January 20, 2022

Hanging Out in the Canyon: The Time Tunnel


After climbing over the guardrail and pushing aside some brush, the entrance of the Time Tunnel appears as a long dark storm drain leading underground with a small point of light at the end. The tunnel is high enough to stand up in, but as you disappear into its eerie cavern you feel like you are going down the rabbit hole in “Alice in Wonderland.”

“I was scared the first time I walked down it!” Topanga teen Michele Capra said.

The Time Tunnel is the name given to a large storm drain behind a guardrail in the S-curves near the twin poles. Hidden from view of Topanga Canyon Boulevard, it is difficult to reach. But for decades, it has attracted young Topangans as a beautiful secluded place to escape to.

Michele discovered the Time Tunnel when she was taken there by a friend, which is pretty much the only way to find it.

“We pulled over on the side of the road, and I had no idea that something was there,” Michele said.

(Tip: although parking is possible across the street from the Time Tunnel, you will be ticketed if you leave your car unattended in the S-curves. A better idea is to park by Topanga Lumber and walk down the canyon for a quarter mile.)

West Virginia native Chance McCoy discovered the Time Tunnel in the ’90s when he was attending high school in Malibu. He describes it as “a gateway between two worlds, because it leads from everyday life into a mystical fairyland.”

It takes a couple of minutes to walk all the way down the tunnel. Sometimes there are musicians inside playing instruments like the didgeridoo to explore the tunnel’s supernatural acoustics. Sometimes there are stoned kids wandering around at the bottom. But usually no one is around.


Hanging Out in the Canyon: The Time Tunnel

The bottom of the tunnel exits onto an idyllic setting beside Topanga Creek. The natural beauty of the area is mixed with some beer bottles, graffiti, and old car wrecks (the only reminder of the busy boulevard above). A simple swing hangs from one of the trees where you can swing out over the water. Giant rock formations invite you to climb on them. It’s a place to play, relax, and indulge in Topanga’s quiet rural splendor.

In earlier decades, the section of creek at the bottom of the Time Tunnel was a popular swimming area because the huge rocks cause the water to pool up. Topangan James Mathers remembers that his babysitters used to take him there in the ’70s so they could go skinny-dipping.

Chance says that the Time Tunnel was his introduction to archetypal Topanga, a place where the spirit of the Canyon seems to have remained unchanged.

“It’s a tunnel back to a time when people ran around naked and smoked pot,” James jokes.

No one I’ve met actually knows how the Time Tunnel got its name, but maybe it’s because of this magical timeless quality.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The author is too young to remember a certain 1960s sci-fi TV show...)