How to visit Malibu California

21 miles of the Southern California coast make up the coastal city of Malibu, a place of juxtaposition. On the one hand, you have beautiful rocky peaks, rugged beaches, and a laid-back surfing culture – watching the little characters bobbing in the Pacific Ocean, waiting for that just right wave off Surfrider Beach, never fails to soothe me. Dreamy stupor. On the other hand, this is also where you’ll find a string of oceanfront homes known as “Billionaire’s Beach,” as well as pricey hillside properties where some of Los Angeles’ richest names seek luxurious seclusion.

As a local, I can attest that it’s relatively easy – and frankly preferable – to enjoy Malibu without spending a lot of money. I often take my kids walking along the historic pier, throwing rocks and shells into the ocean, or eating a meal while watching the sunset. If you’re new to Malibu, here are some ways to experience the area through its scenery, seafood, and style.

Related: 17 Best Beaches in Southern California

The best things to do in Malibu

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Take a stroll down Malibu Pier.

Originally built in 1905 and decorated with a cool neon sign at its entrance, this landmark is a great place to walk along it and on the beach below. Malibu Farm operates both sidewalk dining options — the one at the far end is a walk-in and order-in place, but you can still sit right on the sidewalk with a crab cake sandwich or a Bloody Mary. Back near the pier entrance, there’s a staircase down to the sand – walk north briefly and you’ll find yourself at Surfrider Beach, and just beyond is Malibu Lagoon, a great place for bird watching and kids playing in the shallow water.

Explore Malibu Creek State Park

Not every Malibu is directly on the water. Malibu Creek State Park protects more than 8,000 acres of coastal peaks and trails extending slightly inland, and with well-marked dirt stands and trails, it’s a good place to get your hiking boots on. Recommended hikes here include Malibu Lake Trail, Rock Pool, Century Lakes Trail, and Saddle Peak.

People watching at Malibu Country Mart.

With premium retailers like Ron Herman, Oliver Peoples and Paige, there’s nothing rustic about this rural market anymore. But it’s especially crowded and lively on weekends, making it a great place to people watch, have lunch or have a latte al fresco.

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Hike Escondido Falls.

California isn’t known for its waterfalls, so after a long, rainy winter or a rainy week, Escondido Falls becomes a gathering point for nature-loving locals. Arrive at the Pacific Coast Highway parking lot early to secure a spot, and give yourself about two hours to complete the round-trip hike.

Hike the Solstice Valley Loop.

This 3-mile loop trail is a popular option in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, of which Malibu is a part. The preserve is home to 500 miles of trails, as well as biodiversity that includes mountain lions, lynx, coyotes, and more. It gives you the opportunity to explore the rugged landscape – and that’s part of the Malibu experience, too.

The best Malibu restaurants

The Real Inn

As with local NBA teams or Los Angeles universities, most Angelenos pledge their allegiance to one seafood shack on Malibu’s Pacific Coast Highway, and for me, that’s the Reel Inn Malibu. The interior decor here consists of aquariums, old Christmas lights, faux sea creatures, and a hanging lifeguard or two – it’s cute and adorable, and I love it so much. You order from the register, choosing a fresh fish of your choice and how it was prepared (grilled, fried, or blackened), plus two sides. Then grab a picnic table outside and enjoy the convivial atmosphere.

Chola Thai Beach Kitchen

Adjacent to the Reel Inn, the kitchen in this blue house cooks up Thai food that I’d find hard to resist if I were nearby. The tom kha soup arrives simmering in a traditional hot pot, and I always order the “golden bags” of choladas – fried dumplings shaped like little coin purses made by friar tok. Complete your meal with a curry, rice and pasta dish, and you can always take the leftovers home.

Broad Street Oyster

This relative newcomer serves delicious lobster rolls, oysters, and more at Malibu Country Mart. It’s just a casual over-the-counter thing, but it might be nice if you’re stuck with salt and sand after a morning at the beach. Pre-order online if you don’t want to wait, or if you want to take your goodies somewhere else for a picnic. Note that there is a location in downtown Los Angeles as well, and one on State Street in Santa Barbara.

The old place

The old place isn’t located in Malibu, but its history is closely tied to the place, and since it’s located right off Canaan Road (which connects Highway 101 to the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu), many travelers heading in this direction can easily add it to their itinerary . A saloon atmosphere fills the air, large groups of motorcyclists – noisy seagulls on the road – cruise by on weekends, and if you’re feeling at all nostalgic, it’s fun to grab a ham sandwich and some huge cinnamon rolls filled with nuts. A corner trapped in time in Southern California.

The best hotels and resorts in Malibu

Courtesy of Surfrider Hotel


This hotel has become a magnet for locals looking for an easy getaway, and it’s no surprise – the historic hotel, originally built in 1953, was renovated in 2017, and its fresh, modern aesthetic makes you feel young again. The beach house-like accommodation offers 20 rooms, plus views of the hotel’s famous namesake surf center, a very good rooftop deck, and a bar we never want to leave. If you are looking for barefoot luxury, this is the place.

Malibu Beach Inn

With 47 rooms on the ocean side of the Pacific Coast Highway and stairs for easy access to a quiet beach, Malibu Beach Inn really knows how to highlight (and capitalize on) its location. Guests can see the water from most corners of their accommodations, the pier is just a short walk away, and on-site dining is available at the Carbon Beach Club restaurant – they’ll even provide cozy blankets on the oceanfront deck if the weather gets cold.

John Malibu Hotel

Local lore has it that Bob Dylan wrote down the lyrics to “Blood on the Water” while staying in one of these cottages, which is what inspires the property with its scenic isolation. June is located at Point Dume in Malibu, a destination in itself with a gorgeous beach and the gorgeous Point Dume Cove Trail. The hotel closed after the Woolsey Fire in 2018, then reopened last year as Hotel June Malibu. New amenities include an elegant, canopy-covered pool deck and cuisine brought in daily from beloved Venice restaurant Gjusta. If you’re exploring off-property, don’t miss nearby Zuma Beach and El Matador State Beach.

Nobu Ryokan

Nobu Ryokan Malibu opened in mid-2017, and to this day offers unparalleled luxury in the area. The hotel’s 16 rooms, some with ocean views, some with sea or garden views, beautifully evoke Japanese simplicity, while simultaneously feeling luxurious thanks to teak bathtubs and indoor and outdoor fireplaces in select accommodations. Just steps away from your Italian linen-covered bed is Nobu Malibu, where you’ll dine on Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s famous sushi, while the ocean waves dance beneath you.

Related: 3 hotels in Malibu that provide the perfect California getaway

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Best time to visit Malibu

Californians joke about the “sunshine tax” – the high cost of living we willingly bear in exchange for our enviable year-round climate. There’s precision to the chase – visit Malibu any time of year and you’ll be glad you did. (I brought three generations to the pier and Survivor Beach on Christmas Eve last year, and we have the sun-filled family photos to prove it.) Keep in mind, however, that the ocean waters here aren’t particularly warm, even in the height of summer — however, Malibu is It doesn’t really have an off season.

How to get here

Again, Malibu’s relative isolation is part of what makes it beautiful – and it’s isolated enough that having a car is highly recommended, both for getting here and exploring the area after you arrive. Malibu is about 30 miles from Los Angeles International Airport, but given the condition of LA roads and PCH curves, it can easily take a 90-minute drive – only use a rideshare service if you’re desperate. If you’re coming from Highway 101, you might take scenic routes like Dyker Canyon or Canaan Dome through the Santa Monica Mountains to Malibu — short but stunning routes that connect you dramatically to the sea.

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