WRITTEN BY Rachael Medina
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…See full bio
Saltwater fishermen cast their lines into the Pacific as surfers ride the shimmering swells toward the shore and sunbathers welcome the warm rays shining down on the smooth white sand: Welcome to Malibu, a gorgeous coastal town just 30 miles west of Downtown Los Angeles. Most renowned for its celebrity mansions, ocean vistas, farm-to-table eateries, and surfing hot spots, Malibu exemplifies the California lifestyle and makes for an idyllic vacation destination by the sea. Warm sands and cool waters allow for refreshing retreats away from the pavement and office buildings that define the L.A. landscape. Briefcases are replaced by surfboards, pantsuits are swapped for wetsuits, and loafers are slipped off in favor of bare feet in this ocean-lover’s oasis. So pack your swimsuits, hiking boots, and cocktail attire, and get ready for a new adventure along the Southern California coast.
From Santa Monica, drive north along the Pacific Coast Highway to truly appreciate the scenery ahead. Make a pit stop at Duke’s Malibu to soak in the views of the Pacific and savor the seafood that comes from it. Order the elegant oysters along with the octopus carpaccio, which offers a zesty kick of fennel, bitter arugula, briny olives, and sweet orange—all brought together with a bright lemon dressing.
Having quenched your thirst for oceanic vistas and fresh seafood, continue cruising along the coast until you reach the Malibu Pier. Stop by the Malibu Surf Shack to take a two-hour guided tour of the area from atop a stand-up paddleboard or kayak. You’ll paddle around the pier, visit the iconic Malibu Surfrider Beach to watch the skilled surfers navigate one of the best surfing regions in the state, and gaze at the historic Adamson House and gardens from afar. Alternatively, you can rent your own vessel and explore the town without a guide; if you feel inspired by the local surfers after your excursion, head back to switch out your paddleboard or kayak for a surfboard so you can try your luck.
Check in to The Surfrider Malibu, located beside Surfrider Beach, to fully immerse yourself in the local beach culture. While there are no bad rooms in the entire hotel, opt for the Pacific room to enjoy the best views of the Malibu Pier and the First Point wave from your private balcony and panoramic windows. Take advantage of the high-quality amenities to create a relaxing haven for yourself; luxuriate in the rain shower, soothe the skin with Grown Alchemist bath products, throw on the Parachute robe, lounge on the sumptuous linens, and make yourself at home in your beach house–inspired room.
When you’re ready to continue your explorations, walk across the street to the start of the pier for dinner at Malibu Farm Restaurant, a stylish yet relaxed eatery serving up innovative dishes crafted from local, organic ingredients. Get a proper introduction to farm-fresh California cuisine with an order of the raw brussels sprout salad topped with toasted almonds and mustard-lemon dressing. Continue your culinary journey with the avocado huarache—drizzled with Malibu honey–lemon vinaigrette and accompanied by flatbread and jalapeño ricotta—for a new take on an old classic. Then, enjoy tapas-style dining by sharing small plates of the Malibu falafel (served with tahini and cashew yogurt), the BLT kale caesar (topped with smoky bacon and salty Parmesan cheese), and the 21-Mile crab cakes (presented with caper aioli). Conclude your unique dining experience with some scoops of unusual ice cream; choices include lemon basil, marshmallow, saffron, and cherry coconut cashew—all of which will knock your socks off.
Start the day right with a relaxing treatment at the Spa Calamigos, situated inside the luxe Calamigos Guest Ranch and Beach Club. Choose between the healing aromatherapy massage, the Malibu Glow facial, and The Calamigos package—complete with an 80-minute Calamigos signature massage and a 50-minute custom organic facial. Taking the time to rejuvenate your body and mind will leave you ready to take on new adventures and will provide you with lifelong memories of Malibu.
Feeling like a new person, head over to the on-site Malibu Cafe for a hearty brunch under the sun. The gorgeous and hip eatery is outfitted with string lights, chandeliers tucked among trees, adirondack chairs, and lawn games such as cornhole. Once you’re seated, go for the Instagram-worthy eggs Benedict; the savory black forest ham, creamed spinach, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce atop a soft English muffin provide a big burst of flavor, while the accompanying breakfast potatoes provide a balanced texture that beautifully complements the smooth Benedict. Also make sure to get an order of the fluffy pancakes for the table so you can all delight in the breakfast classic topped with ripe berries, fresh mint, powdered sugar, maple syrup, and strawberry butter.
After a relaxing morning in Malibu, the afternoon calls for more active explorations, and Escondido Falls is the perfect place to enjoy some outdoor recreation. Tucked just inland from the shops and eateries along the Pacific Coast Highway, this out-and-back trail spans nearly four miles and rewards your efforts with breathtaking views of the 150-foot waterfall—the highest in the Santa Monica Mountains. Along the way, take time to admire the wildflowers lining the path. Also make sure to stay on the main trail leading to Lower Escondido Falls so you avoid the falling rocks and treacherous terrain of the Upper Escondido Falls trail.
Give your muscles a break after the hike by spending part of the afternoon lounging on Zuma Beach. Since it is one of the largest and most well-known beaches in Los Angeles County, its white sands and moderate surf are often dotted with locals and tourists alike, but you should still be able to stake out a spot. Lather on some mineral sunscreen, lay out on a blanket, and let the sound of the waves soothe away any remaining troubles.
Next, head down the road to the more tranquil Lechuza Beach to check out the rugged cliffs, towering rock formations, and colorful tidepools. The serene, scenic beauty here also makes it an ideal spot to snap photos and savor a beachside picnic of local cheeses and berries.
Continue your oceanside adventures at Nicholas Canyon Beach—or Point Zero, as the locals call it. This stretch of smooth sand is popular for surfing, swimming, scuba diving, and a plethora of other water sports. Point Zero is also known for having one of the few pristine point breaks left in the county, so make sure to pack your boogie board or to rent a surfboard so you can take full advantage of the swells. (You don’t have much to fear, either, as there are on-site lifeguards during daylight hours.)
On your way back to The Surfrider, stop by El Matador State Beach just before the sun sets. While the walk down to the beach from the bluff can be challenging, the pictures taken at the stunning rock formations during golden hour are well worth the trouble. Since the large, jagged rocks make swimming and surfing here nearly impossible, this small beach allows you to enjoy a more solitary experience as the sun meets the horizon and the sky fills with sherbet and tangerine hues.
With another full day under your belt, head to Ollo for locally sourced California cuisine. The menus rotate seasonally, but there are Mediterranean and Italian influences throughout the dishes. Regardless of what is on offer, it is hard to go wrong at this eatery. But if you get the chance, start with the seasonal beets tossed with goat cheese, pears, and poppy seed vinaigrette; the brussels sprouts accented with savory pancetta and drizzled with balsamic reduction; or the fresh burrata, complete with Bartlett pears, arugula, heirloom tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and balsamic glaze. Continue on with the orecchiette pasta featuring succulent fennel sausage, fresh Swiss chard, pecorino, and garlic bread crumbs. Or, opt for the seared scallops infused with cumin and basil and served alongside creamy bacon mashed potatoes and local spinach. End the evening on a sweet note by ordering the decadent butterscotch pot de crѐme topped with caramel sauce and a pinch of sea salt. But beware: It may make the entire trip feel like it was just a dream.
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