The proximity to much of the affluent and active west side of the city as well as its relative isolation and quiet has made the neighborhood one of the most desirable and expensive in the area for those who value privacy without the greater isolation of other nearby residential communities such as Malibu or the Palisades Highlands. Houses in the neighborhood sell for as much as $1000 per square foot. Several celebrities and other persons of local prominence, such as Debra Winger, Brandon Tartikoff, Meryl Streep, John Travolta, Michael G. Fisher, Lee Marvin, and Jerry Buss are known to have once lived, owned or rented property in the neighborhood. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger once owned a home near the neighborhood on Evans Road, above Sunset. At the same time, despite its location, the neighborhood has long enjoyed a relative anonymity and lack of outside attention or large-scale development, a situation that its local residents have long and ardently sought to preserve.
The first inhabitants of the region were indigenous peoples referred to by Spanish settlers as "Fernanderos", because they lived within the jurisdiction of the San Fernando mission. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, the region between Topanga Canyon and what is today Santa Monica was secured as grazing land for the prominent Sepulveda, Marquez and Reyes families. During the second-half of the 19th-century, the canyon and it was known as a camping area and rustic retreat near the beach hotels and resorts of nearby Santa Monica. Abbot Kinney, the developer best known for designing the nearby community of Venice to the south, established an experimental forestry station and planted eucalyptus trees, for which the canyon is still known today. In the late 19th century, the mouth of the canyon was considered as a site for what would become the Port of Los Angeles, but San Pedro was selected instead as the home of the port.
During the early 20th century, the Uplifters, an offshoot of the prominent Los Angeles Athletic Club, established a social club and ranch in the canyon, and built many ranch and cabin style houses as second homes for weekend and annual retreats. The Uplifters later developed a relationship with Will Rogers, whose ranch and estate lay on the other side of Sunset, and built a polo field in the canyon. During the Prohibition era, the Uplifters were known as a high-class drinking club, of which many prominent local politicians and wealthy residents of the city were members. The relative isolation of the area provided an ideal retreat for the wealthy and powerful members of the club, who lived primarily in the upscale areas (of the time) near downtown and in Pasadena, to indulge their appetites without undue notice. To this day, a sign reading "Uplifters Ranch" hangs over Latimer Road near the site of the Uplifters former clubhouse. Following the Depression, the club began to sell off the homes and other holdings in the area, and finally disbanded in 1947. The clubhouse and ranch and their appointments, including a swimming pool, baseball diamond and tennis courts were donated to the city in the early 1950s and developed into the Rustic Canyon Recreation Center and park. Perhaps following on the Uplifters' example, the neighborhood has long been known as a home for many of a bohemian leaning desiring privacy along with relative convenience.
The canyon is the southernmost of the series of well-known beach-facing canyons which cut the Santa Monica Mountains as they run through Pacific Palisades and Malibu. A stream, one of the few in the area not cemented into a storm channel, runs through the canyon towards the bay. The area is heavily wooded and lush with vegetation, including oak, sycamore and eucalyptus trees and California's southernmost stand of sequoia redwoods. The canyon's geography makes it home to a significant microclimate. It is significantly cooler and more moist than almost any other part of Los Angeles. Periods of coastal fog are common year-round, and lows in January drop below 35°F. Summer highs rarely exceed 80°F. Due to its cool climate, vegetation, good drainage, and the fact that it is surrounded by urban development, the canyon is much less threatened by the wildfires and floods that commonly strike other Santa Monica mountains communities.
Owing to its status as a relative oasis of quiet and seclusion conveniently close to the bustling activity and commerce of Los Angeles' west side, its limited development amid the very active local real estate market, and the desire of many of its residents to maintain its character, Rustic Canyon has long been a site of conflict between real estate developers and local residents. Local legends from the 1930s tell of residents staging displays of chasing each other with kitchen knives down the street to scare away real-estate agents. In more recent times, such conflicts have resulted in long-standing legal battles. As compared with many other communities, the wealthy and prominent residents of the neighborhood have demonstrated both the budgets and access to the legal system necessary to block unwanted development. During the 1980s, Steve Tisch, a film producer and heir to the Loews hotel fortune, fought a five-year battle against local residents to extend his property onto a public road, eventually losing the case. Since 2001, a long-running and complicated legal battle between a developer and local residents near the entrance to the Canyon from Sunset at Brooktree and Greentree Roads has raised allegations of corruption within the city of Los Angeles' Building and Safety Department. As of 2006, the head of that department may be tried for contempt of court for failing to adhere to a judge's order, since confirmed by an appellate court, against approving development in contradiction of local building codes. In September 2007 a judge ruled that the house of Vickey and Mehr Beglari at 909 Greentree Rd. is 14 ft. closer to the street curb than permitted by city law. If the city enforces the ruling, the 8,550-sq.-ft. house will likely have to be destroyed.
This house was not knocked down and they were able to keep the house in its original spot.