Shipwreck Hike: Wreck of the Greek Dominator in Rancho Palos Verdes

Before I heard about this hike, I never realized there was a ship wreck that I could hike to only an hour from my house. I set out to instantly rectify that, and for a short hike like this it is pretty amazing to have such a unique reward at the end. If you are OK with uneven terrain the entire time then you really need to go explore the ruins of the SS Dominator.

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Details

  • 2 miles round trip
  • 150 feet of elevation
  • Bring good hiking shoes

History

In 1961, due to both fog and problems with the navigation of the ship, a Greek freight ship ran aground on the coast of California right near the city of Rancho Palos Verdes. For days the coast guard and others tried to get the boat back into the water, but the weather that had grounded it there also kept it from being freed. Mother Nature then ran its course and continued to beat upon the ship turning it into the remains that it is today. Here is an image of the ship when it crashed taken from Wikipedia.

The Hike

If you look this up on Yelp they will tell you a very different starting area then I am, I did this because when I was there on a weekday the parking situation was horrible. One side of the street is no parking 8-11AM and the other side is no parking 11-5PM. I saw a parking enforcement person giving out lots of tickets, so we looked for a different way to the ruins.

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We parked at the first place you could head down after the initial trailhead which for us ended up being on the corner of Paseo del Mar and Avenida Mirola. This area is a beautiful bluff that you can just relax at as you take in the ocean and cove below, or you can hike down the steep incline like we did and start the trail.

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Be very careful if you walk down from here! The incline here is very steep and doesn’t have a lot of protection from slipping so make sure to watch your step and do not attempt if you don’t feel comfortable. You can see the path in the photo below

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When you reach the bottom you will proceed North, which is to the right. initially we went to the left but ended up walking for like a mile and seeing nothing so we returned and went the correct way, which was to the right. This is a beautiful area with lots of amazing views.

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This trail walks for pretty much the entire time on loose rocks. Hiking shoes are a must as they will hopefully keep your ankles from giving out as you cross.

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We saw a lot of things on our walk from a dead seal to sea urchins. We also saw a seal frolicking in the water and a few unique birds.

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The trail continues around the cove and when you reach the bend you will see a small little seating area cut out of the cliff, if you see this you are going the right way.

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From here continue around the next bend and you will see the wreckage.

The Wreckage

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The wreckage itself is a lot more than I anticipated. I figured it would only be scattered pieces on the ground, but it has a couple large pieces of the hull and an old crane that you can explore.

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The juxtaposition of the ruins and the water was very interesting and I took a lot of pictures of it. Here are some of my favorites.

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One of the most unique parts is the old crane located at the end of the wreckage. It is very well preserved and super strange to see in the area. Be careful if you get near this stuff as it is very rusty and sharp.

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It is in good shape as well and you can actually walk around the entire piece still.

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I can’t pass up the picture that everyone on social media said looked like a fish too!

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After that you simply walk back and up the steep hill you came in on. Here is a video I made that should help you understand the area better.

I would love to hear your thoughts if you have been on this hike make sure to leave them in the comments.

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  • When I was a kid the wreck was still quite big and large sections were intact. I would suggest people visit the wreck during a minus tide so you can see the various tide pools on the way. Sadly some of the best tide pools have been devastated by fishermen, collectors and or possibly pollution but there is still a lot to see.

    • Thanks for the comment, I bet it was pretty crazy when there was more there to see! I was surprised by how much was there though as I thought it would be a lot less.

  • Last Adventurer

    Nice! I was curious to see from your photos how much was left. When I was there in ~2010, there was a little more to see, but the crane was definitely still there. I also think I went down a drainage pipe, versus your trail experience. Probably a little less steep, and no parking enforcement issues.

    • Thanks for the comment, I will have to check out your post to compare! Ya the drain pipe is the main way I just didn’t feel like getting a ticket.

  • mickey

    My Dad drove us down to look at the wreck 2 days after she ran aground. She Was a WW2 Liberty Ship.

    • Thanks for the comment, I am sure it was a crazy experience when you saw it!

  • Kurt

    Hiked this during a Full Moon Low Tide in August. Your advice about wearing boots was sound!

    • That sounds awesome, I bet you got some good pictures!

  • Eric

    Do you know if it was low tide or high tide when you went? I want to get some good long exposure shots, want to make sure the tide is right when I go so I don’t waste my time and gas

    • I went right around 10 o’clock in April. I am not sure whether it was high or low tide though.

  • Monica

    Hi, I am a California native who is just recently getting into hiking. I just chanced upon your website and have to say I’m impressed. Super organized overview and easy to navigate and great pics. Thanks for putting this together. Keep up the good work.

    • No problem, thanks for the comment and do make sure to explore all the great hiking California has!

  • whatever_dude

    Best write-up of this hike I’ve seen–thanks! The photos of the hike details are helpful.

    • Thanks for the comment! Glad you liked the hike

  • Thanks for the comment and for sharing your photos! Glad you had a good adventure!

  • legallyfm

    On the grid for PCH stops, it has this as Orange County, Rancho Palos Verdes is in LA County.

    • Thanks for the correction!

  • Thanks for the shout out and I am glad you had fun exploring the shipwreck!

  • Bill

    I was 8 when this happened and I vividly remember my dad taking us down to the cliffs to look at the wreck. Awesome thing to see for a kid to see or anyone, for that matter. For years the hull remained a large landmark that you could see from miles away. Then one stormy winter, the landmark was gone. I’ve hiked there a bunch of times over the years cuz I loved rock-hopping. During minus tides, there is much more to see further out, mostly motor remnants.

    • Thanks for comment and for sharing about your trips down to the shipwreck, sounds like some great adventures!

  • April

    Hey Poor girl, you sound like I sound on my video. HA! It was cool in retrospect but while I was there, I kept asking myself why!

  • Matthew Jackson

    Josh, your video was very helpful I planning his hike! Thanks a bunch! My Instagram: mattmagic86 has all of our photos if you want to check them out!

    • Thanks for the comment you have some fun pictures of the hike on your instagram!

  • Leif Ericsson

    Just popping in to say thank you for the great hiking information! You make it easy to find the trails – but not TOO easy, so it’s kind of like following a treasure map! Love it! (P.S. On this hike, the poor dead seal was still there. The power of nature to preserve things is amazing… )

    • Thanks for the comment and I am glad you enjoyed the blog! That poor seal!

  • Budd Riker

    As I understand it, the crane was used in an attempt to pull the Dominator off the rocks. The attempt failed. Involved in the salvage was the Avalon (former Catalina great white steamer) sunk a few years later further up the coast (great dive years ago.)

    • Thanks for the comment and the extra information!

  • Kerry Terrel

    This hike is well worth the end result, especially if you are an avid photographer. That being said, it is most definitely not for anyone with any time of mobility issue. The trail to the beach is very very very slippery and steep with no steps or side railings, compounded by the current drought conditions in CA. Once down on the beach, the rocks are not easy to traverse as they are different sizes and never-ending. There is no shade from the sunshine, so dress accordingly. There are no amenities, so ensure that you have sufficient fluids. Hiking shoes are definitely needed and walking sticks or poles are beneficial. I thoroughly enjoyed the hike and resulting photo memories but probably wouldn’t do it again as I would not do it alone and most of my friends would find it to arduous.

    • Thanks for the comment and I appreciate the suggestions! I agree that it is not an easy hike and not one that everyone should do.

  • RCLN

    I found this photo among slides my Grandfather took in the early 60’s. I believe it’s this ship, the SS Dominator, soon after it ran aground .

    • wow, thank you so much for sharing that photo it is truly amazing! I really appreciate you sharing it with us!

      • RCLN

        Posted my response under the wrong comment, sorry.

  • Thanks for sharing this as well! So much crazy history to take in about this spot!

  • Jackie Shepherd

    This hike was AWESOME! I took a group of 13 and 14 year olds and it was a perfect fit. It was challenging, but not scary and exactly the right length of time. We also got some really cool photos, so they were able to document it on Instagram, which – for their generation – is the only way to know it actually happened. THANKS!

    • Thanks for the comment and for letting me know that it was a good fit for kids 13-14. I know what you mean about Instagram, I am glad it gave them some worthy photos! 🙂

  • Julia-Inez

    I went here yesterday it was amazing. It was extremely steep though. I went down the way you went down, but hiked back up the way the surfers were going. When I went the tide was extremely low so great for photos. Just be super carful some rocks are very slippery I slipped and cut my hand. So just be aware. Great hike though and gorgeous beach.

    • Glad you had fun, I agree it is steep and always caution everyone to be careful if hiking down the way I recommend.

  • John Halamka

    maybe someone in the area faked the harbor lights.

  • Thanks for sharing and nice work on this video, I enjoyed watching it!

  • kellymbray

    One note. Rancho Palos Verdes did not exist as a city until 1973. That being said the wreck is off Palos Verdes Estates which is another city.

    As a teen in the 70’s we would climb on the wreck at low tide. Almost a quarter of the ship was still intact at the time.

    • Thanks for the comment and the information about the city!

      • stephen citron

        I too used to go skin diving near the wreck. In fact got a nice white sea bass there and on the way back to my shore, had to argue with a sea lion for the fish!

        • haha, thanks for the comment! That sounds like a fun adventure

  • Harold Weimer

    The only time I ever ditched school was to see the Dominator after it ran aground.

    • That’s awesome, I bet it was a pretty crazy experience!

  • Bruce Hammond
    • Thanks for sharing these photos, they are so awesome! It is fun to see the wreck so much bigger than it is now!

  • brucetonbryfield

    Damn I wish I had seen this before. I ended up approaching from the downpipe on the other side of the wreck. I think it must have been about a 4 mile trip overall over really uneven rocks. I had good hiking shoes on and I’m pretty experienced, but I slipped a few times. I was alone as well, which in retrospect wasn’t the best idea. I would like to go again when the tide is further out so I can see more of the wreck. The scenery was stunning though. I’ll approach from the area suggested here though instead!

    • Ya, I know that way is popular as well, but I have not done that direction myself so I am not sure which is easier.