^ [1] "White," Mapping L.A., Los Angeles Times

External links[edit]