Malibu, tucked below the Santa Monica Mountains on a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway northwest of Los Angeles, keeps to itself. Its deep-pocketed residents like it that way. Malibu, in some ways, feels just like a typical small beach town—albeit one with a glamorous reputation and a population of high-profile, big-city people. Many of them live a low-key lifestyle, spending days outdoors surfing, hiking, and biking). Malibu nights, however, feel fairly A-List, from watching the sunset on the deck of Little Beach House to enjoying dinner at Nobu Malibu.
For travelers, seamlessly fitting into Malibu’s tight-knit community can seem daunting. From the laid-back Topanga Canyon vibes and landmarks like Zuma, the namesake beach of Neil Young’s 1975 album, to the glitz of the oceanfront estates, the cultural amalgamation of Malibu is a scene unlike any other. And the only way to experience it is to follow the locals’ lead. Here, we’ve gathered the best things to do in Malibu, with a little help from the city’s residents and top business owners.
Opting Outside in Malibu
To surf: Start at Malibu Surf Shack, a stone’s throw from the pier and your one-stop-shop for surf rentals and lessons. If you’ve come prepared with a board and plenty of experience, head to some of Malibu surfer Sean O’Neal’s favorite surf sports, including Surfrider (First, Second, and Third Point), Zuma, Big Dume, and Little Dume. “In certain places surfers are territorial, like at Big Dume and Little Dume,” he says. “First Point is crazy when it’s big. But most of the time people are friendly in the water.”
To beach: Zuma Beach—one of the first beaches you’ll hit when driving north from Los Angeles—is always packed. The best beaches are found farther along the PCH. A favorite among Angelenos is El Matador State Beach, which is easily recognizable from the gorgeous, jagged rock formations that line the beach. You’ll walk down a few flights of stairs to get to the beach, such that you’re well removed from the noise of the PCH. There’s plenty of soft sand, but the rocks make your chosen spot feel more private and secluded. If you’re traveling with your pup, there’s a local-favorite dog-friendly beach nearby, too: Leo Carrillo State Beach.
To hike: Even the locals haven’t seen every hiking trail in Malibu—that’s how many there are. Nonetheless, landmarks like Solstice Canyon, Point Dume Natural Preserve, Tuna Canyon, and Sandstone Peak are all good places to start. To reach the top of Sandstone Peak, take Mishe Mokwa Trail, and at Point Dume, keep in mind that after your hike, you can make your way to the shoreline and find yourself on one of Malibu’s best beaches.
Where to Hang, Shop, and Drink Like a Local
Malibu Lumber Yard
The Malibu Lumber Yard is an upscale, design-forward outdoor shopping and dining area. Converted from an actual lumber yard, the venue is known for its ultra-sleek and truly impressive design, as well as artistic vendors like Malibu Contemporary Art Gallery and luxe retailers like James Perse.
On any given day at Cure Malibu, lithe, sun-kissed wellness seekers wearing oversize sunglasses drape themselves on Pacific Ocean–facing outdoor patio loungers, nosh on sashimi ordered in from Nobu across the street, read glossy magazines—and get IV vitamin drips to cure jet lag, hangovers, anxiety, or whatever else ails them. “I wanted to create an atmosphere where healthy doesn’t have to be anything but an amazing experience,” says Dr. Lisa Benya, an internist certified in nonsurgical cosmetic treatments who founded this oasis in eastern Malibu. In addition to the IV drips, Cure offers massages, facials, peels, haircuts (it’s the only doctor-owned salon in the United States), and Botox, among other services.
Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate Vineyards
Malibu has been recognized as an American Viticultural Area since 2014, and while most vineyards in the region are hobby farms, Howard Leight’s Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate Vineyards is more commercial. However, that also means it’s not open for tastings—unless you want to pull the ultimate Malibu resident move and rent out the vineyard. Leight’s 37-acre enterprise, known for their Cab Francs and rosés, is located in the Santa Monica Mountains roughly 2,000 feet above Zuma Beach. “What makes our wine really good is the altitude, volcanic soil, and herbaceous nose from the area’s local brush,” says Howard Leight. In lieu of a tasting room, the estate is available to rent for private dinners and events; it also has a megayacht for charter. “We get all the celebrities because they don’t have to travel to Napa,” Leight says. “They can arrive here by helicopter.”
Little Beach House Malibu
Little Beach House Malibu is one of the most iconic hotspots in the SoHo House portfolio. Right next to Nobu on the PCH, it offers direct beach access, a deck steps from the ocean, an exceptional restaurant, and multiple levels of work space. It is truly the place to be in Malibu, whether for a mid-week coffee meeting, a Thursday night cocktail, or Sunday brunch (the spread is unreal—hold out for the king crab legs).
The Best Places to Eat Like a Local
It doesn’t get more quintessentially Malibu than the counter-service café at the end of Malibu Pier: Malibu Farm. Opened by Helene Henderson in 2013, the outpost rose to popularity because of whole-hearted embodiment of southern California cuisine. On the healthy, hyperlocal menu, you’ll find quinoa oatmeal with coconut milk, syrup, and berries for breakfast; vegan chopped salad with kale, romaine, butternut squash, beets, avocado, and garbanzo beans for lunch; and branzino fish tacos for dinner. Henderson’s secret to success is fairly straightforward: “My food is simply prepared,” says Henderson, “and I use as many local farmers as possible, like Larry Thorne for strawberries, kale, chard, and more, and Mike Zacha for organic lemons.”
John’s Garden, Malibu Country Mart
Malibu Country Mart is a townie institution in much the same way the seafood shacks and taco stands are (hint: hit Malibu Seafood or Reel Inn for a great fish fry and Country Kitchen for breakfast burritos). Within Malibu Country Mart, an open-air market with vendors both traditional and eclectic, you’ll find John’s Garden. It’s where the locals grab a post-surf sandwich, or some snacks and a shake to take to the beach.
Nobu Malibu is an iconic Malibu restaurant for a myriad of reasons—namely, the A-list clientele and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. But perhaps the biggest reason southern Californians flip for Nobu on the PCH is the view. It’s right next to Little Beach House, and offers similar patio views, without SoHo House’s hefty annual fee. Just because Nobu Malibu doesn’t require membership doesn’t mean the price tag isn’t steep. Chef Nobu’s food is, of course, well-worth it—as is the view of the sun setting over the Pacific.
Where to Stay
Malibu Beach Inn
Five-star boutique hotel Malibu Beach Inn, sits on the cheekily (though not inaccurately) named Billionaire’s Beach. Guests will love the artistic touches in each of the 47 rooms; the property’s highly unique art collection is curated by Mani Brothers Real Estate Group. At Malibu Beach Inn, guests have access to the on-site Carbon Beach Club, which has an oceanfront terrace where guests can enjoy the light California fare made with seasonal ingredients and craft cocktails with a view.
Nobu Malibu Ryokan
Japanese-influenced Nobu Ryokan on Carbon Beach is a perfectly calming escape, from the earth tones—all teak, limestone, and cream to the lush gardens that envelop you in privacy. Each of the 16 rooms is styled as a private retreat; the Suiheisen Room has an outdoor onsen tub, and high tide comes in right underneath the beachfront rooms, all of which have skylights. The entire effect feels like you’re at someone’s ultra-private estate; owners Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, chef Nobu Matsuhisa, actor Robert De Niro, and film producer Meir Teper want it that way.