Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California

Cars driving down to Malibu

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley

Santa Monica to Oxnard on Highway One

The beach in Malibu
TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

If you plan on driving the entire Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu, you'll be driving from the city of Santa Monica to Oxnard. This guide covers everything you need to know about making that trip.

The total distance is about 49 miles, and it will take you one to two hours, depending on traffic and how often you stop. It may take longer on weekends when it sometimes feels like everyone in town is jammed into that section of Highway 1.

Traffic is busiest on weekends, but it never hurts to check. Use your favorite app or tune to radio station KNX (1070 AM) which gives frequent traffic reports.

Choose Your Starting Point

From the LA area, your drive will start at the end of Interstate 10 in Santa Monica. Turn north from there onto California Highway 1. If you need driving directions to that point, set your navigation toward the Santa Monica Pier.

Your driving experience will be a little more enjoyable if you drive the route south from Oxnard toward Santa Monica. You'll be on the ocean side of the highway, with better views. It will be easier to make a beach or photo stop because you won't have to cross traffic.

To do that, just reverse the directions below. Start by navigating to Point Mugu Rock or Point Mugu State Park (but not the Air Force Base at Point Mugu). You can also drive north from LA on U.S. Highway 101 and take Exit 53B, then follow N. Lewis Rd. and Las Posas Rd. to California Highway 1 South.

Driving Directions

Between Santa Monica and Oxnard, California Highway 1 follows the sliver of land that separates the Santa Monica Mountains from the Pacific Ocean, along the edge of the continent. For more than half of the distance, it runs through the town of Malibu.

Between Santa Monica and Malibu, you will pass the entrance to the Getty Villa. It's the original home of the Getty Museum which now focuses on their antiquities collection, which is quite impressive, but the detailed recreation of a Roman-era villa they're housed in is a work of art by itself. There's no admission fee, but reservations required and you'll have to pay a parking fee. It's an enjoyable place to visit but takes more time than you may have for your Malibu drive.

You may feel a little disappointed in this drive at first, wondering why everyone makes such a fuss about it. That's especially true in the more commercial parts of Malibu, where oceanfront residences obscure the seaward view.

Malibu itself is a small town with few tourist attractions, but don't give up. The nicest part of the drive is north of town between Malibu Canyon Road and Mugu Rock, with plenty of opportunity for gawking, whether it's at the scenery or the hillside homes. 

You'll find plenty of nice beaches along the way and good spots for a picnic or a walk. State Parks charge an entrance fee that may seem a bit steep for a quick stop, but areas marked Beach Access are free (albeit without amenities).

A little north of Mugu Rock, California Highway 1 turns inland. If you're making the drive as a day trip from LA, you can either make your way to Highway 101 or turn around and go back to LA on Highway 1.

Primary Needs

Food is easy to find along this stretch of highway. Although they don't serve the best cuisine on the planet, you can't beat the ambiance at Paradise Cove. Further north, Neptune's Net is a classic seafood shack with pleasant outdoor tables. For an upscale meal with a killer view, try Geoffrey's of Malibu. Or if you're going south, time your trip to arrive at Gladstone's just before sunset.

You'll find gasoline in Malibu, but there are no stations between there and Oxnard.

Side Trips

Hindu Temple in Malibu Caifornia
Barry Winiker/Getty Images

Take any of these roads away from the ocean for a scenic trip across the Santa Monica Mountains to U.S. Highway 101. They're listed in order from south to north.

  • Sunset Boulevard: It winds past Will Rogers State Park (which includes the home of the famous comedian), through Brentwood, Westwood, and Beverly Hills, ending in Hollywood.
  • Topanga Canyon Boulevard: A busy 12 miles across to U.S. Highway 101, but pretty and scenic on the western end.
  • Malibu Canyon Road: The opening of the television program M*A*S*H and some of its outdoor scenes was filmed at Malibu Creek State Park. Sadly the set was destroyed in the 2018 Woolsey Fire. Further along on Malibu Canyon, you can stop to see the beautiful Hindu Venkateswara Temple at 1600 Las Virgenes (the road's name changes as it crests the Santa Monica Mountains). It's open to everyone as long as you're respectful, dress modestly (no shorts or tank tops) and take off your shoes and hat.
  • Kanan Dume Road: It's only 12 miles across to U.S. Highway 101 (the closest place from the California Highway 1 intersection to get gasoline) and compared to other roads in the area, it's pretty straight.

To make this trip into a day's loop drive, turn off California Highway 1 onto Mulholland Highway (which is not the same as the road Mulholland Drive). Follow it east through the Santa Monica Mountains to Topanga Canyon Blvd., where you can go back to CA Highway 1 (right turn) or connect with U.S. Highway 101 (left). Along the way, you'll pass Paramount Ranch, an old "movie ranch" filming location once owned by Paramount Studios.