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.
Rancho Sea Air27335 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu | 310.457.4037
This ranch, built in 1941 by famous horseman Egon Merz, was where Elizabeth Taylor trained for her role in National Velvet. Classes specializing in hunting, jumping, and dressage are available alongside general riding lessons. Rental stables may be available for longer stays if you have your own pony.
The Reel Inn18661 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu | 310.456.8221
Another PCH standby, the beauty of The Reel Inn lies not only in its massive seafood offering—everything from fresh lobster, mahi mahi, ahi tuna, and shrimp tacos, grilled or fried at your request and arranged into refreshingly generous portions—but also in its brilliant layout: The restaurant is split into two sprawling seating areas, one indoor, one outdoor, with rows upon rows of booths and picnic tables, meaning that finding a spot for the whole crew is doable even during peak season. There’s no waiter service, just a walk-up window with an easy-to-navigate chalkboard menu.
Paradise Cove28128 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu | 310.457.2503
Tucked into a particularly idyllic nook off the PCH, Paradise Cove lives up to its name. While it bills itself as a café—and it’s definitely worth making the drive for a lunch of live Maine lobster or their famous fish tacos—it’s really more of a beach club. Everything from beach beds to umbrellas to full-on beach terraces is available for rent, meaning you can post up for the day. Expect a fun, lively vibe—perfect for kids. (Note that the beach can get packed during the summer months.)
Malibu Cafe327 Latigo Canyon Rd., Malibu | 818.540.2400
Wedged between the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu wine country, Malibu Cafe and its sprawling grounds (one hundred and thirty acres, to be exact) and outdoor games (corn hole, pool, and shuffleboard) make it a great place to bring littles. Much of the action centers around the courtyard, which is set up with a bar, lawn games, and picnic tables. Cafe reservations are recommended, especially on weekends, when without one, the wait can be several hours for a table. A BBQ-heavy menu includes pulled pork, brisket, and Southern fried chicken, but there are a handful of veggie options, like, say, a Brussels sprout salad with Cara Cara oranges and avocado, for those looking for something lighter. There’s a small kids menu with grilled cheese, a burger, and pasta. On the way out, stroll through the little boutique, Shop Calagmigos, which is stocked with beach-y separates like YSTR dresses, tassel bracelets, and Apolis reusable totes.
Toy Crazy23410 Civic Center Way, Malibu | 310.456.5696
This easy toy shop (which has a second location at the Brentwood Country Mart) is on speed dial for kids birthday parties, since they do great gift wrapping and local deliveries. The shelves are lined with everything a kid could ever want, and we appreciate the emphasis on IRL, low-tech toys like the Etch A Sketch, blocks, trains, puzzles, kites, and stuffed animals.
Burro23410 Civic Center Way, Malibu | 310.456.3700
Like the original Venice outpost, this gift shop is a color-happy, exceptionally well-merchandised wonderland—but significantly more spacious, and therefore, a bit easier to navigate. The floor-to-ceiling shelves of notecards, journals, stickers, and pens can make any stationery freak feel like a kid again. In addition, there are tables full of charming beach-themed home décor, jewelry, coffee-table books, giftables covering every price point, and a sweet children’s section in the back, with toys, books, and pint-sized beach accessories (think teeny swim trunks and heart-shaped sunnies).
Duke’s Barefoot Bar21150 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu | 310.317.0777
As a restaurant, this waterfront staple is more about location than cuisine (Taco Tuesday is the day to visit if you’re looking to hunker down for a meal, though); it’s the tiki-themed Barefoot Bar that’s the biggest hit. The drinks are fun—Mai Tai, mojitos, margaritas—especially during pau hana (that’s happy hour in Hawaiian) as is the food: sliders, wings, and naturally, fish in every shape and form. On Friday nights, much to the delight of its littlest patrons, they have hula dancers and music.
One Gun Ranch22634 Mansie Ln., Malibu | 310.456.3810
Tucked away in the hills of Malibu, One Gun, a dreamy ranch owned by Alice Bamford and Ann Eysenring is breathtakingly beautiful, sure, but it also serves as a kind of ground zero for sustainable agriculture. Every nook and cranny reveals another Instagram-ready moment: There’s a mountainside guesthouse with its own potbellied stove, a suped-up vintage Airstream, a dressage arena, as well as alpacas, sheep, goats, chickens, and a loving donkey named Waffles who strolls the grounds, willingly accompanying Alice and Ann on foraging hikes. While the property is no longer open to visitors, the pair hosts a series of school tours for children to learn about composting and gardening at home while exploring One Gun’s own garden where they grow corn, beans, squash, and even pumpkins. For a closer look, it’s worth picking up a copy of One Gun Ranch, Malibu: Biodynamic Recipes for Vibrant Living for tips on healthy living, easy-to-follow recipes, and a closer look at environmental stewardship on the ranch.
Malibu Wine Safari32111 Mulholland Hwy, Malibu | 818.497.2206
Just off a winding stretch of Mulholland perched high in the hills sits the thousand-acre Saddlerock Ranch—picturesque, with rolling hills, its bucolic grounds also happen to serve as a home to several zebras, water buffalo, yaks, llamas, alpaca, and an attention-loving giraffe named Stanley. During the week, 60-minute-long tours are available for families with littles (48 inches and above) in an open-air black-and-white striped Jeep. Kids have the chance to interact with and feed the animals. On the weekends, adults can book a boozy version which includes a tour through the vineyards, quick history lesson, and a series of tastings. Note: Book early, as the weekend tastings are popular with large groups.
Drill Surf & Skate30745 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu | 310.457.7715
While surf lessons for kids are a dime a dozen around these parts, skateboarding lessons are more complicated to arrange. As its name suggests, Drill Surf & Skate does both, and does them really, really well, so you should feel good knowing the kiddos are in good hands. Also on offer, rentals for every type of board-centric sport (surf, body, SUP), plus all the supporting accessories. And for board-owning pros, they’ll arrange to send your board out for minor repairs and have it looking like new in less than a week.
Malibu Mutts3835 Cross Creek Rd., Malibu | 310.456.1211
One look at the menu—chicken tenders, chili cheese fries, hot dogs, burgers—and it’s clear Mutt’s really knows its customer: The little take-out stand is located just steps from the Malibu Country Mart’s adorable playground. It’s kid food at its best, and for mom and dad there are veggie burgers and a solid falafel wrap (also comes in salad form). There’s no designated seating area, so grab your order and find a shady bench or picnic table; there are plenty throughout the mart.