Topanga is a census-designated place (CDP) in western Los Angeles County, California, United States. Located in the Santa Monica Mountains, the community lies in Topanga Canyon. The narrow southern portion of Topanga at the coast is in between the city of Malibu and the city of Los Angeles neighborhood of 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 Creek drains Topanga Canyon and is the third largest watershed entering the Santa Monica Bay. 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. Topanga Beach 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 Topanga State Park, which is the largest park in the Santa Monica Mountains and one of the largest open space preserves surrounded by a city in the world, as well as the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. It is part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. It primarily represents a California coastal sage and chaparral ecoregion, with large areas of the California oak woodland plant community, and a wide variety of native plants.
Topanga is the name given to the area by the Native American indigenous Tongva tribe, 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. 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, Bob Denver, Neil Diamond and Russ Tamblyn. 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. Linda Ronstadt had been seen hitchhiking through the Canyon barefoot with her guitar.
Topanga is known as a bohemian enclave attracting artists, musicians, filmmakers, and others. Numerous music festivals have been organized in the canyon, including the Topanga Days Festival and Topanga Earth Day. The Topanga Film Institute hosts the annual Topanga Film Festival.
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.
A famous venue in the canyon was the Elysium Institute, also known as Elysium Fields, a nudist club started by Ed Lange in 1967. After surviving extended battles with county officials the 9-acre (3.6 ha) property was sold in 2002 by its founder’s heirs.
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 Mexican to vegan. A parade is held on Memorial Day. The parade is said to have inspired the more famous Doo-Dah Parade in Pasadena.
Topanga canyon also sees and annual reggae festival “Reggae on the Mountain” that has grown to be one of the largest events in the area. The event serves as a fundraiser for the Topanga Community Club in a similar fashion as Topanga Days.
The Topanga Film Institute presents the annual Topanga Film Festival each July. The festival endeavors to bridge cultures, create and expand community, provide cultural exchange and networking opportunities.
Two outdoor shopping centers featuring local businesses form the hub of local commerce. There are no hotels, motels or gas stations in Topanga, nor are there any chain or big box stores. Lodging is provided by the nine-room Topanga Canyon Inn Bed & Breakfast owned by former studio trumpet player Warren Roche and his wife, Southern California artist Elena Roche.
The location of Topanga in the Santa Monica Mountains also makes the natural surroundings an important part of the culture. Streams, waterfalls, cliffs of exposed bedrock, landmark rock outcroppings, and overlooks with panoramic views of the mountains, Pacific Ocean and Los Angeles are common attractions. There are many trails for short walks, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, birdwatching, and rock climbing, all of which are important parts of the local community.
The 2010 United States Census 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), 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.
These were the ten cities or neighborhoods in Los Angeles County with the largest percentage of white residents, according to the 2000 United States Census:
Malibu, California, 88.8%
Hidden Hills, California, 88.7%
Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, 88.6%
Topanga, California, 87.6%
Beverly Crest, Los Angeles, 87.5%
Westlake Village, California, 85.5%
Manhattan Beach, California, 85.5%
Hollywood Hills West, Los Angeles, 84.9%
Hermosa Beach, California, 84.9%
Fairfax, Los Angeles, 84.7%
Lower Topanga Canyon
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 have included: Humphrey Bogart, Bertolt Brecht, Carole Lombard, Peter Lorre, Ida Lupino, Shirley Temple, and Johnny Weissmuller.
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.
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.
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. Currently there are active efforts by TreePeople and Mountains Restoration Trust to restore the area to its pristine condition as it was prior to development.
Palisades Charter High School.
William Howard Taft High School.
Most Topanga residents are zoned to schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Topanga Elementary School.