Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nature center is currently closed, but the garden and trails are open to the public. If you visit, be sure to follow all City of Los Angeles directives regarding social distancing and face coverings.
What you will see at White Point Nature Preserve depends on when you visit. In July, Sunflowers are in bloom and, in a few more weeks, the goldenbush flowers are expected to appear. Summer is also the time for local, native milkweed plants to flower, which is important to sustain monarch butterflies and caterpillars. There have also been baby ground squirrels growing in the preserve, some cottontail rabbits and a couple red foxes, as well as lots of birds, spotted in the area.
California poppies -- the kind native to the coast, with yellow edges along their orange petals -- pop up in the garden in March, alongside hummingbird sage. California sunflowers and wildflowers so tiny that you might not notice that they were there. Bees and a few hummingbirds flit from flower to flower and, heading into the hiking trails, tall blades of grass sway in the breeze.
In the hills of San Pedro, overlooking the Pacific with a view to Catalina Island, White Point Nature Preserve is a 102-acre coastal sage scrub habitat owned by City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks and restored by the non-profit Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy. The two entities co-manage the property, itself a hidden treasure that brings together the richness of coastal nature with its complicated history.
Alex Kovary, Nature Center Manager at White Point, grew up in San Pedro and began volunteering here several years earlier. "I grew up hiking the trails," she explains.
There are two trails you can explore inside White Point. However, there’s the garden, which itself has a small series of paths winding through the flora. "It's a great spot to see wildlife," says Kovary. One of the goals at White Point is restoring habitat that is home for local, endangered species. The California gnatcatcher, small gray bird that feeds on insects and calls the coastal sage scrub home, is one such creature and the staff and volunteers at White Point work to renew the land it craves. They're also concerned with restoring habitat to attract the Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly, itself an endangered species.
In the middle of the garden is the Nature Center. Situated behind a solar calendar, this small, green building with a red roof houses multiple displays on the history of the land. It's also a community event space and one of the sites where the Conservancy sells native plants from its restoration nursery. In a previous life, though, this building was used for missile assembly.
White Point is home to a long and complicated history. Humans have inhabited the land for millennia and the peninsula is part of the homeland of the Tongva, the village Tovemungna was located near White Point. The garden is designed to reflect the traditions of the Tongva. One sign points out the historic uses of some native plants, like elderberry, which was a material for making musical instruments.
The arrival of the Spanish marked the beginning of centuries of environmental changes. They introduced seeds for plants that were not previously found in this region. "They grew very well, very quickly because they were from the Mediterranean climate, which is similar to this one," Kovary explains. Cattle ranching and farming further changed the landscape. Although the restoration of White Point has focused on the renewal of native plants, there are still traces of the past here. "We've got a lot of grasses from Europe that pop up," says Kovary.
The nearby waters once teemed with abalone. In the late 1800s, that led to a burgeoning Japanese fishing community. Meanwhile, the area that's now home to White Point was farmland, with crops including tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. The Japanese community in the San Pedro area grew in the decades to follow and became quite large. All that changed, though, with the onset of World War II, when Japanese Americans were incarcerated at detention camps in various parts of the country. The community's history is also documented on the grounds of the nature preserve.
Meanwhile, San Pedro's U.S. military history goes back to the late 1800s and their presence expanded with World War II. The Vista Trail inside White Point will lead you towards the remains of two gun emplacements that were set up here in 1942. By the 1950s, this space was retooled as a Nike missile site, part of a system of Cold War-era defense sites along the West Coast. Near the garden, you might notice cement and rusted metal, plus a small, dilapidated structure that looks like it was once a guard booth and a second missile assembly building surrounded by a chain link fence. Now, this area is surrounded by restored nature.
Returning White Point to its natural glory was not easy. In the late 1970s, the property transferred to the City of Los Angeles, but nearly a quarter century would pass before the park was dedicated. In the years since then, staff and a large team of volunteers have worked to reintroduce and maintain the native plant life. It's been a large effort-- as less than one percent of the plants that now exist at White Point were there prior to the early '00s-- and an ongoing one, important to the surrounding community.
When visiting White Point, make sure to dress for the elements, particularly during the summer. "On the trails, there often isn't too much shade available, so we definitely recommend that, if you're going out for a hike, please wear proper sun protection," says Kovary. Hats, long sleeves, pants and sunglasses are recommended. Make sure to bring enough water with you as well.