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Living on the Peninsula: An Overview of the Four Communities of Palos Verdes

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

Point Vicente Lighthouse

Point Vicente Lighthouse

A Drive To the Hill Along the Sea

The scenery drastically changes when you drive north on Palos Verdes Boulevard toward its namesake. Immediately, the close knit collection of condos and housing tracts along the coast are replaced by green hills, tree-lined streets, Spanish-tiled mansions and a swath of eucalyptus groves.

If you're lucky you may hear and see a feral wild peacock or spot a rare and indigenous Palos Verdes Blue butterfly. And, possibly, you will be able to visit places such as Wayfarer Chapel or the two lighthouses situated on 100 ft tall sea bluffs.

Once a physical island millions of years ago, Palos Verdes Peninsula is still a world apart from its beach city neighbors to the north and the gritty Los Angeles/ Long Beach Harbor to the south.

The locals know it affectionately as The Hill, PV, or The Peninsula. Those visiting Southern California will immediately recognize it as mass of green land jutting into the blue Pacific Ocean.

The communities of Palos Verdes Estate, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills Estate and the city of Rolling Hills are some of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the country, let alone in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Also, it geographically stands out. With a top elevation of 1447 ft above sea level, it looms above the beaches and creates the southern tip of Santa Monica Bay (best known as the South Bay by the locals).

The cities of Palos Verdes Peninsula

Palos Verdes Estate

Palos Verdes Estate is possibly the most picturesque of the four cities. Spanish-tiled mansions are situated on steep slopes along tree-lined streets on the northwest side of the peninsula. With its abundance of verdant hillsides and patches of trees of many varieties, Palos Verdes Estate looks like a peaceful villa from another time and place.

Even the business district is quaint and Mediterranean. This area includes Malaga Cove Plaza, Malaga Cove Public Library, and City Hall.

The city’s business districts can be divided between Malaga Cove and Lunada Bay. The Malaga area has the main features of the city, and includes access to Torrance's RAT Beach (the acronym stands for Right after Torrance).

Lunada Bay is further south. The recently reopened Palos Verdes High School is located in here.

Not far is Lunada Bay Plaza, a quaint mall made up of Spanish-tiled, two story structures on a tree-lined street. Lunada Bay, however, is best known for another things; it has a great surf spot that some locals love to keep as a secret (more on that later).

In addition, the city contains numerous horse stables open for riding lessons; private and public golf-courses (one, the very exclusive Palos Verdes Golf Club held a LPGA tournament); hiking and biking trails. And, it has the sea cliffs and vistas with views of the South Bay, the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Island, including Catalina.

Plaza at Malagna Cove

Plaza at Malagna Cove

Median and Mean Household Income (2012)

Data taken from


Palos Verdes Estate, Ca

$152,068 USD

$ 241,994 USD


$61,400 USD

$85,265 USD

United States

$53,046 USD

$73,034 USD

Rancho Palos Verdes

Further south is Rancho Palos Verdes - the largest city (over 40,000). As well as population, it's also the largest in terms of acreage. Additionally, it is the most rustic, thanks to several local and state conservatory organizations. Much of the area including Portuguese Bend and Abalone Shoreline Park have been protected by conservation groups.

It’s also home to some of the peninsula’s most iconic landmarks. This includes:

  • Point Vicente Lighthouse (one of two on the peninsula),
  • Marymount College*
  • Trump International Golf Course,
  • the glass chapel -- Wayfarers Chapel, and
  • Terranea Resort.

Recently, Marymount University (as it came to be called) shut its doors. However, its Rancho Palos Verdes and San Pedro campus and properties were purchased by UCLA. It will now be a satellite campus for the university.

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Trump International and Terranea are fairly new. The resort is located on the former grounds of Marineland, a water-themed park that once rivaled Sea World before closing its doors. Before becoming a resort, the area sat dormant for decades, occasionally being used for movie sets and location (most famously used as the deck for the aircraft carrier for the spoof movie Hot Shots!).

There are other sights to behold. In the area around Portuguese Bend and Abalone Cove, the land is slowly slipping into the ocean. As a result, the main road in this area, Palos Verdes Drive South, is constantly shifting. The road has a major dip. Many unsuspecting drivers have had unwanted roller-coaster rides on this small, but dangerous stretch of road.

The most important area within Rolling Hills Estate is along Silver Spur between Crenshaw and Hawthorne Boulevard.

Rolling Hills Estate

While Rancho Palos Verdes is the environmental center, its neighbor, Rolling Hills Estate, is the financial, educational and cultural hub of PV.

The most important area within Rolling Hills Estate is along Silver Spur between Crenshaw and Hawthorne Boulevard. The largest shopping center in PV, Promenade on the Peninsula, can be found. Also, this is the location of the largest library in the Palos Verdes Library District (Peninsula Center Library), as well as home to Peninsula High School (formally, Rolling Hills High School).

Peninsula High is the largest school in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District.It was the only public high school in PV for more than a decade until Palos Verdes High School in the Lunada Bay area reopened. Over the years, Peninsula High has gained numerous distinctions for being one of the top public schools in the country.

In addition to the mall (and an extension of it) is the Norris Center of Performing Arts (there is another Norris theater; across the street; however, it has been converted into a church). The theater is a 450-seat, tiered structure that offers major and high school stage plays. The performing arts center also offers productions of stage plays and concerts. In addition to that, it offers educational courses in acting and production.

Other significant places include the private prep school Chadwick (Rolling Hills Prep is actually in San Pedro near the Rolling Hills border), several horse trails and equestrian centers, South Coast Botanic Gardens, the flagship store for Bristol Farms, several banks and financial institutions, and the office of The Peninsula News, PV’s community newspaper.

Territorial Surf: The Dark Side of PV

There is a dark side to Palos Verdes. In some parts, outsiders are not welcome. This is particularly true among the surfers who have declared certain top surfing areas as theirs.

Over the years, several people coming from one of the surrounding lowland communities to surf have been harassed or assaulted. Some of the individuals involved in this have given themselves names such as the Dirty Underwear Gang or the Lunada Bay Boys (also known as the Bay Boys).

The group has garnered national attention for their notorious behavior. In fact, the book The Tribes of Palos Verdes (later made into a movie) mentions the territorial surf culture. In addition, this book also touches upon other dark sides of the communities on the Hill.

Either way, these few individuals have created an unwanted blemish on PVs rocky beaches.

Other Cities

Portions of Torrance, Lomita and Redondo Beach share the northern base of the peninsula. A fire road meandering through a stretch of eucalyptus groves separates these large "flatland" cities from the ones on PV. The southern slope portions is location a district of the Los Angeles community of San Pedro. Miraleste Drive, Western Avenue, Palos Verdes Peninsular Park, and Deane Dana Friendship Park are the unofficial borders between the two.

San Pedro is the home to many important places and historical landmarks. On its northwestern edge near Rancho Palos Verdes, one can find Point Fermin Light House, Angel Gate Park (former barracks converted into a series of professional art studios), remnants of the World War II-era Fort McArthur’s Coastal Battery, and Korean Bell of Friendship.

In addition, San Pedro makes up the north end of the Los Angeles Harbor. A key features are Cabrillo State Beach and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. In addition, it is home to a harbor for pleasure crafts located across the way from the heavily industrial region of the LA Harbor. This area is nicknamed Hurricane Gulch.

Not far from wharves and near it's "city center" are the docks for cruise ships, USS Iowa and the WWII era liberty ship Lane Victory. Also, in this area is Ports O Call, once full of restaurants and shops (lately, this place has been under redevelopment).

Palos Verdes is a haven within a heavily urbanized region. It enjoys some of the best views in the area. It is, surprisingly a brief escape from the hustle and bustle of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Palos Verdes from Above

Palos Verdes from Above

Work Cited

© 2014 Dean Traylor

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