Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tongva Park

My husband and I recently visited a new park in Santa Monica, California, a place we called home for several years while making our respective sojourns through graduate school.  I still have fond recollections of living in "The People's Republic of Santa Monica," although, as gentrification of the area has proceeded full-speed in the years since we left, it doesn't have quite the same quirky sensibility it once had.

This visit was prompted by articles announcing the opening of Tongva Park, named after the native American population that once occupied the area, and designed by James Corner, who was also responsible for the famous High Line development in New York City.  The park was formally dedicated in mid-October.  Built at a cost of $42.3 million on a 6-acre plot of land formerly occupied by the Rand Corporation, the park sits across the street from Santa Monica's City Hall on Main Street and stretches to Ocean Avenue.

Santa Monica City Hall photographed from across the street at the entrance to Tongva Park

It was fairly quiet the morning we visited.  We were able to find metered parking along Main Street.  We were met by this sign.

Park rules

The sign, with its list of prohibited activities, has received criticism but I have to say the park was remarkably well cared for.  Paths, as well as picnic areas, were completely clear of debris.  We saw 3 or 4 gardeners at work and a woman in park ranger gear on patrol.

A fountain greeted us at the Main Street entrance.

There were some warning signs there too.

We headed off to the right, past another sign, through an area called Garden Hill.

Wide paths cut through the space, which is heavily planted with climate-appropriate grasses, succulents, trees and other plants.

The off-white tubes you see in the pictures above are part of an LED lighting system.

There were small touches of color but various hues of green foliage dominate the landscape.

Coral tree blooms

Blooming aloes

Alstroemeria, in pink and peach tones, could be found in spots throughout the park

Oxalis in different colors was also found throughout the park

As were rain lilies (Zephranthes, I think)

Wending our way in the direction of Gathering Hill, we found good-sized Plumeria trees still in bloom and lots of Canna.

Gathering Hill has a picnic area with a view of a huge Moreton Bay fig tree (Ficus macrophylla), locally referred to as "Morty," and 3 other large rusty figs (Ficus Rubiginosa) referred to as the "Three Amigos."  Morty had been part of the old Rand Corporation campus but the other 3 fig trees were moved 550 feet from the intersection of Main Street and Olympic to join Morty in the picnic area (as described here).

Benches and tables are made of non-tropical hardwoods

Morty, the Moreton Bay fig tree, is reportedly over a century old

Morty has very big feet

We ate lunches we'd brought with us in the picnic area, then proceeded along the north side of the park toward the area called Observation Hill.

Ocean Avenue entrance to the park

Plants at the base of Observation Hill

There's another fountain, larger than the one I showed earlier, on this end of the park.

The Ferris wheel on Santa Monica pier can be seen in the distance in the upper portion of this picture of the west-end fountain

Both fountains are lined with large rocks

There are 2 view points at the top of Observation Hill.

Stairs beyond the fountain area lead up to Observation Hill

Stairway leading down from the top of Observation Hill

Clematis vines are being trained to grow up the wall enclosing the restrooms.

The restroom area is located roughly in the middle of the park near a large expanse of lawn containing a massive sculptural piece.

The restroom is on the left and the sculpture is on the right

The restrooms are lit by skylights installed at the top of Observation Hill

Ampitheater-style seating on the left faces the open lawn area


Beyond the lawn area and the sculpture is Discovery Hill, designed as a play area for kids.


Asters were blooming all around the play area.

There were a large number of Arbutus 'Marina' and other trees in the area.

A construction project is underway on the south side of the park.  It looks suspiciously like a large condo complex will soon occupy the space on this end of the park.  With views of the ocean, pier and the new park, as well as an upscale mall close by, I expect that's going to be very expensive housing, even by southern California standards.

All in all, Tongva is a great park.  Should you find yourself in the area, I suggest a visit.  You can find additional information here.


  1. Looks like a lovely park, taking full advantage of the climate and plant choices available. My only gripe with some of the rules signage is it looks temporary or stolen from an office situation (especially the brass "do not enter the fountain" sign. The stainless (?) plant info signs are more like it.

    1. I'm not sure why the signs are of such different "quality" as you point out. Like workplace rules, I suspect that a lot of Tongva's are mainly designed to prevent litigation.

  2. Morty is magnificent! Too bad they had to rope it off with caution tape, as that spoils the view!

    1. I couldn't figure out why the caution tape was there, Deb, especially as the "keep on the path" signs already indicate signal visitors to keep out. However, one guy got ousted from the area by the park ranger when found standing on Morty's feet so maybe Morty just attracts too much unwanted attention.

  3. Morty looks splendid! And loving that art deco city hall too. Looks like a lovely park and area indeed with well thought off planting that is a delight to see on public places.

    1. It is a nice looking city hall. If you have to serve jury duty, it's a good place to end up.

  4. What a beautiful place to spend a day. Morty is such a beautiful specimen. Can't believe even the restrooms look very inviting :) I enjoyed my wee walk around!

  5. Yes, the restrooms were nice! The whole place reminded me just a little bit of Disneyland - everything was clean and manicured.

  6. I'm glad to know about this park. What a beautiful place....very nicely integrated. Great designs! I can see why you like it.