where life’s a beach
by Sara Robertson
There is a natural splendor to Malibu’s coastline that has captivated photographers since the rise of the surfing culture in the ‘60s. It exists in the curve of each wave, in the city’s quintessential SoCal architecture and in the laidback lifestyle that comes with a stay on California’s iconic Golden Coast.
The first time I visited Malibu I had just graduated college and was working in Manhattan. In retrospect I have to confess that I didn’t “get” Malibu. I couldn’t imagine why people would pay millions of dollars to live in rickety houses overhanging the ocean with the Pacific Coast Highway zooming through their living rooms. And those surfer dudes who parked on Pacific Coast Highway seemed slightly mad to me.
But when I returned several years later, it was only a matter of hours before I had peeled off my black layers of urban gear and suited up in jeans and a T-shirt. Captivated by the unconventional sight of surfers stoked to catch a wave, dolphins dancing off Point Dume, stunning rock formations and mysterious sea caves on the shoreline and abundantly rich vegetation marking the trails along the cliffs, I was transported.
For first-timers, Malibu is difficult to find. To this day the town has no Main Street or town center. If you don’t know what to look for or where to go you could cruise up Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica and never notice any landmarks or the billionaire mansions designed by Richard Meier and Marmol Radziner on Carbon Beach. You could get all the way to Zuma Beach on the northern end of Malibu, with its postcard-perfect lifeguard stations silhouetted against the sunset, and be wondering, “Are we there yet?”
As many have pointed out, Malibu is as much a state of mind as it is that 27-mile slice of California coastline. What makes Malibu unique is the authenticity of the “country life” mixed with “beach life.” Forty years ago Malibu was a place where families lived earthy and artistic lives up in the canyons. Artists still live up in those hills, but so do Courteney Cox, Pierce Brosnan and Kelsey Grammer.
This nonconformist style tends to minimize the distinctions between high and low. You can come to Malibu just to catch a wave. Or you can come to Malibu and drop $50 mil on two oceanfront lots. There’s an appealing absence of attitude and status anxiety. Despite the dense population of celebrities, the mentality is small town—well, up to a point. However understated they may be, most small towns don’t offer the spectacle of farmers selling balsamic lemonade beside the highway and such famous faces as Cindy Crawford, Leonardo DiCaprio and Halle Berry grabbing a few last-minute items at Whole Foods.
Sprawling beaches and a renowned celebrity scene are not the only draws to LA’s most iconic beach town. Look beyond the glamour of Billionaire’s Beach (a.k.a.The Colony) and what you’ll find is a laid-back surf village with a labyrinth of hiking trails and countless other can’t-miss attractions including charming hotels and a restaurant scene you’ll be eager to sink your fork into. So, pack your bags for a relaxing R & R – Malibu is calling.
As the sun is crawling below the horizon, I suggest that you capture it from the beach at El Matador. The rock formations add an unmistakable mystery to the landscape and the changing colors in the sky are dazzling. The beach is only accessible via a 150-foot staircase, so bring appropriate footwear.
There’s a reason this dramatic, cliffside beach looks familiar: it’s been featured in more than two dozen television programs and films, from Beach Blanket Bingo in the ‘60s to, more recently, The O.C., The Big Lebowski and Entourage. Beyond enjoying glorious vistas, you can hike, swim or search for starfish in the warm tidal pools scattered about the rocks.
Three miles of wide, white sand make Zuma Beach the place locals go for sun and fun. Both experts and beginners visit the area for surfing, fishing, running, swimming, and kitesurfing. There are plenty of concessions, free parking, beach volleyball and enough wave action for surfers. Swimmers take note: rip currents can be strong.
Malibu Lagoon State Beach
A top spot for birdwatching, this wide beach with its pretty lagoon is located where the Malibu Creek meets the ocean. Take a guided nature walk, stroll along the boardwalk or learn about Malibu’s history at the on-site Adamson House Museum, which is located in a 1929 Spanish Revival manse.
Leo Cabrillo State Park
Rugged and boulder strewn, this far-flung beach is filled with a zoo-worthy array of creatures including octopuses, seals, sea otters and hermit crabs. Bring water shoes to explore the rocks and a camera to catch waves crashing over the rocky outcroppings.
Malibu Beach Inn
Nobu Ryokan Malibu
The Ranch Malibu
Malibu Farm Pier Café
After a morning stroll on on the sandy beach, you’ve no doubt worked up a bit of an appetite. Savor artisanal brunch menu items like the Salsa Verde Egg Sandwich or the breakfast pizza. Complete with a view, the restaurant boasts a very chic, yet rustic and “beachy” atmosphere.
The burgers and breakfast burritos are hands-down the best on the West Coast.
Randy Gerber’s dining spot at Malibu Lumber Yard is always crowded. George Clooney is a fan of the bougainvillea-covered patio, so be on the lookout. Diners favor fish tacos and tequila on-the-rocks.
A favorite of the locals, many order chef Paul Shoemaker’s duck-liver pâté to-go and serve it at their canyon cocktail parties.
Top: NOBU Malibu offers excellent food in a beautiful setting. Bottom, left: Filet Mignon artfully embellished with an enoki mushroom. Bottom, right: Toro Tartare is topped with caviar.
Those of you who have heard of, or have been to a Nobu or Matsuhisa restaurant know why a reservation is in such high demand. Odds are you’ll find yourself dining among celebrities at this beachside culinary sanctuary, as Chef Gregorio Stephenson serves up sushi, sashimi, soups, salads and entrées that are unique, creative and downright delicious.
Guests come for the celeb sightings and grilled vegetables but stay for the live music and belly dancers.
Located on the north end of Malibu, this casual seafood market and café is where clam chowder and fish & chips are everyday staples. Operating for over 40 years, on display is a wide variety of fresh fish and shellfish. Most can be fried or grilled for on-site dining at umbrella-shrouded picnic tables.
Tra di Noi
Open for lunch and dinner, try the tonnarelli or pasta primavera. When in season, be sure to order the elaborate white truffle menu. Patio seating is available and in-demand.
Sometimes all you need is a drive on winding roads to give you the thrill you’ve been seeking. The views are spectacular, so hop in your rental – a convertible, with the top down of course – and go for an exhilarating ride. I recommend beginning on the Pacific Coast Highway and turning on to Mulholland Highway and then to Decker Road.
The Getty Villa
Take a step back in time and visit the Getty Villa. The design, inspired by the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, houses an amazing collection of art and ancient antiquities from the Greek, Roman and Etruscan civilizations. Bronze and marble statues, coins and jewelry are on display. There’s even a library containing books on the art of the time periods. Do stroll the perfectly manicured grounds, but be advised – the larger than life swimming pool is off-limits.
If you’d like to take in incredible views of Malibu but aren’t looking to increase your heart rate, then Solstice might be the canyon for you. It comes with stunning views of the ocean and old stone houses that were destroyed by a series of wildfires in the ‘80s. Parking is limited so arriving early is suggested.
Above: One of the numerous hiking trails runs by Lower Malibu Creek.
When the water is flowing, it becomes arguably one of the best waterfalls in the area. Leashed dogs are welcome, so bring your four-legged pal along for an adventure. In the springtime, picture the trail freckled with with wildflowers and creeks flowing alongside the trail surrounded by greenery.
Malibu’s Country Mart
Think “beach chic” and casual styles from shops including Chrome Hearts, Curve, Madison, John Varvatos, Morgane Le Fay, Oliver Peoples, Ron Herman, Ted Baker and Vince. Feeling hungry? Restaurants Taverna Tony, Tra di Noi and Mr. Chow are located in the plaza.
Malibu Lumber Yard
A retail destination that reflects the town’s layback lifestyle, features contemporary designs and a relaxed environment. Shops include All Saints, Alice and Olivia, Intermix, Cynthia Rowley, Maxfield and James Perse. Café Habana and BurgerFi are dining options. : :