The Top Things to Do in Malibu, California

Eat, play and shop in Malibu, California
Eat, play and shop in Malibu, California | © Chelsea Audibert / Unsplash
Photo of Kalena McElroy
2 September 2020

Just outside urban Los Angeles is one of Southern California’s most picturesque coastlines and coveted cities: Malibu. Here, the numerous star-studded residents hide out in their canyon-side estates, while down at the beach, surfers and dolphins ride gentle waves. Make the drive up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and discover all the things to see and do in this laid-back paradise.

Explore the Santa Monica Mountains

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© Ron Atory / Unsplash
Malibu offers much more than spectacular beaches paired with water sports. Residents often escape to the Santa Monica Mountains for remarkable hiking and waterfalls. Solstice Canyon and Escondido Falls are two very popular trails that aren’t too difficult. For those looking for a challenge, you can take on all or part of the 65mi (105km) Backbone Trail. Check to see if it’s fully open before you leave, as wildfires in the state mean that access can be unpredictable.

Go surfing

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You haven’t truly visited Malibu if you haven’t seen it from atop a surfboard in the ocean. Radfish Malibu, created by former professional surfer Tony Radfish, provides lessons to those not quite ready to charge the Southern California breaks. Rent a board and paddle out to one of the many famous surf spots, such as Zuma Beach or County Line. You’ll feel like the queen of the ocean when you catch your first wave. When you’re out of energy (which might be sooner than you think – surfing is a full-body sport), head back to the shop to invest in some new threads.

Aloha hour at Duke’s Malibu

Bar, Restaurant, American, $$$
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Named after Native Hawaiian Olympian and master waterman Duke Kahanamoku, this seaside restaurant-bar features island-inspired dishes such as coconut shrimp and furikake ahi tuna. After a long day at the beach, sip on a tropical cocktail while overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Duke Malibu’s Barefoot Bar. It’s most popular on weekday evenings for its aloha hour when it offers beer and food specials. The restaurant is also well worth a visit, with its hula pie – a confection comprising macadamia-nut ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce – a common favorite.

Lunch on the pier at Malibu Farm

Restaurant, American, $$$
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Malibu Farm Restaurant
© Edgar / Alamy Stock Photo

For healthy, locally sourced bites and sweeping ocean views, stop for lunch (or brunch) at the Malibu Farm Restaurant. You’ll find it right at the entrance of the Malibu Pier; the counter-service-only Malibu Farm Cafe is at the end of the pier. This popular waterfront restaurant prides itself on its sustainable farm-to-table menu, which is worth the usual long wait for a table. The open-face omelet and a rainbow mimosa selection, featuring orange, kale-apple and watermelon, are highlights.

Visit the Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum

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Visit the historic Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum for a bit of California history and ecology. The impressive Spanish Colonial Revival-style mansion is surrounded by manicured gardens that slope down to the sandy beach. Sentiments of old California are present in the colorful tile work, decorative fountains and detailed frescoes that fill the estate, which is a National Historic Site, California Historical Landmark and a California State Park.

Go whale watching

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Each spring, gray whales make their way past the Malibu coast during their annual migration. View these enormous mammals up close, alongside pods of dolphins and sea lions, with Malibu Coastal Adventures. The whale-watching tours leave from Malibu Pier during whale season, which is typically between February and April. Be sure to bring your camera for this activity because you’ll want to capture this moment forever.

Camp at Malibu Creek State Park

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Malibu Creek State Park, view from Mulholland Highway in Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu, California, USA
© Witold Skrypczak / Alamy Stock Photo

There are a few campgrounds in Malibu, but none are as peaceful as Malibu Creek State Park. The campground lies within a secluded canyon surrounded by hiking trails, swimming holes and wildlife. All fitness levels can enjoy the trails, and you may even recognize the terrain from Planet of the Apes (1968) and M*A*S*H, both of which were filmed here. It’s just a short drive from here to the coast, so you can still see the beautiful ocean.

Sample local wines

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Napa Valley isn’t the only place in California known for its variety of vineyards. Malibu wine country is home to many renowned places where oenophiles can partake in unique tasting experiences. The ultra-popular Malibu Wine Safari gives you just that – a few glasses of vino while viewing safari animals such as a resident giraffe called Stanley. There’s also the Rosenthal tasting room, Malibu Family Wines, Cornell Winery & Tasting Room and Malibu Wines.

Eat at Malibu Seafood

Restaurant, Seafood, $$$
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A trip to Malibu isn’t complete without eating seafood. This spot has been serving hungry diners since 1972 and is owned and operated by commercial fishers, ensuring the freshest and tastiest fish and seafood. There may be a line on busy days, but it’s worth the wait. Popular dishes include fish and chips, fish tacos and clam chowder. Also, don’t forget to take a photo of the establishment’s eye-catching sign right on the PCH.

Getty Villa

Museum
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The Getty Villa on a sunny October day in Malibu, Los Angeles.
© Rolf_52 / Alamy Stock Photo
If you’re driving to Malibu from LA, you’ll pass right by the Getty Villa – don’t miss a chance to visit. Founded by J Paul Getty, this museum opened in 1974, highlighting Getty’s art collection. Today, around 1,400 artefacts are on display, dating from between 6500BCE and 400CE, which are arranged by themes, such as the Trojan War and gods and goddesses. The manicured gardens are also worth a look.

Malibu Hindu Temple

Hindu Temple
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Dedicated to the god Venkateswara, this eye-catching Hindu temple holds regular services and special events all year long. You won’t be able to tear your eyes away from the building’s facade, and if you really love it, it’s available for hire. Whether you’re looking for a one-off service or are trying to find a new place of worship to attend regularly, the stunning surroundings of the Malibu Hindu Temple make it a great choice. The kitchen also serves delicious vegetarian food on the weekends.

Malibu Country Mart

Shopping Mall
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Sometimes, you just have to hit the shops, and this outdoor mall has one of the most enticing setups possible – right opposite the ocean. You don’t even need to brush the sand from your feet before whipping out your credit card. With a mix of independent boutiques, designer shops and more commonplace offerings, Malibu Country Mart offers a mixture of the useful, the special and the downright irresistible. Parking is very convenient, and you can head back to the beach afterward.

Additional reporting by Alice Johnston.

These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.