Malibu Beach Guide: Insider Tips, Where to Go and What to Avoid
The iconic 27-mile coastline that revolves around Pacific Coast Highway is a mecca for celebrities, from Matthew McConaughey, Robert Redford and Jennifer Aniston to David Geffen, Dr. Dre and Joel Silver.
Malibu is so unique because it's only 30 minutes from a large city but offers a totally different energy. In French it's called dépaysé, meaning you're being taken out of your world," says Joe's Jeans founder Joe Dahan, a resident. This inherent escapist attitude is part of what makes Malibu such a mecca for celebrities, from Matthew McConaughey, Robert Redford and Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison to Jennifer Aniston, Dr. Dre. and year-round resident Pamela Anderson (Joel Silver recently put his house on the market for a whopping $57.5 million). The iconic 27-mile coastline that snakes along Pacific Coast Highway provides second (or so) homes to power couples Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Julia Roberts and Danny Moder recently spent $6.84 million to buy a second Malibu estate across the street from their current Point Dume manse.
HISTORY Since the 1920s, when businessman Frederick Rindge's widow, May, owned all of Malibu and rented a mile of beach to Hollywood stars — dubbing it the Malibu Movie Colony — it has been an exclusive retreat for boldfacers. Now simply Malibu Colony, it is where Jane Fonda hosted an all-night party (The Byrds played at dawn), Clara Bow and Barbara Stanwyck hung out, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford played tennis and Neil Diamond, Tom Hanks and Tupac Shakur resided. Today's lack of hotel-room inventory renders Malibu's beaches even more exclusive, but not all is idyllic in paradise: During recent years, the Billionaires' Beach crew's protracted war to keep their milelong Carbon Beach private featured David Geffen putting false-front garage doors on his PCH-facing wall, complete with false signage, to ward off tourists. (Neighbors include Ellison, who owns nearly a dozen properties including rentals, Eli Broad and Jeffrey Katzenberg.) A new access point opened to the public in July 2015, but there is a proverbial line in the sand, says Malibu Beach Inn GM Gregory Day: "Wet sand is public; dry [but often rocky] sand is private." Little Dume, where Sean Penn and Cindy Crawford own homes, requires a key to enter, adding a half-million dollars to property values. More recently, U2's The Edge battled the Sierra Club and won the right to build multiple mansions on a Malibu hilltop. Barbra Streisand, Rob Reiner and Hanks banded together in a fleetingly successful attempt to block a Whole Foods from opening but were overruled in December, prompting Reiner to lament that the ruling "strips the Malibu voters of their ability to have any say over future development."
DO CHECK OUT In February 2015, Geffen sold the Malibu Beach Inn for nearly $80 million to the Mani brothers, who revamped and reopened the Carbon Beach outpost in May (rooms from $600; 22878 Pacific Coast Highway). Sunset and "brunch are our most popular times," says Day of Daryl Hannah and boyfriend Neil Young's go-to spot. "Between Nobu, Soho House and us, those three decks are pretty full come sunset. We have 12 or 13 rosés by the glass"; the aperol spritz — an aperol and melon popsicle dropped into a glass of Prosecco — also is popular. Day adds, "Everything is very turnkey. We do a lot of customized things, from arranging great hiking to mountain biking trails, surfing or paddleboarding."
Cassandra Grey, founder and CEO of Violet Grey (and wife of Paramount's Brad Grey), just joined the long-awaited, ultra-local and members-only Little Beach House Malibu (22716 Pacific Coast Hwy; Ellison's former Nikita space) and says it's "my office away from the office." For a distinctly Malibu experience, Jobi Manson, who opened lifestyle boutique-slash-creative space Sefari Outpost in December (Crawford and Owen Wilson have been in; 25001 Pacific Coast Highway), teaches a meditation technique done on paddleboards in the ocean. The shop carries African-inspired luxury travel bags, Malibu surfer and photographer Kassia Meador's new line of wetsuits and one-of-a-kind local art, and essential oil and indigo-dyeing classes take place in an outdoor garden.
INSIDER TIPS Just as the best beaches are discreet, so are insiders' spots. "There's a story about a Russian billionaire who kept coming to shore from his yacht asking, 'Where is Malibu?' " says Manson. "It's a very small family town, but there are nooks and crannies all over less populated than Zuma, Leo Carrillo or the pier." Trails abound, such as Solstice Canyon and Zuma Canyon, where residents including Helen Hunt hike; Day says at the top of Big Rock Drive there's "an amazing man-made path that I doubt is on anybody's hit list." Manson calls Sandstone Peak "mindblowing — straight uphill for two miles." Matthew Modine of Netflix's Stranger Things does challenging pre-sunrise treks in Point Mugu State Park. "Sadly, a wildfire devastated the flora, but it's a miracle to watch nature recover and rejuvenate — the rugged beauty, fresh sea air and steep trails are not for the casual hiker. Getting there early allows you to walk in the thick marine layer that blankets the hills, like you're walking on clouds," he says. And visit Paradise Cove on a weekday, when it's actually paradisiacal (i.e., not packed).
For a fresh bite, Joe Dahan advises to "go see Khalil at SunLife Organics for fresh juices." (Orlando Bloom and Harry Styles have also stopped in; Point Dume Plaza Shopping Center, 29169 Heathercliff Road). Malibu Farm is a no-brainer post-surf, where John Grossman, president of Classic Hotels & Resorts, says he gets the salsa verde egg-wich. It also provides a flawless sunset view, he says, because you can look all the way up the coast (23000 Pacific Coast Hwy.). When it comes to see-and-be-seen meals, "Nobu for dinner is a bit like the Golden Globes: movie star soup," says Grey ( 22706 Pacific Coast Hwy.). Jim Carrey, Gibson and Liev Schreiber have dined in the past. For a slightly more solitary sunset experience, Dahan likes to sit on the rocks at the furthest point of Point Dume, then go down to the Sunset Restaurant for a drink, a spot Awolnation frontman Aaron Bruno also appreciates (6800 Westward Beach Road).The local singles out Taverna Tony for "the very best house bread dip. It's pound for pound the best I've ever had, and Tony won't reveal what's in it. They're open late, so after shows in L.A. we'll stop on the way home and eat" (Malibu Country Mart, 23410 Civic Center Way). Meanwhile it's a no-frills experience at Malibu Seafood, a go-to for great seafood for Bruno and Manson, despite its touristy nature (25653 Pacific Coast Hwy.).
AVOID Surfrider Beach, in the winter and when it rains. It received an F score from watchdog group Heal the Bay (though Malibu's waters are among California's cleanest). "The best swells happen when we have storms, but the risk of getting ill [from fecal bacteria] is much, much higher," says Heal the Bay water-quality scientist Leslie Griffin. Las Flores, Puerco, Dan Blocker and Deer Creek beaches also are no-gos in the rain. On the other hand, El Matador and Escondido beaches have perfect water quality all the time, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus has said, "When my husband and our kids surf Zeros or Third Point, they're much less likely to get weird rashes and ear infections — or worse."
This story first appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.