Malibu, California, famous for it’s surfing beaches and for being a retreat for Hollywood’s elite, sits just 10 miles north of the city of Santa Monica, on the edge of LA County. While it’s not uncommon to hear Malibu referenced as a playground for the rich and famous, it really has a lot more to offer than mansions and exclusive beach clubs.
I was lucky enough to live in Malibu for 5 years, and despite not visiting a single beach club, I had an amazing time there.
Malibu’s population of 13,000 is spread out along 27 miles of coastline, which means it’s a great place to go if you want to escape crowds.
While it’s known primarily for it’s beaches, Malibu’s canyons and hills are just as scenic and shouldn’t be overlooked. This beach bum spent a surprising majority of her time exploring hiking trails in the Santa Monica mountains, which run parallel to Malibu’s coastline.
If you find yourself in the LA area, I highly recommend spending a day or two in Malibu. It has a laid-back charm and incredible scenery which will offer a totally different perspective to your trip than if you stay within the city of Los Angeles.
Tips for Visiting Malibu
While Malibu is a peaceful retreat from the chaos of Los Angeles, it’s also a popular weekend destination for locals, especially in the summer. This means your weekend visit to Malibu is liable to feel more like a visit to a parking lot than a serene natural escape.
While the views along the Pacific Coast Highway are pretty spectacular, sitting in traffic isn’t ANYONES idea of a fun vacation. Try to plan your Malibu visit for a weekday if possible. If you’re fated to visit on a weekend, go early to avoid traffic.
What to bring
Exactly what you bring will, of course, depend on what you have planned for your day in Malibu, but here are my best recommendations.
- Running shoes – Malibu’s hiking trails are really scenic and shouldn’t be missed. The majority of the trails consist of paths of packed dirt and sand, and while you could do them in flip flops, snakes and ticks are a concern. Comfortable, breathable running shoes are your best bet.
- Sunscreen – There’s a reason surfers always wear a thick layer of white sunscreen on their nose — the water amplifies the glare, and thus your chances of burning. Take precautions so your vacation isn’t tainted with memories of a painful burn. I like this sunscreen brand because you can buy tinted lotion to match your skin tone!
- Water bottle – Be sure to stay hydrated to avoid heat stroke. This is especially important if you’re hitting the hiking trails.
- Polarized sunglasses – The glare from the ocean can make driving on the Pacific Coast Highway really straining for your eyes. Polarized sunnies will cut the glare exponentially and help you stay alert and focused on the road.
Things to do in Malibu
Get Cultured at the Getty Villa
Located just on Malibu’s eastern border, the Getty Villa is a compliment to the incredible J. Paul Getty Museum in Brentwood. The villa features over 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities from as early as 6,500 BC. While these cultural relics draw history enthusiasts from all over the world, the architecture of the villa is an attraction in it’s own right.
The architecture of the villa was inspired by ancient sites and the building is flanked by Roman-style gardens, featuring Mediterranean plants, including numerous varieties of olives.
During your visit you will browse the collection, enjoy the gardens, while simultaneously soaking up the incredible views of the pacific ocean!
If you’re an art and history fanatic, allow yourself at least 4 hours to browse the exhibits. If your interest is more casual, 2 or 3 hours should be sufficient.
To visit the museum, you need to first make a reservation stating the number of individuals in your party. Admission is free, but you must pay for parking, which is $15 per car. If you’re planning to visit the Getty Center in the same day, you can use the same parking pass at both locations.
If you don’t require parking, admission is completely free but you must still make a reservation online before arriving. Often same-day reservations are fine, but during busy times, such as holidays and weekends, you’re better off planning ahead.
You can reserve your ticket on their website.
Eat Lunch on the Pier
The Malibu pier is an iconic destination which offers wonderful views of the Malibu coastline. The pier has been featured in many films, television shows, and music videos. So while there’s really not much to explore, other than a couple of souvenir shops, it’s a great spot to snap photos!
It’s also a great spot to grab a bite to eat while enjoying a fabulous view. The Malibu pier offers two dining options: Malibu Farm Cafe and Malibu Farm Restaurant & Bar.
The cafe sits at the end of the pier and offers counter service. You can order your meal and then enjoy it on the nearby benches. This option is perfect for casual diners who want to eat on the go.
Or, if you prefer a restaurant experience, the restaurant and bar at the entrance to the pier offers full service, tables and all! While the view isn’t quite as expansive, the atmosphere is pleasant AND they serve cocktails… soooo….
Both restaurants serve locally sourced, organic food, and everything on the menu is delicious! I always go for the fish tacos, but I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong with any of the items.
Learn About Malibu’s History at the Adamson House Museum
This beautiful historic home was built in a Mediterranean style and features impressive tile work, including numerous gorgeous mosaics. On top of that, it sits on one of the most beautiful estates in Malibu, overlooking the famous Surfrider Beach.
The house was built as a vacation home for the Adamson-Rindge family, who used to own “Rindge Ranch,” now the city of Malibu. In the 1920s the family created a tilework business near the Malibu pier, and hired local artisans to create decorative tiles, which are featured throughout the property. The property is now part of the California State Parks system and is designated a National Historic Site.
A trip to the museum will take about 2 hours, or more if you choose to linger in the garden and take photos. You are required to visit the home via a docent-led tour, which gives a thorough explanation of the history of the Adamson-Rindge family, as well as the architecture and tile work within the home.
Admission to the museum costs $7, and the property is open Wednesday – Saturday from 11am to 3pm.
Enjoy Nature While Hiking the Hills
While Malibu’s beaches are often the first thing that comes to mind for visitors, locals know that the hills offer a different perspective on the area. Malibu is a peaceful, natural sanctuary where you can escape from the chaos of Los Angeles.
You can catch incredible views of the coastline while exploring the natural area. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot deer, coyotes, and rabbits. And, if you’re unlucky… rattle snakes.
There are a few trails that are exceptionally popular, namely Paradise Falls, Charmlee Wilderness Park, and Topanga Canyon State Park. If you’re planning to hike on the weekend, arrive early (like, 8 am early), otherwise it will be impossible to park.
One of my favorite hiking trails in Malibu is The Decker Canyon trail, and I’ve never experienced crowds there. Try it out!
Visit Iconic Surfrider Beach
Surfrider Beach is one of the most famous locations in all of Malibu. Even if you’ve never been there, you’re liable to recognize it from the countless shows and films that feature it as a backdrop!
Long adored by surfers for its long, tubular waves, it has been a happening beach for decades. Though the shape of the beach has changed over time, due to development along the coastline, it still remains a premier surfing destination, especially for the local crowd.
It’s not uncommon to spot celebs like Halle Berry, Adam Sandler, or surfing legend Kelly Slater on the sand or out in the lineup.
Even if you’re not a fan of surfing, this is a great spot for a beach day. The surf is usually pretty low, and the beach has a gentle slope, both of which make it great for swimming! Yes, the water is pretty cold, but it can be refreshing on a hot California day!
The beach crowd is usually composed of surfers, families, students from the nearby Pepperdine University, and tourists. This makes for an interesting crowd, and a good opportunity to do some people watching!
If you get bored of lounging in the sand, take a walk down the beach and admire the beautiful homes of the Malibu Colony — one of the most prestigious gated communities on the coast. You’ll be walking by the homes of many of Hollywood’s elite.
There is paid parking lot overlooking the beach, next to the entrance to the Adamson house, and I highly recommend this access point. You can snag parking spots along the highway, but having witnessed countless accidents in these locations, I wouldn’t recommend it during busy times. Better to pay a couple of dollars and keep your vehicle (and yourself) intact.
Explore Leo Carrillo State Park
Leo Carrillo is by far one of the most beautiful beaches in Malibu, and one of the best for families. You can spend the day tide-pooling, lounging in the sand, or enjoying the scenic rock formations.
You might even recognize the rock formations from celebrity photo shoots, or the infamous beach scene in the movie Grease!
Across the highway, there is a network of over 70 miles of hiking trails, still within the park. Needless to say, you won’t run out of areas to explore!
Because it’s a state park, the area is equipped with bathrooms, and it has a parking lot off the highway. There’s even a campsite if you want to stay overnight!
You do have to pay an access fee to the park, but it’s well worth it in my opinion. The fee is $3 per hour, per car, up to a maximum of $12.
It’s also important to note that dogs are allowed only on one portion of the beach, and are not permitted on the hiking trails.
Unwind at Malibu Wines
Malibu Wines is located in Malibu’s hills, off of the Mulholland Highway. While you won’t have an ocean view from this location, you will have a beautiful vineyard setting. You’ll likely find that you don’t miss the ocean at all! However, due to the lack of ocean breeze, it can be very hot here, so dress accordingly.
On weekends the winery features live music to enjoy as sip your wine, but the location can also be much more crowded during these times.
If you’re cool with picnicking in the grass, bring a blanket and plan to lounge. However, if you prefer a more civilized set-up, you may want to consider reserving a table ahead of time. Keep in mind though, they come at a price. A table for 4 runs $85 for 3 hours.
Alternatively, arrive early and snag a table for free before the tasting room fills up!
Malibu Wines doesn’t offer food service, and though they often have food trucks, it’s best to pack a picnic just in case.
To get to Malibu Wines, you will have to park in their designated lot, at 32111 Mulholland Hwy, and take their free shuttle (which runs every 5 minutes) up the road to the tasting room.
Because of the remote-by-LA-standards location, arranging an Uber/Lyft dropoff/pickup can be pricey. You can expect to pay between $40 and $60 each way for an Uber from West LA to Malibu Wines. It’s best to come with a group to share expenses, or come with a designated driver.
What do you think? Will your travels be taking you to Malibu in the future? Have you been in the past? What was your favorite thing about the area?
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