There’s a Shipwreck Near Los Angeles… and You Can Hike To It!

South of Los Angeles is a community called Rancho Palos Verdes. It’s a beautiful, affluent area, built on big bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. And, at the base of the bluffs, there’s a shipwreck that dates back 56 years!

It looks like I’m standing on a rusty tank, but it’s actually the crane from a freighter, used to lift shipping containers off and on. The crane used to be on the SS Dominator, a 440-foot long, 14,000-ton ship that crashed here, against the rocks, in 1961.

The SS Dominator was en route from Vancouver to the Port of Los Angeles, its hull filled with grain and beef, when it crashed into the rocks during a heavy fog. Tugboats spent two days trying to free the vessel, but they were fighting the weather and waves, which kept pushing it towards land.

Eventually, everyone gave up, and the Dominator settled into its new home along the rocky coast of Rancho Palos Verdes. Most of the hull was salvaged, as was most of the cargo, but this part of the coast is still littered with remnants from the SS Dominator, five decades later, and going for a visit makes for a delightful hike.

I met up with my friends Mark and Brian (we’ve previously hiked to the Dawn gold mine and did a stair hike along the beach), and a couple of their friends, Kevin and Anna-Kay, came along too.

We started our hike by going down Drain Pipe Trail, one of the few ways to get down to the coast from the top of the bluff. It’s a steep little descent that’s well-named, because you follow a giant Drain Pipe.

The scenery is dramatic and gorgeous. Bluffs, in both directions, as far as you can see!

Once you get near the water’s edge, the hike becomes an exercise in walking along rocks. Every once in a while, one would give a little bit, but it’s pretty easy going, even though you’re moving a little slower than you would be on a trail or road.

At one point, we jumped from rock to rock along a little peninsula that extended into the ocean. Here’s Brian and me, just before we leap back to land.

The shipwreck isn’t too far: about 8/10s of a mile from the starting point at the top of Drain Pipe Trail. You know you’re there when you start seeing rusty debris littering the rocks.

The crane in the first photo is by far the coolest piece of rusty ship junk you come across, but there’s more lying around, too.

It was kinda crazy to stand there and imagine that, at one point, a 440-foot ship was right there, completely incapacitated. Urban legend has it that some of the cargo was never found, and somewhere, just off the coast, is a perfectly-preserved sunken treasure filled with the finest lamb, spanakopita, and baklava. That joke would’ve worked better had I mentioned earlier that the SS Dominator was owned by a Greek shipping concern.

Instead of coming back the way we came, we continued along the coast. Some other hikers at the shipwreck mentioned another trail back up to the road about a half-mile down the shore.

RELATED CONTENT: Check out my other hikes to fun destinations, like the tallest mountain in Los Angeles, a military facility built during the cold war, and the remains of a hotel that burned down a hundred years ago.

We found a fun photo opportunity along the way:

We made it to a beautiful cove, and saw, up ahead, a trail carved into the bluff.

Mark was the first one to the trail, and he decided to run up it. (Mark is currently training for his next marathon.) I decided I should run up it too, so I did. It was steep and narrow and a really challenging run. Mark was already at the top when I started my run, and at one point he called down to me that I should stop so he could take my photo. This photo is one of my favorites!

And a selfie at the top:

We got a selfie with all five of us at the top, too.

From there we followed the road back to the car, completing our loop. We made a quick stop at an estate sale, where they were selling, amongst lots of other things, some art featuring Pomeranians wearing sombreros.

We all headed to lunch after, and I posted a couple photos on Twitter. Altogether, our hike lasted 1 hour, 54 minutes, and we covered 2.1 miles. And, oh yeah, we visited a shipwreck!

Keep it up, David!


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2 Responses to There’s a Shipwreck Near Los Angeles… and You Can Hike To It!

  1. Hi David, this is really neat. I just explored the shipwreck yesterday. I love history, so I did some digging and found your blog. Glad to connect & thanks for providing so much of the research about it, here. Also, I called my grandfather shortly after my hike to wish his a happy Father’s Day and told him about the shipwreck. He told me that he remembered hearing about it when he was a marine at camp Pendleton. Pretty amazing, the connections!

    • David says:

      It’s a great hike and so cool that your granddad remembered hearing about the wreck! I’m glad you found my post so helpful. I love learning about history and incorporating local history into my life. Looking forward to checking out your blog! -David

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