In addition to the sunny beaches, crowded freeways, and posh neighborhoods of Los Angeles, the sprawling Southern California metropolis is home to dozens of fascinating sites for urban explorers to visit. Below, we’ll introduce you to the seven best abandoned places in Los Angeles to add to your urbex agenda in 2021.
The Best Abandoned Places in Los Angeles
Built in the 1930s, this compound is located in the Rustic Canyon area of Los Angeles County. Its original owners, Norman and Winona Stephens were members of the anti-Semitic white supremacist group the Silver Legion of America, and they envisioned the ranch as a self-sustaining base for Nazi activities within the U.S. The couple used a fake name, Jessie M. Murphy, as the owner of record, giving the ranch its enduring moniker.
The Murphy Ranch featured a water storage tank, fuel tank, bomb shelter, and various other buildings, with an ornate main gate designed somewhat ironically by Paul Williams, one of the most renowned African-American architects in Southern California at the time.
The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, local police descended on the property to detain the couple along with dozens of other occupants and caretakers. The ranch remained abandoned to the ravages of time for decades, with vandals covering most of the remaining structures in graffiti.
The City of Los Angeles demolished many of the buildings on the site in 2016, declaring them a health and safety hazard. A few of the structures remain, including the concrete power house build to house the diesel generators used to provide electricity to the compound, although all entry points have been sealed.
Even so, the site remains a popular destination for hikers, urban explorers, and curiosity-seekers, who must ascend roughly 500 concrete stairs from Capri Drive to the main property. In addition to the interesting ruins that mark the ranch’s fraught history, visitors will also get in a solid workout, with about three miles of rugged trails that loop around the area.
The Sunken City of San Pedro
While the famed sunken city of Atlantis may or may not exist, the so-called Sunken City of San Pedro is very much visible to visitors along the California coast southwest of Long Beach. Adjacent to Point Fermin Park and Lighthouse are the remains of a residential neighborhood that was decimated in a slow-moving landslide in 1929.
The event began with a broken water main beneath a nearby hotel, followed by a gas line break a few days later. While these indicators were sufficient to prompt the evacuation of the tony cliffside homes and bungalows in the neighborhood, nothing could be done to protect the structures.
With the ground slipping about 11 inches each day, within a week nearly 40,000 square feet of land had plummeted into the Pacific Ocean, taking several homes with it and displacing dozens of other residences, businesses, streets, and sidewalks.
Even after nearly a century, the foundations and other remnants of some of the ill-fated buildings remain in place. The area is still considered relatively unstable, and a major landslide in 2011 resulted in a section of Paseo Del Mar collapsing nearly 100 feet toward the ocean. The site has been fenced off to deter visitors, but the haphazard hillsides, jagged rock, and the skeletons of the neighborhood’s houses still draw thousands of visitors each year.
Many of these surfaces are now adorned with colorful graffiti, creating an eerie scene that juxtaposes leafy palms and ocean views with concrete rubble, broken glass, and even a few pieces of vintage furniture.
The Old L.A. Zoo
Visitors looking for offbeat destinations in Los Angeles are often directed to Griffith Park, where the remains of the original L.A. Zoo have been incorporated into the park property, creating an odd mix of traditional park infrastructure and empty animal enclosures and other zoo facilities.
To access the former zoo site, enter the park near the merry-go-round and follow the dirt path, taking the right fork at the split. You’ll eventually encounter the remains of the zoo, including the vast large animal exhibits, which have been well-maintained and are open for exploration, giving humans a taste of what it might feel like to be confined like the large creatures that once lived here.
You may also recognize the area from the movie Anchorman, a small portion of which was filmed here. You’ll also see the more cramped enclosures of the small animal exhibits, and you can continue along the path for about two miles to reach Bee Rock, where you’ll be treated to impressive views of the surrounding area.
The Abandoned Hawthorne Mall
Once home to a bustling matrix of indoor and outdoor retailers, restaurants and a parking garage, the 40-acre Hawthorne Plaza Shopping Center opened to great fanfare in 1977. The commercial development thrived until the mid-1990s, when shoppers’ tastes began to shift away from indoor malls and mass layoffs in the aerospace industry took an economic toll on the region.
The mall’s occupancy dwindled to fewer than 70 stores by 1998 and closed its doors for good the following year, with the property left vacant and poorly-maintained. Though security patrols were deployed to prevent vandalism and break-ins, a handful of determined explorers managed to get inside the mall over the years, sharing eerie photos of the shopping center’s dim, crumbling interior, empty storefronts and motionless escalators.
Plans to redevelop the property as an outlet mall were announced in 2014 but never materialized, and a 2016 proposal for a mixed-use development on the site also fell through. The mall has since been sealed off and requires a permit for official entry; however, it has become a popular film site, with scenes from Teen Wolf, Minority Report, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Rush Hour as well as several music videos shot here.
Shoemaker Canyon Tunnels
This abandoned road In the San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles County is known by several names: Shoemaker Canyon Road, Convict Road and the Road to Nowhere. The official purpose of its intended construction is a matter of wide speculation, although many residents insist that the Cold War-era infrastructure was designed to provide an evacuation route in the event that Los Angeles became the target of a nuclear attack.
Work on the two-lane highway began in 1956, but with only four miles completed, the project was abandoned in 1969, ostensibly due to budget cuts.
From East Fork Road, Shoemaker Canyon Road extends just shy of 4.5 miles up the canyon. About 1.8 miles of the road is paved, and the rest is well-graded dirt roadway with a moderate grade that comes to a sudden stop a few miles later.
Perhaps the most interesting features of the desolate roadway are its twin tunnels, one about 1.8 miles north of the paved section and the other at the end of the dirt segment, where the road comes to its abrupt end. The tunnels provide the only shade in the sun-drenched desert foothills, and over the years they have been tagged with a variety of graffiti.
Though Shoemaker Canyon Road and its curious tunnels never saw the vehicular traffic they were intended to carry, they remain a popular destination for hikers and sightseers in the area.
Llano del Rio
Nestled in Los Angeles County’s Antelope Valley, Llano del Rio was envisioned as a socialist utopia by its founder, Job Harriman, in the early 20th century. Though the colony itself didn’t last long, its remains have endured as a point of curiosity for urban explorers and others over the century since it was abandoned.
After Harriman’s failed run for mayor of Los Angeles in 1911, he shifted his attention to establishing a commune east of Palmdale, in which members would be required to purchase 2,000 shares of stock in the colony at $1 per share. Applicants would be evaluated based on idealism, industriousness and sobriety and had to provide references to vouch for their character and pass a questionnaire measuring their dedication to socialist ideals.
On its opening day in May 1914, Llano del Rio had just five permanent residents, not including several horses, five pigs and a cow. However, by the start of the following year, its population had swelled to 150 residents and nearly as many cows and pigs.
While tents and group dormitories were the commune’s main residences, a post office, dairy building and laundry facility were soon constructed on the property. The community’s master plan called for a circular township containing restaurants, churches, schools and shops as well as single-family homes and a communal daycare.
By 1917, the community had grown to 1,100 members and added adobe homes, a group dining room, a printing shop, several industrial buildings and several thousand acres of orchards and alfalfa fields.
However, the utopia its founders dreamed of was not to be. Personality conflicts, political ambitions and personal grievances led to an almost constant turnover among members. The settlement was also too far from other population centers in the region to be sustainable, and the creek the community relied on for its water supply was unpredictable at best. In 1918, the colony was abandoned, with about 60 families relocating to Louisiana to attempt the experiment a second time.
The remnants of the Llano del Rio Colony, including its aqueduct, meeting house and water storage facility, are still visible just off Highway 138 in the southern Mojave Desert. The abandoned commune was declared a California Historical Landmark in 1980, but the 150-pound plaque installed on the site in 1982 was promptly stolen and never replaced.
Over the years, the ruins have been the targets of looters, vandals and the destructive forces of nature and time, but no additional action to preserve them has been taken by state or local agencies.
Underground Tunnels of Los Angeles
Beneath the congested streets and bustling boutiques of downtown Los Angeles, approximately 11 miles of underground tunnels crisscross the city. Though they see little action these days, their history is rife with wild tales of nefarious activity, from bootlegging and violent crime to the secret transfer of more than $1 billion in government cash.
Perhaps the most famous tunnel connects the Los Angeles County Hall of Records and the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, which fans of the TV hit True Detective might recognize as the setting of an underground shootout. An elevator from the Hall of Records leads to the subterranean passageway, which was used during Prohibition to move illegal liquor to speakeasies across the city.
When the county relocated its administrative offices from the Hall of Records to the Hall of Administration in the 1960s, the county had just finished collecting taxes for the year, so the tunnel was used to transport the money—more than $1 billion—over the course of three months, with moves taking place nightly between midnight and 7 a.m.
Another of the city’s underground tunnels was used to spirit high-profile criminals from the county jail to the Hall of Justice, among them notorious mob boss Mickey Cohen, charged with tax evasion in 1951. Tunnels also remain from the city’s original subway system, operated by Los Angeles Pacific Electric Railways to points across the city and the San Fernando Valley.
Though condemned and closed to the public, the tunnels under L.A. have remained the subject of fascination by ambitious urban explorers for decades, and the graffiti on their walls proves that where there’s a will to get in, there’s a way. Though their crumbling walls and unsanitary conditions pose real risks to aspiring infiltrators’ health and safety, the tunnels remain one of the holy grails of the Los Angeles urbex community.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the best abandoned places in Los Angeles. If you enjoyed this article, read about interesting abandoned places in Jacksonville, Florida next.