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A hilltop desert garden is one of the 15 unique smaller gardens within the Conejo Valley Botanical Garden, 33 acres of oak-shaded, rolling terrain that includes trails, valley views and a Kids’ Adventure Garden. Free admission. Photo by Jerry Ondash
Columns Hit the Road

Open space for everyone in the Conejo Valley

We are sitting in our car eating the delectable pastries purchased last night at Carrara’s in the Conejo Valley city of Agoura Hills.

The Italian confections go down easy — creamy, chocolatey and not-too-sugared. Glad I packed these plastic forks.

Hey, we deserve this.

We’ve just completed a tough 4-mile hike on the Los Robles Trail in Thousand Oaks. The trail and expansive countryside, wearing its finest spring green and colorful wildflowers, is ours to relish, thanks to the Conejo Open Space Conservancy Agency.

Composed of the City of Thousand Oaks, Conejo Recreation & Park District and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the agency’s mission is to preserve, protect and manage the 12,700 acres of open space and 170 miles of trails in the valley.

This easily accessible outdoors is what makes Conejo Valley (pronounced Co-NAY-ho) a desirable place to live and visit — a destination where you “can catch your breath and see another side of California.”

And in this pandemic and post-pandemic world, we need plenty of this.

This expansive view of the Conejo Valley is the reward for making it to the summit of the Los Robles Trail in Thousand Oaks. This ridgeline trail system is just a portion of the 12,700 acres of open space and 170 miles of trails managed by the Conejo Open Space Conservancy Agency. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

From North County, it was a 2½ drive to Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills (population 128,000 and 21,000 respectively). We headquartered at the recently renovated Best Western Plus Thousand Oaks, making it easy and quick to visit the valley’s attractions during our 44-hour visit.

The trailhead for the Los Robles Trail is a three-minute drive from the hotel. Our climb to the summit was arduous, but the reward — a 360-degree view of the Conejo Valley — is easy to take in.

Below us lay a distinguished landscape of rolling foothills, peaks and bluffs and the dramatic Santa Monica Mountain backdrop.

It’s obvious that the geologic history of Conejo Valley is chaotic. The undulating topography was created eons ago by earthquakes, multiple volcanos, flowing magma and hardening lava.

Today, subdivisions, business parks and retail centers are tucked between the fingers of the foothills, but plenty of green oases remain on what was once a flat ocean floor.

If expending a little less energy to take in the area’s natural scene is your speed, head to the Conejo Valley Botanical Garden, just a few-minutes’ drive from the hotel.

The garden’s 33 hillside acres, enveloped by 72 varieties of mature trees, hold multiple collections of native plants and many from Australia, South Africa and Chile.

We gave up on the garden’s map and decided to just follow the meandering trails as they ascended. The trails take visitors through many of the 15 smaller gardens, including the rare-fruit orchard, the butterfly and herb gardens, and a Japanese-style garden.

There are plenty of benches at every turn that invite walkers to sit and contemplate the beauty and quiet of this oasis and the work of the many volunteers who maintain the gardens and trails.

We finally reached the top of the garden and the impressive collection of cactuses and succulents, which become the perfect foreground to the panoramic view of the sculptured Conejo Valley.

The free garden is adjacent to oak-studded Conejo Community Park, with a playground, picnic tables and plenty of space to let kids run free.

Ready to break out and take on some trails? Check out the free 2022 Conejo Open Space Challenge. Runs through May 31.

Have an adventure you want to share? Email [email protected].

See more commentary and photos at www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash.

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