Summer in Malibu: The 6 Wealthy Tribes on the Coast

12:00 PM PST 06/13/2014 by Sharon Swart
Illustrations by: Thomas Pitilli

On these sands and in these canyons, millionaires complain about billionaires, Julia Roberts is a townie, the middle class lives in homes under $20 million and everyone has "space to get crazy."

This story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Malibu, 21 miles of the most expensive shoreline in the world, is a constant contrast of opposites. Packs of tattooed bikers fight for road space on Pacific Coast Highway with Teslas, Ferraris and Maseratis. Drum-circle chants -- among bona-fide Chumash Native Americans as well as New Agey movie stars -- meet the metaphorical digital hum of high-tech billionaires, who peruse the city through Google Glasses for real estate "bargains." And year-round dwellers are few: They're mainly "regular families" -- including Julia Roberts and her brood. Daytrippers flock to accessible beaches or Malibu's retail mecca, The Country Mart, where the rehab set hangs out, or spend hours at Starbucks or The Coffee Bean waiting to see or be seen. With so many types in Malibu, it can be hard to tell who's local and who's visiting; this tribespotting guide can help.

Beachfront Billionaires

Tech and entertainment industry titans favor large compounds on the sand -- and usually they gobble up more than one lot, primarily on Carbon Beach (David Geffen, Larry Ellison) and Broad Beach (Steven Spielberg). High-class problems include where to land your helicopter (tricky in Malibu, unless you've befriended the local sheriff) and how to keep plebes off "your" beach (despite it being public land below where the median tide hits the sand), not to mention how to keep your property from being consumed by the ocean (Broad Beach homeowners are in the process of shipping in rocks and sand to bolster the coastline). "Malibu is where the millionaires complain about the billionaires," says a fellow beachside resident. "They're buying properties and ripping things apart and then have security guys in black outfits standing on the beach with a walkie-talkie."

Ellison has bought more than a dozen properties in Malibu, most of them near Carbon Beach. He also owns the lots on which the new oceanfront Nobu restaurant sits and Nikita, the eatery next door (named after Ellison's girlfriend). Upping the beachside ante last year, a Russian billionaire couple plopped down $75 million in cash for an estate toward the northern end of town. But wannabe billionaires, don't fret! You can still rent the lifestyle: Spielberg's beach house was available for $150,000 a month this summer.

Trailer-Park Cash

Up the coast from downtown Malibu sits Paradise Cove, a laid-back bohemia stuffed with double-wide trailers and prefab homes. Dwellers include Pamela Anderson, Minnie Driver and director Tom Shadyac (who purposefully downgraded from a 17-bedroom house to a trailer and now rides his bike everywhere). The trailers, parked just a few feet apart, can have price tags in the millions, and the attire (if any) is micro-shorts, tanks and flip-flops or woolly boots.

Nearby Point Dume, where Airstream aficionado Matthew McConaughey also has a house, is a suburban, "middle class" community, according to a local, "because 'upper class' is $20 million to $60 million houses." Locals include Roberts, Sean Penn, Bob Dylan, Pink, Anthony Kiedis, Beastie Boys' Mike D and Tamra Davis, and Ryan Kavanaugh. Paddleboarding and Mahi tacos at nearby Lily's (with a 20- to 30-minute wait) are the way of Dume life.

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Vintner Hobbyists

Emilio Estevez grows pinot noir grapes on Point Dume, while screenwriter Tony Griffin has malbec and chardonnay vines on his property just up Kanan Dume Road. Entertainment attorney Michael Barnes also has a vineyard. For most of Malibu's vintners, winemaking is a passion and a hobby, says Griffin, who started growing grapes as a firebreak and whose father, Merv, used to have a vineyard in Carmel Valley. "It's not an economically viable enterprise -- nobody makes money in the wine business," adds Malibu Vineyards' Jim Palmer, who also is an entertainment business manager. New restrictions on agriculture might limit the expansion of new vineyards, but Griffin predicts Malibu winemaking will continue as those who already have vines in the ground will be grand­fathered in.

Canyon Hermits

Malibu's plentiful and private canyons serve as a hideout for those entertainment types avoiding the swell life or being seen. Canyon compounds tend to be bucolic, self-sustaining and might house a few barn animals, says leading Malibu realtor Madison Hildebrand: "You're not buying in a canyon to build a Mediterranean mansion. It's so you can disappear." Daryl Hannah, Mel Gibson and Nick Nolte are among the canyon dwellers who have cobbled together multiple acres and built ranch-like compounds and gardens. When Nolte does come into town, he's usually sporting baggy pajama-like gardening attire and a hat. "He almost looks like a homeless guy roaming around," laughs one local.

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Kids With Affluenza

Plenty of famous spawn -- the children of Cher, Roy Orbison, Rod Stewart, Lou Adler, David Foster and members of the Allman Brothers and the Eagles -- have energized Malibu's social economy over recent years. And there's a whole new generation on the way -- including Foster's stepdaughters with Real Housewife Yolanda Foster, model Gigi Hadid and equestrian Bella Hadid, and Bruce Jenner's girls Kendall and Kylie Jenner, who accessorize their boho/rocker-chic style with Bentleys. And while outbreaks of affluenza can include 20-somethings dropping thousands for cocktails on the Nobu deck, there are more off-the-radar things occurring on private property. "There's a lot of drug abuse going on and dumb laziness," says an observer with knowledge of the Malibu rehab scene, adding that some shenanigans at least don't take place publicly. "The great thing about Malibu is that everyone has 2 to 6 acres of their own space to get crazy."

The Board and the Beautiful

Malibu's pristine coastline and Gidget's original stomping ground still attracts surfing pros (Laird Hamilton, Kelly Slater) and weekend wave-riders (McConaughey, producer Brian Grazer). Local surfer girls call to mind homeless mermaids in their cutoffs, maxi dresses and matted beach hair and act as a constant reminder of how surf culture bleeds into everyday Malibu life. "You'll see Laird and his wife [volleyball player/model Gabrielle Reece] in restaurants in their board shorts," says Hildebrand. Malibu's oceanside allure also has drawn Hollywood's environmentally minded, including NBCUniversal chief Ron Meyer's wife, Kelly, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Roberts and hubby Danny Moder, whose vast solar roof powers their Malibu house. "Surfing is his girlfriend, and I am his wife," Roberts told beach-cleanup organization Heal the Bay about Moder. All of which goes to show that "doing the 'Bu" can go beyond low-fi-to-luxe shopping, loco locals and scene-y surfside sushi.

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