Visit one of L.A.'s most peaceful places at a free outdoor sanctuary.
The Self Realization Fellowship at Lake Shrine is a 10-acre outdoor sanctuary designed around a spring-fed lake in Pacific Palisades.
It's a place for meditation and prayer, with a hilltop temple and retreat center, and a lower level lake for visitors to walk around. The Self Realization Fellowship has an incredible setting in the Santa Ynez Canyon, just blocks from the sparkling Pacific Ocean.
The site was founded in 1950 by spiritual leader Paramahansa Yogananda, who wanted to create a church where all religions were welcome.
It's free to visit, located at 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades (check hours).
10 best things to do at Lake Shrine
1. Stop by the Visitor Center (below left) with a gift shop and museum.
The Visitor Center is accessed directly from the lower parking lot, and is the first stop at Lake Shrine. Explore fascinating exhibits with some of Paramahansa Yogananda's possessions, and learn about the history of the Self Realization Fellowship.
Many famous people have held their memorial services at Lake Shrine, like Tom Petty and George Harrison. It's also believed that Elvis also had a strong connection to the Fellowship, and loved to walk through the gardens.
2. Stroll the 0.3 mile pathway around Lake Shrine, to see lush gardens, grottos, and two waterfalls.
There are unexpected surprises around every corner at Lake Shrine, with secret pathways leading to alcoves, and waterfalls cascading through moss laden rockeries and plunging into the lake. The two beautiful waterfalls have statues of Jesus and Krishna overlooking them.
3. Learn how this property was used as a ranch, movie studio and film set.
The property has gone through many lives, first used a ranch, then a silent movie studio in the 1920s.
In 1927 a property developer graded the canyon's slopes to build a resort, and inadvertently created a water catchment area that became the scenic lake. However, plans for the resort were later abandoned. In the 1940s the property was used as a film set, then finally became the Self Realization Fellowship in 1950.
4. Step inside the windmill, with a peaceful chapel inside representing all five religions.
Visitors can sit and meditate inside the quiet interior of the chapel that Paramahansa Yogananda once presided over. A row of pictures at the front of the chapel represents the five major religions of the world; islam, judaism, christianity, hinduism, and buddhism, and the chapel is open to everyone.
5. Stroll by the vintage houseboat at Lake Shrine, now used for meditation sessions.
Some of the quirky buildings around the Fellowship are relics from its earlier days as a movie set. In the 1940s, the property was owned by the Superintendent of Construction for 20th Century Fox, Everett McElroy, who imported the houseboat from Lake Mead near Las Vegas, and constructed a 16th century replica of a Dutch windmill.
McElroy had a vision in a dream one night, foretelling that his land would be the site of a "church for all religions". He picked up the phone book the next morning, searching for a "church for all religions", and stumbled upon The Self Realization Fellowship. He then made a call that was promptly answered by Paramahansa Yogananda. Yogananda eerily predicted in that conversation that McElory had called him to sell the land, even before McElroy had uttered a word about his intentions. The rest is history, and the new site for the fellowship was dedicated in 1950.
6. Stand beneath the Golden Lotus Archway, the most famous landmark at the Self Realization Fellowship at Lake Shrine.
The Golden Lotus Archway was intended as a wall-less temple, and the golden lotus is a symbol of enlightenment in buddhism.
7. Go to the lawned area behind the Archway, contains a memorial for Mahatma Gandhi.
Go to the Mahatma Gandhi Shrine behind the Archway, which was dedicated on August 20, 1950. Some of Gandhi's ashes are interred in an 1,000 year old sarcophagus at this memorial at Lake Shrine.
8. Admire the lush gardens at Lake Shrine, full of beautiful plantings.
There are also frequent spottings of wildlife, like swans, turtles and koi at Lake Shrine.
9. Walk or drive to the magnificent Temple and Retreat Center at the top of the hill.
The domed temple on the hill above Lake Shrine is one of 500 properties owned by the Self Realization Fellowship around the world, designed for meditation and events.
The world headquarters of the Self Realization Fellowship is 25-miles away on top of Mount Washington, north of downtown Los Angeles. It's housed in a stunning mission style building that operated as a hotel for the Hollywood set between 1910 to 1921. Paramahansa Yogananda purchased the property in 1925 after it fell into neglect, and lived there for 20 years. Guests are welcome to visit this incredible property,with beautiful gardens, soaring views, a chapel and visitor center (check hours).
10. Visit other nearby attractions near Lake Shrine.
Know before you go
- Address: The lower parking lot is at 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California 90272.
- Hours: here (closed Mondays).
- Admission: free.
- Parking lot: onsite parking.