Santa Monica and Venice tend to be the go-to beach destination for West L.A.-ers. But, we drove north on PHC to explore the diverse offerings of Malibu’s many beaches and discovered endlessly diverse and spectacular options. For one thing, the water in Malibu is much cleaner — it’s refreshingly chilly, but delightfully blue. (It is always smart to check Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card). But with so many coves and rocks and cliffs to explore, fighting a bit of traffic and parsing your parking options will readily produce endless adventures for you and your family. We can get you started by helping you decide which beach to explore first!
For Tidepools and Views:
Leo Carillo State beach is actually just outside the Malibu city limit, but being so far north makes for a perfect, unspoiled 1.5 mile stretch of sand. It’s moderately sized and waves are mild; perfect for letting the little ones run around without getting in to trouble. Pay attention to posted signs, but usually you can find free street parking on the ocean side of PCH. Otherwise, it will be a $12 fee to use the Leo Carillo State Park’s lot for the day (you can also camp there if that’s your thing). The entrance is well marked, on the right when you’re heading north. Be sure to pack some beach toys and come ready to explore.
This pick isn’t perfect for swimming—lots of rocks might be harsh on little feet—but the caves and tide pools are tremendous, and vistas iconic. Playing along the water’s edge offers a great opportunity to get acquainted with L.A.’s aquatic life. You’ll most likely be around when the tide is low enough to get a glimpse of sea urchins, muscles, anemones, crabs, and snails, and nothing excites kids more than seeing creatures crawl out of there shells to say hello.
For scrambling and Instagram moments:
About five minutes south is El Matador State Beach, just as beautiful but with a few different noticeable features. First of all, it’s a bit less rocky, so swimming is easier here. That also means there are fewer tide pools, but the chances of seeing some sea life are still good. Most obvious might be the massive rock formations just above the waterline.
Kids will love darting in and out of these natural doorways, plus they make for great photo opportunities. Take note that the path down to the beach from the parking lot is a tad treacherous, so go slow but don’t worry, it’s well worth the exploit. Day parking here is $8, and unfortunately you’re less likely to find free street parking that’s close by. Bring food, there are no services on this beach.
For a Classic California Dawn to Dusk at the Beach Day:
Zuma Beach lies about 10 minutes further south, and is a more classic version of the summer beach destination from decades of films that glamorize Southern California. The long stretches of white sand and rolling waves set it a part from the more dynamic landscapes of Leo Carillo and El Matador. But, it’s just as fabulous, and the wide vista that makes you feel as though the ocean is yours alone, even if there are tons of other beach-goers nearby. Day parking here is $6, or there’s limited metered parking if you’ll only be a few hours. Past the main lot is a sign for Point Dume, and the street it leads you down may have some available free spots. Bring boogie boards, surf boards, kites, frisbees and enough beach chairs to camp out until the sun goes down.
Clear water and plenty of space to lay out beach towels make it perfect for families: parents can lounge, kids can swim and run around, all within easy visual distance. There are also a number of volleyball nets just begging for someone to play. Best to pack a picnic, but the strip mall across the street has a few options: a sit-down Italian bistro, or a marketplace with sandwiches to go.
For Cliff Drama and Whale Watching:
Point Dume isn’t quite as well marked as Zuma Beach, but the view is more than worth the search, and you’ll feel like you discovered a secret. If you’re heading south away from Zuma, turn right at the sign marked Point Dume (mentioned above). Follow the road around the left turn, and then go left past The Sunset Restaurant and Beach Bar up the hill. Go straight for as long as you can. Eventually the houses will give way to another left turn and the official Point Dume lookout spot. Sometimes seals and dolphin (and even whales) can be spotted from the beach, and the cliffs contain secluded residences for old-school Malibu elite.
For an Ecology Lesson:
If you’re looking for a nature spot rather than the typical beach outing, check out Malibu Lagoon State Beach. Chances are you’ve passed it before but haven’t given it much thought (don’t worry, we’re guilty too). It’s a nice option if you only have half a day, and only want to drive as far as the Malibu Country Mart( which is great for eating, fancy shopping, and people watching). You won’t necessarily see the yellow sign directing you in unless you’re looking for it. But look for it, pay the parking fee, and enjoy a leisurely walk around the lagoon. Posted signs explain how and why it’s come to be such a haven for Malibu’s wildlife, and the lagoon provides a great peaceful spot just off the bustling PCH.