MS. KILDAY, an environmental advocate for the past two decades, understands that Ms. Streisand's former retreat, which attracts everyone from Barbra fanatics to garden devotees, is as close as many people will ever get to the Backbone Trail. So her talk is interlaced with tidbits about the land: sycamore leaves were called ''the hand of God'' by the Chumash Indians, who used them to line their papoose packs and to diaper their babies since one side of the leaf is as soft as velvet. She also pointed out that the bougainvillea, hibiscus and camellia that surround the Mediterranean-style house are drawn from the same palette of fuchsias and pinks.

The overall effect creates a curious juxtaposition, mixing the glory of what's outside -- honeysuckle, jasmine, magnolia and a thousand exotic trees -- with the suffocating overdecoration inside, from Art Nouveau carvings of mermaids in the screening room bar to the red-and-black Art Deco house that once contained Ms. Streisand's collection of Lalique crystal. From a trail where one can camp in the wilds to pure camp -- how better to define L.A.?

Where to go, what to take and what to watch for

The Basics

The National Park Service publishes a quarterly calendar of events and programs in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and can provide information on rules for trail use by bicyclists and equestrians, which vary from park to park. The service can also provide maps and information about such activities as bird walks, adopt-a-trail maintenance programs, searching for fish fossils in grassland shales, and guest hosts at the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center.

The visitors center is at 30401 Agoura Road, Suite 100, Agoura Hills, Calif.; (818) 597-9192, extension 201. It's open from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. weekdays and 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. weekends. You will want to think twice before asking for advice about hiking trails. When I inquired of a park service representative what hike she might recommend that wasn't insanely rigorous, she replied, ''The mall?''

Trail information can also be obtained from the Mountains Conservancy Foundation, (310) 589-2400, which has a listing of organized hikes; from the Sierra Club, (213) 387-4287, and from the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, (818) 222-4531.

Another good source is ''Hiking Trails of the Santa Monica Mountains'' by Milt McAuley, available from Canyon Publishing Company, 8561 Eatough Avenue, Canoga Park, Calif. 91304; (818) 702-0171.

Whenever hiking in Southern California, always take water, sun screen and a hat and wear hiking shoes. In addition, the National Park Service advises hikers not to hike alone, since a hiker would want to have help available in case of an accident.

Two Hikes and a Stroll

At the Will Rogers State Historic Park, (310) 454-8212, there is a visitors center, bookstore, film presentation and guided tours of the ranch house offered from 10:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. daily. Park grounds are open from 8 A.M. to sunset; parking is $6.

For an easy hike along a fire road in Rustic Canyon, drive north on Capri Drive from Sunset Boulevard in the Pacific Palisades. Follow Capri until it becomes a fire road, and park on a neighboring residential street. Or for a closer view of the Pacific, take Sunset Boulevard toward the ocean and turn right on Paseo Miramar. Follow this winding road through a residential area of hillside houses to its end at the vehicle gate across East Topanga Fire Road, which warns of mountain lions; the trailhead is beyond the gate. This is a rigorous hike, the first hour being almost completely uphill. But the majestic overlook is worth it: if you squint, you could swear you were in Italy. Or maybe Ireland. For more information, call Topanga State Park, (310) 455-2465.

The Solstice Canyon trailhead can be reached by driving 17 miles from Santa Monica along the Pacific Coast Highway, turning inland on Corral Canyon Road. At the first bend in the road there is a gate, and beyond it a parking lot and visitor center. The Park Service recently took up residence there in the former offices of the Mountains Conservancy Foundation. The Mathew Keller house is currently closed to the public.

The Streisand Center for Conservancy Studies, (310) 589-2850, fax (310) 589-2561, is open to the public for garden tours on Wednesdays. Tour tickets are $30; $24 for seniors, with tea and scones included. The money raised is used for maintenance of the grounds. Reservations, paid for in advance, are required (tours can fill up two months in advance).

The address is 5750 Ramirez Canyon Road, Malibu, Calif. 90265. No signs to the center are posted. Visitors meet at the Winding Way Trailhead off the Pacific Coast Highway, south of Paradise Cove, and are shuttled to the center.


published in The New York Times

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