The Malibu Guide
At its heart, the city of Malibu is a small town—with its remarkable concentration of some of the prettiest hiking trails in the country, 20-plus distinct beaches, and a close-knit community of local-owned businesses, it’s also so much more than just “27 miles of scenic beauty.” There’s a lot of history here (the land was originally inhabited by the Chumash Native Americans and the ocean breaks were among the first to welcome surfers back in the ’20s), the best of which, many would argue, is still in the making thanks to a recent influx of fledgling shops, boutique hotels, and restaurants. An easy 25-minute drive from LA, Malibu is bisected by the Pacific Coast Highway (aka California State Route 1, if you want to get technical), which runs along the California coast from Orange County, through Big Sur, and all the way up to Mendocino, leaving the beach on one side and the stunning Santa Monica mountains on the other—in other words, road-trip gold.
There’s a seasonal waterfall on this 2.5 to 4.6 mile trail (we like to do the Skullrock extension to get in a bigger workout)—and there’s also stunning water views. It’s a dog-free trail, great for kids, and parking is simple (there’s a lot at the bottom that costs $10). Photos: Hikespeak
El Matador State Beach32215 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu
The giant rocks coming up from the sand (not to mention the exquisite sunset views) at El Matador make it a favorite for photographers, and many people stage engagement or family photoshoots here. That said, it's usually not too crowded, in part because those same rocks make it difficult to swim and surf—it's really best for picnicking, reading, and enjoying the view. Be sure to pack a blanket and wear tennis shoes, as the parking lot is on a bluff far above the beach, and the walk down can get a bit hairy.
Sandstone Peak12896 Yerba Buena Rd., Malibu
Anyone who's done a lot of hiking in the LA area will tell you that Sandstone Peak is one of, if not the, most beautiful hikes within driving distance of the city. It's a bit of a schlep to get there, as it's on the very edge of Malibu—the turnoff is the just after Neptune's Net, and you'll drive 15 minutes up Yerba Buena Road until you get to the trailhead—but more than worth it. The hike itself is about six miles round-trip, and the entire way is filled with sweeping views of Westlake Lake and Sherwood Lake on one side and the ocean on the other, plus a section where you can see rock climbers scrambling up the Echo Cliffs. This is a really good place to come the day after a rainstorm, when the smog clears and you can see the snow on the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains across the valley.
Zuma CanyonBonsall Dr., Malibu
At Zuma, you have several (equally great) trail options, depending on what you’re looking to get out of your hike. If you want a good, efficient workout, you can take the Ocean View Trail, which is an aptly-named three-mile loop boasting ocean views at the top. If you’ve got plenty of time and want to enjoy the scenery, consider the Zuma Ridge Trail, which is considerably longer workout at about six miles and also has an ocean view payoff. There's a section of the Backbone Trail that's considerably easier and shorter than the other two, but if you’re lucky—try going after winter rains—you’ll see water flowing through Upper Zuma Falls. All trails are dog-friendly, and there's plenty of parking.
Solstice Canyon Hike3998 Solstice Canyon Rd., Malibu | 805.370.2300
The Solstice Canyon is one of the most popular hikes in Los Angeles. There's a route for every level of intensity, from mellow walking to more difficult treks. As you work your way up, you’ll bump into the Keller House, the remnants of a 100+plus-year-old stone cabin which was damaged in the 2007 fires. The true pièce de résistance, however, is the Solstice waterfall, where you’ll also find the Paul Revere Williams-designed Roberts Ranch house. The trails are well-suited for picnicking, mountain biking, and observing local wildlife, an especially thrilling experience for pint-sized hikers. Dogs are allowed, as long as they’re on leash.
Los Leones TrailLos Leones Dr., Pacific Palisades | 213.738.2961
Starting at the end of Los Leones Drive in the Palisades, the best version of this hike ends at the Parker Mesa Overlook in Malibu, which is the perfect perch to have a snack or a meal after a roughly three-mile ascent. (About a mile in, make sure you take a hard left at the Paseo Miramar Trail junction.) There’s not a lot of shade—and because of the unsurprisingly gorgeous view of the Santa Monica Bay and surrounding area at the top, it’s fairly well-traveled—so it’s best to go in the early morning. You’ll see “Los Leones” and “Los Liones” used interchangeably; don’t worry, they’re the same thing. There are a couple small parking lots at the bottom, and ample (free) street parking. Note: No dogs allowed.
Zuma Beach30000 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu
One of our go-to beaches, Zuma is also one of the most impressive in scope, stretching close to three miles along the coast. It’s usually pleasantly un-crowded, too, leaving plenty of room to spread out. It’s also home to a great break for beginner surfers as well as a meeting spot for paddle boarding classes. For kids, there’s a junior lifeguard program during the summer.
Surfrider Beach23050 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu
Odds are if you’ve seen a Malibu postcard or any surfing movie, you’ve seen Surfrider Beach. Home to the iconic first point surf break, this is one of the more crowded beaches along PCH, though it’s well situated if you’re looking to take in a bit of sun and some surfer-watching after lunch on the pier. Don’t waste time searching for roadside parking; it's easier to splurge for the lot or valet on the pier instead—unless it’s peak season, in which case, it’s every man for himself.
Point Dume29245 Cliffside Dr., Malibu
Rockier than other local beaches and fortified by picturesque cliffs, Point Dume is ideal for exploring, not just laying out. There’s a hiking trail for taking in the scenery, plus it goes up the bluffs to an overlook spot at the very top of Point Dume for panoramic views of the Santa Monica Bay and a good chunk of the Malibu coast. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the migrating grey whales in winter. There's also plenty of swimming, scuba diving, and surfing here if watersports are your thing.
Escondido Beach27420 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu
This semi-hidden beach sprawls over the stretch of coastline where PCH meets Escondido Road. Not quite as crowded as the more spacious beaches in the area, Escondido is the perfect size and vibe for mellow sunbathing or strolling with the family. Parking can get tricky, so its best to park along PCH, and access the beach through a public stairway west of Geoffrey’s. Keep in mind, no dogs allowed.
Tuna Canyon2806 Tuna Canyon Rd., Malibu
Situated in the mountains between Malibu and Topanga, Tuna Canyon Park is less well-known than other parks in the area—which just makes it less crowded and more appealing. There are several trails, but the best destination is the Big Rock Lateral fire road, where you’ll reach stunning views of the surrounding mountains (and the Pacific, of course). The three-mile hike is mostly downhill on the way there—you’ll get a workout on the way back to your car, along with views of Saddle Peak. Getting to Tuna Canyon can be a little tricky; if you’re coming from PCH you’ll be spending a bit of time in the car winding through Topanga roads. Dogs are welcome and parking is free.