Ten miles north of Santa Monica, Malibu is the perfect destination for a holiday. 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 mountain, 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!
Best 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 golden sands to rugged cliff-hung beaches, 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. Read more: 24 Of The Best Beaches in California
1. Zuma Beach
By far the most popular beach in Malibu, 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.
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 a lovely natural beach and 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
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. It 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.
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 beach is via a steep gravel path that winds its way from the parking area.
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 Café 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 Mountain 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-foot down multiple tiers of sheer rock.
7. Malibu Creek State Park
Malibu has more than its fair share of natural attractions. The Malibu Creek and Leo Carrillo State Parks 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.
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 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 – Places to Stay, Eat, and Drink Wine
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 work flows 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.
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. 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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