Even amidst California’s abundance of natural wonders and breathtaking landscapes, Malibu stands out. Just ask anyone who has taken a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, preferably with the top down. Or, instead of taking someone else’s word for it, call your crew, pack your bathing suit, and explore the best things to do in Malibu for yourself.
Located just 30 miles west of Los Angeles, this idyllic beach community feels like it’s worlds away from the city. You and your peeps could easily spend the entire getaway on the beach, watching surfers compete for the biggest waves, or even ride a few of your own. Unless of course, you’d rather stroll along the piers feeling the sun warm your skin and the sea breeze whip through your hair. And it would be time well spent. It’s Southern California, after all. Sunny, 80-degree days are the norm.
Of course, it would be a shame to leave the lush, green hiking trails and the canyons unexplored. That’s the beauty of Malibu, there’s always a new hidden nook, tidepool, or hiking trail to discover. Why not gather your favorite people and discover them all together?
Soak up the sun
1. Surfrider Beach is situated in the Malibu Lagoon, where Malibu Creek meets the Pacific Ocean. This protected area boasts tidepools at low tide and excellent waves at high tide, attracting surfers of all skill levels. The lagoon was also the location for the 1959 classic beach party film, Gidget, starring Sandra Dee!
2. Topanga Beach is a rocky, narrow swimming beach found at the bottom of Topanga Canyon Road. This road is lined with gorgeous homes, so you’ll have a nice visual treat on your way to the beach.
3. El Matador State Beach is well-marked along Route 1 on the western end of Malibu. Park on the bluff and follow the stairway and paths down the steep dunes to the water’s edge. This dreamy spot is all you could hope for in a Southern California beach.
4. Zuma Beach is one of several in Malibu that’s ideal for windsurfing. Visitors can rent outfits and equipment and instructors are available to teach beginners how to do it.
5. Pointe Dume State Beach is another worthy spot off Route 1 on Westward Beach Road. Between December and April, you can often spot migrating gray whales from the spot’s dramatic headlands and cliffs. Down below are rocky coves and a wide beach with waters that are perfect for scuba diving or fishing.
6. Backbone Trail is a state park commonly known as the BBT. It has close to 70 miles of not-too-difficult hiking trails that also welcome runners, mountain bikers, horses, and dogs. With access points in Malibu, the trail will take you past wooded canyons, up rocky outcroppings, to vistas with ocean views as far as the Channel Islands.
7. Sandstone Peak connects to the BBT and brings you to the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains with an elevation of 3,100 feet. No fees or permits are required, but some hiking experience is recommended.
8. Not far from Point Dume is Solstice Canyon, a beautiful hike on a shaded path to a perennial waterfall. Be sure to stop and look around at the indigenous plant and animal life along the way.
9. If it’s been raining, the 150-foot descent of Escondido Falls is worth the hike. If it’s dry season, the falls dry to a trickle. Parking is $12 and bikes and horses are welcome on the trail.
10. Volleyball is taken seriously here, where the beaches and the weather cooperate almost all the time to make active outdoor exercise a pleasure for both kids and adults. There are many volleyball clubs around Malibu with programs and tournaments, or just find a pickup game when you spot one and join the fun.
Meet the natives
11. The Malibu Pier is undoubtedly the most recognizable landmark in Malibu and one worth seeing. This long, wooden boardwalk was constructed in 1905 and opened to the public in 1938. It juts out into the Pacific Ocean, just far enough to guarantee a cool breeze on even the hottest of days. From 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., visitors can fish directly from the pier for halibut, corbina, or mackerel, and dine, shop, or rent a kayak or SUP (stand-up paddleboard). You can also opt to climb aboard a small vessel for a whale-watching tour.
12. You’ll want to go home and say you drove the Pacific Coast Highway. At 656 miles, it is the longest state road in California and more than 20 miles of it passes through Malibu, just a few yards from the ocean. Take your time and let the natives whizz past you while you savor the incredible views.
13. Leo Carillo State Park offers an enjoyable 1.5 mile stretch of beach, with seasonal activities for kids and young adults, including a Junior Lifeguard Program. This is a great spot to tent up. There are campground sites for both tents and trailers. Reserve a spot in advance through the California Parks website.
Appreciate the arts
14. Just over the Malibu border in Pacific Palisades is the Getty Villa, which houses John Paul Getty’s extensive collection of antiquities spanning 7,000 years of history from the Greek, Roman, and Etruscan periods. The villa itself was built in the 1970s, a replica of a 1st-century Roman country house called Villa dei Papiri. You can view 44,000 pieces of art on two levels of the home and then relax in one of four outdoor gardens.
15. Be sure to visit the Adamson House. Malibu first formed its Historical Society in 1985 specifically to preserve this idyllically located estate. Built in 1929 by one of the region’s earliest and most prominent families, this place is breathtaking. Docent-led tours cost $7.
16. The Malibu Lagoon Museum is adjacent to Adamson House. This museum brings the many layers of Malibu’s history to life, from the early Chumash Indian tribes to the Spanish-California era. It’s definitely a worthwhile, rainy day activity.
Dig into California cuisine
17. Nobu is an iconic, sophisticated Japanese restaurant named for the celebrated winner of the Iron Chef television series. Nobu serves 30 cold and 30 hot fish dishes, as well as sashimi tacos. The patio sits at the surf’s edge, overlooking the crystal blue California waters so you can enjoy a surreal view while eating this well-renowned food. Nobu serves both lunch and dinner, and you’ll want to reserve a table ahead of time.
18. Duke’s on the PC Highway is named for Duke Kahanamoku, the man who brought the sport of surfing to the world. A native of Hawaii, Duke served as a lifeguard in Malibu for a period of time, and his energetic spirit lives on in fish dishes like Ahi Tuna Steak and Seafood Hot Pot. Don’t miss out on the Hula Pie, a concoction of macadamia nut ice cream drizzled with hot fudge sauce on a cookie crust.
19. Malibu Farm restaurant is located where the Malibu Pier meets the shore. This is a popular place for lunch or dinner with your favorite travel companion(s). Take a seat at one of its rustic-chic tables facing the water, and be sure to try their creative veggie salads or one of half a dozen types of nachos and tacos. A second more casual eatery sits at the tip of the pier.
20. Moonshadows, named “the sexiest beach restaurant” by The Travel Channel, has been in operation for over a decade by a trio of Italians who know style as much as they know food. Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. is served on a long deck overlooking the ocean, a quintessential California scene complete with a tiki theme and a hip bar/lounge. The large menu ranges from the classics like the Rock Shrimp and Bay Scallop Omelet to the outrageous BBQ Octopus. It’s slightly pricey but well worth it.
21. Tea by the Sea is one way to step into the lifestyle of a member of the famous Getty family. Three days a week at 1 p.m., the café at the Getty Villa offers this $44 per person dining option. Start with shrimp toast, turkey salad, and herbed hummus and end with carrot cake, cheesecake, or a few macarons.
22. Geoffrey’s is one of the trendiest spots overlooking the ocean. Be prepared to be spoiled with amazing views and food alike.
23. For a casual dining experience, Reel Inn is known for its “nice piece of bass” and patio dining. You can take out fresh-caught fish to make at home, too.
24. Cliff Diver is a casual Californian-Mexican restaurant with bright decor and airy interiors. It’s a great stop for a quick bite before or après beach.
25. John’s Garden is in the Malibu Country Mart. Stop by and grab a sandwich to take to the beach or on a hike. Plus, you can shop while you wait for your order.
Marina Del Rey
More Malibu vacation ideas
26. Malibu Country Mart at the Malibu Civic Center is a lifestyle center worth checking out. Within its seven-acre border are sculptures and public artworks, gardens and playgrounds, restaurants from steakhouses to oyster bars, and upscale retailers such as Ralph Lauren, Cynthia Rowley, Oliver Peoples, and Vince and John Varvatos. Choose a smoothie from the dizzying array available at Sunrise Organics and gather around one of the picnic tables with your closest friends.
27. Malibu Colony is THE place to see some of the most beautiful houses in the area. With incredible views and fantastic homes perched on tiny lots with ladders leading to the beach, this community is the perfect place to stroll along the water on a beautiful day to admire some of Malibu’s most beautiful architecture.
28. The town of Marina Del Rey is not too far from Malibu and this day trip is a water lover’s playground. Dine at one of 10 restaurants just a few feet from the water’s edge or better yet, get out there and do some aquatic sightseeing by chartering a private yacht for a day, or by signing up for a champagne brunch cruise, sunset cocktail cruise, or dinner sail.
29. Scenes from the 1991 film, Point Break, were filmed in and around Malibu. This cult classic introduced the world to Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, who portrayed surfers who might possibly also be bank robbers. Swayze notably did all his own stunts in the movie, including skydiving.
30. To experience a wild animal safari while tasting great wines, check out Malibu Wine Safaris. Located on a family-owned Saddleback Ranch in Malibu, this safari experience provides narrated rides in an open-air vehicle through 1,000 acres of rolling hills to view bison, alpaca, zebras, and even a giraffe. The tour stops along the way to sip several varieties of locally-produced wines. This is most certainly a unique adventure for the whole family. Prices range from $55-$225.
If you’re looking for beautiful views, amazing dining experiences, and activities that will make you feel as glamorous as the stars, Malibu is the vacation destination for you. Grab your crew, book one of AvantStay’s Malibu properties to experience this beautiful getaway yourself.