Boasting 21 miles of prime Pacific coastline, Malibu, CA, is a veritable playground for anyone seeking sun, surf, and an unforgettable Californian experience. Just a short drive from the bustling city of Los Angeles, the near-perfect weather and long golden beaches have attracted Hollywood celebrities to its shores for decades. Malibu’s famous beaches may be its biggest draw but it is far from the only attraction.
Malibu’s mountain backdrop provides hiking, camping, and cycling options. In the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, vineyards draw weekend crowds. If you’re looking for some of the best things to do in Malibu, you’ll also find plenty to do in town. There are a couple of really distinctive museums in the city and the shops, restaurants, and pubs buzz with a life of their own. Here are my top choices of the things to do in Malibu you cannot miss!
Top Things to Do in Malibu
You can’t visit Malibu without spending at least some time at the beach. Boasting 21 miles of magnificent coastline, Malibu, or “Bu” as the surfers call it, has a wide range of beaches to attract beach lovers of all kinds.
From long sandy beaches to rugged cliffs, you’ll find somewhere to dangle your toes in the cool, salty waters of the Pacific Ocean. In Malibu, the climate also plays along with mild temperatures year-round. In this guide we’ll explore the sprawling beaches that dot Malibu’s coastline, each offering its unique charm and activities.
We’ll venture into culinary delights at Neptune’s Net, take a scenic drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, spot whales with Malibu Coastal Adventures, delve into history at the Malibu Lagoon Museum, and even journey off the mainland to Santa Cruz Island. Read more: 24 Of The Best Beaches in California
1. Zuma Beach
By far the most popular of the Malibu beaches, Zuma Beach is also the most natural with no sign of celebrity houses and a great big patch of clean sand that stretches 1.8 miles into the distance.
Nestled on the western side of Malibu, this sandy beach is arguably one of the most stunning beaches in Southern California. With its pristine sands stretching over a mile long, and sparkling turquoise waters, Zuma Beach offers visitors a tranquil retreat from city life. Whether you’re a nature lover, a water sports enthusiast, or a family looking for a fun-filled day out, Zuma Beach has something for everyone.
The beach has plenty of on-site parking and lifeguards on the alert. There are also showers and picnic areas. You’ll even find a restaurant at the beach so you can plan a laid-back lunch.
This isn’t Malibu’s best surfing beach but, it’s great for body boarding, and kiteboarders and windsurfers pick up the breeze each day. If you’d like to try the sport out you can hire equipment close by. Should you prefer something a little tamer, there is always a beach volleyball game on the go.
2. Point Dume State Beach and Preserve
Point Dume State Beach with its long stretch of golden sand and seaside cliffs is a nature lover’s Paradise. Here marine and coastal wildlife abound and hundreds of birds call it home.
The Dume Beach headland is a Nature Preserve with 34 acres of state land offering up excellent hiking and glorious views of Santa Monica Bay. At the right time of the year, you may even catch a glimpse of migrating whales and dolphins from the headland.
There are beaches on either side of the point, Big Dume Beach, also known as Dume Cove Beach lies to the east. It’s that quintessential Malibu beach that is good for surfing. It’s also not as crowded as some of the other beaches on the Malibu coastline. West of Dume Point you’ll find Dume Point State Beach. It forms part of Zuma Beach so it enjoys similar facilities.
3. Surfrider Beach (Malibu Lagoon State Park)
Looking for the best surfing in Malibu? Then head down to Surfrider Beach. The beach is world-renowned thanks to the many surfer movies made in the 1950s and 1960s. Located adjacent to the iconic Malibu Pier, this world-famous surf spot draws surfers from around the globe with its perfect, long-breaking waves. But the allure of Surfrider Beach goes beyond just the surf. It embodies the laid-back Californian lifestyle that is synonymous with sun, sand, and sea. It also forms part of the Malibu Lagoon State Beach and estuary so a short walk up the beach will take you to one of the best places to enjoy bird watching.
Surfrider was the first beach ever to receive the “World Surfing Reserve” Accolade. It is quite a small beach with not much space to swim so it can get crowded. Still, it’s worth a visit even if it’s just to watch the surfers. If you’re curious about surfing the waves at one most iconic surfing beaches, you could find a surf school and hire a board. You’ll soon be strutting your stuff in the rolling blue waters of Surfrider Beach. Surely one of the best things to do in Malibu.
Steps away from the beach, there’s a whole array of local restaurants and shops where you can satisfy your post-surf cravings. From savoring fresh seafood to shopping for surf gear, the options are abundant. And when the sun dips below the horizon, the beach transforms into a silhouetted dreamscape, marking the perfect end to a blissful day.
4. El Matador State Beach
Quite possibly one of the prettiest beaches on the California coastline, El Matador Beach boasts dramatic rock sculptures carved by the elements. Getting down onto the sand isn’t all that easy but, boy, is it worth the walk. The photographic options are endless and the little bays and alcoves are gorgeous. The only access to the western Malibu beach is via a steep gravel path that winds its way from the parking area.
This compact stretch of sand, nestled between Point Dume and Leo Carrillo, boasts one of the most captivating landscapes in Malibu. Unlike your quintessential Malibu beach, El Matador is a vision straight out of a fantasy novel. It feels like you have stepped into a surrealist painting with the beach’s otherworldly rock formations, tide pools brimming with sea critters, and the ever-present sound of the crashing waves.
The beach has no facilities but it is a lot less crowded than Zuma Beach. Bring your diving equipment and enjoy snorkeling and swimming. You may also like Top 10 Best Places to Camp in California
5. While Away the Time at Malibu Pier
Movie buffs will recognize the lovely wooden Malibu Pier with its iconic twin white towers. Scenes from dozens of films including Taken 2 and 3, Indecent Proposal, and American Pie 2 have been filmed from the pier.
Built in 1905, the pier was designed to offload cargo from arriving ships. Today, visitors enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and bustling beaches as they stroll the pier enjoying the sea breeze. Across the waters, celebrity homes and pretty cliffs draw attention.
No matter the time of day, there are always fishermen trying their luck on the pier. Visitors wile away the time on the wooden benches watching the fishermen reeling in the catch of the day or the surfers riding the waves at Surfrider’s Beach. Sometimes even the dolphins come out to play.
The pier hosts a mix of shops. Browse around, and enjoy the casual beach atmosphere. Make time to stop for a seafood meal at the Malibu Farm Cafe at the pier’s end. It’s a counter-service but you can take your meal away and enjoy the ocean views as you tuck into your delicious fresh fish, calamari, or shrimp.
The Malibu Farm Restaurant on the opposite end of the pier offers three meals a day for diners who prefer full sit-down service. It is the perfect place to sip a cocktail as you watch the sun melt into the sea.
6. Hike the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Trails
Covering 157,000 square miles of wilderness, the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area just north of Malibu is the biggest urban national park on earth. With more than 10,000 archeologic sites it also has the highest concentration of such sites. There are miles and miles of trails in the park but one of the most popular is the Solstice Canyon Trail.
Solstice Canyon offers hikers of all fitness levels an opportunity to take a walk through some of the nicest trails that Malibu has to offer. The trails range from challenging to easy amble. Paths meander through the wilds, past waterfalls, along creeks, and into the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains.
There are also a number of abandoned buildings along the route. These include the oldest stone building in Malibu. You’re also likely to come across loads of wildlife, including a vast variety of wild birds.
While you’re in the area, plan to stop off at the Grotto. The views from the lookout are great and if you’re in the mood for a swim, you can climb through the rocks and find the small waterfall and secluded pool concealed behind the rocks.
Depending on the time of year, you may find your way to Escondido Falls. Regardless of whether the falls are running, it’s worth taking the 3.7-mile trail. When in full flow, the falls are the highest in the Santa Monica Mountains dropping 150 feet down multiple tiers of sheer rock.
7. Malibu Creek State Park
Malibu has more than its fair share of natural attractions. The Malibu Creek State Park and Leo Carrillo State Park are two such attractions, offering nature lover’s some of the best things to do in Malibu.
Malibu Creek State Park is another Hollywood favorite having played host to the MASH and the Planet of the Apes film crews amongst others. Spanning 8,000 acres, the park boasts a wide range of habitats that include tall grass plains and Oak forests against a backdrop of craggy mountain peaks. Fifteen miles of hiking and biking trails wind their way through this stunning park.
A 2.5-mile hike through the park will take you past the set of Planet of the Apes and all the way to the area where 1970s sitcom MASH was filmed.
Malibu Creek runs through the park ending in an estuary that attracts hundreds of birds. More than 200 bird species ensure that the park remains a top attraction among bird lovers.
A beautiful campsite invites visitors to stay over and enjoy hiking, cycling, or kayaking as you commune with nature. It is definitely some of the best parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains.
8. Leo Carrillo State Park
Visit the 1.5 miles of shoreline at Leo Carrillo Park as the tide ebbs and you’ll come across a host of tidal pools and sea caves ripe for exploration. This lovely state park is a very popular destination for surfers, rock and surf fishermen, and hikers. The park is also dog-friendly.
There are more than 120 sites for campers and RVs amongst the sycamore trees on the ascent into the canyon. All campsites have picnic tables and a fire ring. In the summer months, the park runs events, like fire building and Junior Rangers for visiting children.
9. Getty Museum
If you love the cultural things in life, you’ll find several museums and art galleries in the city. Still, there are two museums unique to this area and well worth a visit. Let’s start with the Getty Museum. Read more: The Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary
Opened in 1974, the Getty Museum has an extraordinary collection of antique artworks. Though the museum boasts 14,000 relics, you’ll find 1,200 on show. The antiquities date back from 6,500 BC to 500 AD falling into a range of themes from Greek and Roman lifestyles and mythology.
The Getty villa museum mirrors the structure of the Herculaneum Villa deli Papyri, once considered the most luxurious house in the Roman Empire. It has hundreds of rooms, each hosting a different collection of exhibits.
Take a stroll through the tranquil rose and ivy formal gardens to view the precious Roman statues that adorn them. You can also take a 40-minute garden tour amongst the fragrant herbs and fruit orchards. If you’re looking for a meal that is just a little different, book a “Tea by The Sea”. It’s a bit pricey but you’ll enjoy an exquisite meal made in part from produce grown at the villa. Entry to the museum is free but you have to book in advance.
10. Adamson House Museum
As the first Malibu beach home ever built, you would expect Adamson House to occupy one of the best locations in the city. In this, it doesn’t disappoint. It overlooks the Lagoon State Beach where the Malibu Creek flows into the sea.
This Spanish revival home is best known for its astounding array of decorative tiles. The Rindge family built the house as a wedding gift for their daughter in 1929. This house museum is well worth a visit if only to observe the stylish architectural opulence of the home.
Here, cast iron blossoms add charm to graceful arched doors. Lead glass windows, frescoes, molded ceilings, and intricate cast ironwork complete the picture. Classic furniture fills the home with grace and charm. The gorgeous tiled Persian rug in the 60-foot entrance is the piece de resistance.
The Malibu Lagoon Museum, annexed to the Adamson House has an excellent array of artifacts offering the visitor insights into the early Malibu story.
11. Book a Wine Safari
There’s nothing quite as relaxing as a trip through the Winelands. Malibu’s vineyards hug the slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains, ensuring a perfect backdrop for a perfect day. There are lots of wine tours that leave from Malibu so choose one that titillates your taste buds.
The Safari wine tour is a tour that really stands out. It takes you on a journey of discovery in an open-topped safari vehicle to explore the 1,000-acre Saddlerock Ranch and vineyard. The farm houses dozens of wild animals including alpacas, zebra, bison, and water buffalo. There is even a resident giraffe. Your safari will stop to greet the animals and savor the vineyard’s produce.
If you’d rather not spend the day roaming the tranquil vineyards, you can still savor the scintillating flavors of the vines at one of the many wine bars and tasting rooms in Malibu. Read more about wine in California at How to Visit Napa Valley on a Budget and 31 Best Things to do in Napa Valley
12. Spend a Night at the Channel Islands National Park
If you’re in Malibu for more than a few days, plan a trip to the Channel Islands National Park. This chain of volcanic islands is a treat for nature lovers. The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve provides a habitat for some of the most distinctive animals on earth. These include plants and birds. The island fox, island night lizard, and spotted skunk are found nowhere else on earth.
Here you will find the biggest group of breeding western gulls and California brown pelicans. This is a bird lover’s Paradise. Hiking trails wind their way across the wild landscapes of the islands taking you back to nature.
If you book a trip you’ll leave by boat from Oxnard. You can choose to spend a night or two camping on the islands but be sure to bring along all your provisions. The waters around the islands are alive with marine life, providing a perfect snorkeling adventure amongst the forests of kelp.
Kayaking is also very popular. Hundreds of caves surround the island and with a kayak, you can explore the caves and the beautiful wild coastline.
13. Enjoy Family Time at Malibu Bluffs Park
One of the best places in Malibu for a family outing must be at the Malibu Bluffs Park. It’s a six-acre community park that overlooks the ocean. Half is wild and undeveloped. Hiking trails run through the wilderness, and picnic tables invite families to enjoy a meal in the park. Spend some time at the whale-watching station. Even if you don’t get to see the whales, the views are stunning.
The park also hosts recreational facilities, baseball diamonds, a multipurpose field, and a children’s playground. There is no entrance fee and no charge for parking.
14. Admire the Intricacies of the Malibu Hindu Temple
One of the largest Hindu temples in the west can be found near Calabasas in the Santa Monica Mountains. Built in 1981, the building is absolutely stunning. The outside is crafted with intricate patterns in stark white with pops of gold. The architecture is unbelievably sophisticated. The elaborate workflows on into the inner sanctums of the temple.
If you check the temple calendar, you could coordinate your visit with a Hindu celebration or ceremony as this is a working temple and there is always something going on. If you want to enjoy the full experience plan a vegetarian meal at the temple kitchen over a weekend visit.
15. Indulge Yourself at Malibu Country Mart
The Malibu Country Mart is not to be missed. Opened in 1975, the shopping area with a difference, is across from the beach in the center of downtown Malibu. The country mart is a 6-acre shopping center boasting 75 shops that include stylish boutiques, quaint coffee shops, and top-class restaurants all served up in a laidback and tranquil atmosphere.
The center has loads of parking, a children’s playground, and plenty of green spaces in keeping with the relaxed atmosphere. malibu civic center
16. Paradise Cove Beach
Paradise Cove Beach lives up to its name by offering a little slice of paradise right in Malibu. Tucked away beneath scenic cliffs, this private beach offers a more laid-back, intimate setting compared to some of the area’s larger beaches. Renowned for its picturesque views, peaceful atmosphere, and iconic Paradise Cove Beach Café, this spot is a cherished destination among both locals and visitors.
As you step onto the beach, the first thing you’ll notice is its beautiful, broad sandy shore, which gently slopes into the clear blue waters of the Pacific. The beach is flanked by towering bluffs, adding a dramatic backdrop to your beach day, and providing a sense of seclusion that’s hard to find on public beaches.
Paradise Cove Beach is the ideal place for a variety of beach activities. From swimming and sunbathing to beachcombing and tide pooling, there’s something for everyone. The calm waters also make it a safe spot for families with children. Plus, you’ll find plenty of beach lounges, daybeds, and private terraces available for rent, adding a touch of luxury to your beach experience.
No visit to Paradise Cove is complete without a meal at the Paradise Cove Beach Café. This beachfront restaurant offers a delightful menu of classic beach cuisine, from fresh seafood to burgers and salads. Dining on their outdoor patio while taking in the stunning ocean views is an experience that combines the best of Malibu’s culinary scene with its unparalleled beachfront atmosphere.
If you’re into photography, the pier at Paradise Cove is a must-visit. This wooden pier jutting out into the ocean is a favorite spot for capturing breathtaking photos of the beach, the rolling waves, and the mesmerizing Malibu sunsets.
17. Nicholas Canyon Beach
Known as “Point Zero” among locals, Nicholas Canyon Beach is one of Malibu’s hidden gems. Located right off the Pacific Coast Highway, this beach is a secluded haven that offers a refreshing escape from the more crowded tourist spots. With its wide sandy shores, stunning vistas, and excellent surf breaks, Nicholas Canyon Beach is a paradise for beachgoers and surfers alike.
Upon stepping onto the beach, you are greeted by a vast stretch of golden sand framed by rugged cliffs and the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean. The expansive beach offers ample space to spread out a towel, set up a beach umbrella, or engage in a game of beach volleyball. If you’re an avid sunbather, you’ll find plenty of room to soak up the California sun. And as the day winds down, the beach provides the perfect vantage point to watch the sun dip below the horizon, painting the sky in hues of orange, pink, and purple.
For surfers, Nicholas Canyon Beach is a revered spot. The beach is known for its consistent surf conditions, featuring a right-hand point break that can produce long, rolling waves perfect for longboarding and shortboarding. Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or a beginner looking to catch your first wave, Nicholas Canyon Beach offers an excellent surfing experience. The local surf culture here is strong and welcoming, adding a friendly and energetic vibe to the beach.
18. Visit Neptunes Net
There’s nothing quite like the combination of fresh seafood and panoramic ocean views, and Neptune’s Net delivers both. Perched right on the edge of the Pacific Coast Highway, this beloved Malibu landmark has been serving up an array of seafood delights to locals and tourists alike since 1958.
One of the restaurant’s standout features is its dual kitchen concept. On one side, the “restaurant side,” you can order mouth-watering dishes such as clam chowder, lobster, and shrimp, served hot and bursting with flavor. On the other side, the “seafood market side,” you can choose from an array of fresh seafood on ice, including oysters, clams, and various fish species, all cooked to order.
Every item on the menu showcases the freshness and quality of the seafood. Whether it’s the beer-battered fish and chips, the heaping seafood platter, or the simple but delicious shrimp cocktail, you’re in for a treat. And, if you’re a fan of spice, don’t miss out on their renowned “Firecracker Shrimp”.
Neptune’s Net isn’t just about fantastic food; it’s about the experience. From your table, you can take in uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean, watch surfers catching waves, or even spot a pod of dolphins frolicking in the distance. Or you can grab your food and head over to the County Line beach which is across the road.
19. Pacific Coast Highway
Spanning over 650 miles, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is more than just a road; it’s a journey that encapsulates the very essence of California’s coastal beauty. It is no wonder that driving on the PCH is considered one of the most iconic road trips in the United States.
Running through the heart of Malibu, the PCH offers breathtaking vistas at every curve. To one side, you have the majestic Pacific Ocean stretching out as far as the eye can see, its endless waves crashing onto the rocky shoreline below. To the other, you are flanked by towering cliffs, lush hills, and magnificent homes that dot the coastline.
As the PCH snakes through Malibu, it offers convenient access to many of the city’s attractions. The Surfrider Beach, Malibu Pier, El Matador State Beach, and the trendy shopping district of Malibu Country Mart are just a few stops along the way. Of course, a pit stop at Neptune’s Net for some fresh seafood is a must-do on this scenic drive.
20. Whale Watching with Malibu Coastal Adventures
There are few experiences that can match the awe-inspiring spectacle of watching whales in their natural habitat. In Malibu, this unique adventure is brought to life by Malibu Coastal Adventures, a locally owned company that offers unforgettable oceanic excursions.
Upon boarding their specially equipped boats, you’re not just a passenger; you’re a part of an expedition. These intimate whale-watching tours are designed to take you close to the action, offering unobstructed views of these magnificent marine creatures.
Throughout the year, the waters off Malibu’s coast play host to several species of whales, including the enormous blue whale, the playful humpback, the acrobatic breaching orcas, and the thousands of California gray whales that pass by during their annual migration. Their natural behaviors are a sight to behold, from spouting and fluking to breaching high above the water.
It’s not just about the wildlife, though. As the boat cruises off the coast, you’ll be treated to stunning views of Malibu’s shoreline, its stunning beaches, and the exclusive oceanfront homes of celebrities.
Whale watching with Malibu Coastal Adventures is not just an excursion; it’s a deep dive into the marine world that leaves you with a profound appreciation of nature’s wonder. It’s a must-do experience when in Malibu, one that promises to be memorable and thrilling.
Final Thoughts and FAQs
How do you spend your day in Malibu?
Start your day with a sunrise walk along Zuma Beach, one of Malibu’s most expansive beaches. Enjoy breakfast at a local café before heading over to the Lagoon Museum to delve into the area’s rich history. Spend the afternoon surfing or sunbathing at Surfrider Beach, followed by a leisurely lunch at Neptune’s Net, savoring their array of fresh seafood. Go for a scenic drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, making stops at the scenic overlooks. Round off your day with a sunset whale-watching tour with Malibu Coastal Adventures for an unforgettable marine wildlife experience.
What is Malibu famous for?
Malibu is famous for its breathtaking beaches, excellent surf breaks, and celebrity homes. Iconic landmarks include the Pacific Coast Highway, the historic Malibu Pier, Surfrider Beach, and the Adamson House in the Malibu Lagoon Museum. Malibu is also renowned for its upscale dining scene, including the popular seafood restaurant, Neptune’s Net.
What time of year is best to go to Malibu?
While Malibu boasts pleasant weather throughout the year, the best time to visit is during the spring (March to May) and fall (September to November). During these periods, temperatures are comfortable, and the city is less crowded. Whale watchers should note that gray whale migration occurs from February to April, while blue and humpback whales can be seen from June to November.
Is Malibu worth going to?
Absolutely. Malibu offers a blend of natural beauty, outdoor activities, and cultural attractions that appeal to all kinds of travelers. From its world-class beaches and water activities to its rich history and vibrant dining scene, Malibu offers a truly Californian experience. Whether you’re a surfer, a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or a foodie, Malibu has something for everyone.
What are You Waiting for? Discover the Best Places in Malibu!
With so much to do, Malibu is surely one of the premier holiday destinations in the country. Whether you want to visit a classic Malibu Beach, take in the beauty of the Santa Monica Mountains, or check out Santa Cruz island this part of Southern California you definitely want to add to your list. What’s holding you up? Start planning your holiday now and you too can enjoy an unforgettable holiday on Malibu’s sunny shores.
All photos provided by Lorena of TravelCroc courtesy of Shutterstock.
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