Few people would disagree with the city of Malibu's tagline: “21 Miles of Scenic Beauty.” Just the name Malibu is practically synonymous with sandy beaches, the Pacific Ocean, and the warm California sunshine. The Malibu coast is so beautiful that most people are content just to take a scenic drive along Highway 1, but parking the car for a day at one of Malibu's many beaches is worth the stop.
Don't get misled by people who write about “secret” beaches in Malibu who tempt you with clickbait promising something no one else knows about. In fact, very little is actually a secret in a metro area the size of LA. Instead of all the hype, this guide includes the best beaches in Malibu, tested and proven to be perfect for your day out.
Before-You-Go Travel Tips
Malibu is one of the premier beach destinations in the world, famous with surfers, families, locals, and even celebrities. To get the most out of your trip, take these simple tips into account.
- Driving along Highway 1, many beaches seem inaccessible because mansions are positioned between the highway and the coast, giving the impression they're on private property. But California law says the area between the waterline and the average high tide line is public land, no matter where it is.
- At nearly all LA-area beaches, you can't drink alcohol, smoke, bring your pets, sunbathe nude, or use fireworks. However, there are a couple of exceptions listed below.
- Fires are only allowed in provided fire pits or barbecues, and you can camp or sleep only in official campgrounds.
- Highway 1 runs north and south, although the stretch of land from Malibu to Santa Monica juts out and is actually east to west. Take a look at a map to orient yourself and know that "north" and "south" refer to your direction on Highway 1, not what a compass would tell you.
- If you hear locals refer to the Pacific Coast Highway or "the PCH," they're talking about Highway 1.
Carbon Beach (Billionaire's Beach)
The official name is Carbon Beach, but the nickname "Billionaire's Beach" gives you a sense of what you'll find on this stretch of sand. While you don't have to pay to visit the beach, the entire beachfront is lined with mansions that will leave your jaw on the floor, wondering what it must be like to have the Pacific Ocean be your backyard.
Driving along Highway 1, it seems like the dream homes completely block out the beach, but keep your eyes peeled for access points right off the highway. There are two entryways, a West Access and an East Access point, to get onto Carbon Beach and you park for free right off the highway.
At high tide, the beach is mostly—if not completely—underwater. Use a tide table to time your visit and avoid getting pushed off the beach by the rising sea water.
If you want the experience of living on Billionaire's Beach but can't quite muster up the down payment for a house there, the Malibu Beach Inn is right on the water and lets visitors live like one of the wealthy neighbors for a night.
Malibu Lagoon State Beach
Malibu Lagoon State Beach isn't the typical Malibu beach since the water is actually part of a lagoon and not the Pacific Ocean. Malibu Creek meets the ocean at Malibu Lagoon, which is a huge 22-acre wetland area that is a haven for over 200 species of migrating and local birds.
Los Angeles is home to all kinds of architectural feats, so if you enjoy design and home decor visit the Adamson House right at the edge of the lagoon. This Spanish Revival is the place to see the best surviving examples of decorative ceramic tile produced by Malibu Potteries in the 1920s and 30s. The Malibu Lagoon Museum is attached to the Adamson House and gives a history of the area from the indigenous Chumash tribes to its place as a surf hot spot.
There's a designated paid parking lot for Malibu Lagoon State Beach where Cross Creek Road intersects with Highway 1. If you want a more quintessential Malibu beach experience, then Surfrider Beach is right next door.
Malibu Surfrider Beach
If your vision of a Malibu beach is Sandra Dee as Gidget frolicking in a polka-dot bikini, Surfrider Beach at the east end of Malibu Lagoon State Beach is probably what you're thinking of. Surfrider's super long right-hand break is famous among surfers, but the water is often so full of them that they leave little space for swimmers.
At the northeast end of the beach is the Malibu Pier, which is popular with fishermen who hang out for the day and enjoy the scenery while angling. If you don't want to catch something yourself, you can have a meal at the Malibu Farm Cafe specializing in California cuisine and farm-to-table dishes.
Surfrider Beach is part of Malibu Lagoon State Beach, but the State Beach parking lot is closer to the lagoon side rather than the ocean side. There's a separate parking lot near the Adamson House that's ideal for reaching Surfrider Beach, or you can always park on the side of Highway 1 if you find a spot.
Paradise Cove Beach
This small beach located north of Malibu just off Highway 1 is framed by bluffs and looks out onto the open ocean. Don't be surprised if it looks familiar. Television programs such as "The OC," "Baywatch, and "The Rockford Files" were filmed here, as were the movies "American Pie 2" and "Beach Blanket Bingo."
The Paradise Cove Beach Cafe extends onto the beach and all of its amenities like lounge chairs or private terraces are available to rent. Because the restaurant extends onto the sand, this is one of the only beaches in the state of California that allows alcohol on the beach, as long as it's beer or wine and not hard liquor.
There's a parking lot owned by the restaurant and you can park for up to four hours at a discounted rate if you eat at the Beach Cafe, but all-day parking requires paying the full parking fee. You can also park further up the road near the Pacific Coast Highway for free and walk onto the beach without spending any money at the Cafe.
If you want to eat at the restaurant and park in the nearby lot, it's best to make a reservation, especially on busy summer weekends.
Point Dume State Beach
At Point Dume State Beach, it's easy to forget that you're just a few miles from the busy LA metro area. That's because you will be gawking at the scenic headlands, rocky coves, and offshore rock formations all while enjoying more than a mile of sandy beach at the foot of the high cliffs. On a clear day, you might catch a glimpse of Catalina Island or the Channel Islands just across Santa Monica Bay.
Point Dume is a beach that has it all. Active beachgoers can explore the various hiking trails overlooking the ocean before taking a dip and going for a swim, but there's nothing wrong with just spending the day lounging on the sand. Scuba divers can explore the underwater area known as the Pinnacles, one of the premier diving spots in the state. From December to March, visitors can often see grey whales during their annual migration right from the shore.
It's not just one of the largest beaches in Malibu, but it's actually split into Big Dume Beach and Little Dume Beach, so even on busy weekends or holidays you can usually find a space. On weekdays, however, the park is blissfully uncrowded and makes for the perfect urban escape.
The small parking lot closest to the entrance only has 10 spots and fills up quickly, but there's a much larger paid parking lot at the end of Westward Beach Road. From there, it's just a 5-minute hike over Point Dume to the staircase that takes you down to the water.
To sound like a local, drop the "beach" from its name and just call it Zuma, a go-to spot for LA residents and visitors alike. The 1.8 miles of beach frontage are just around the corner from Point Dume State Beach, so you can easily access the hiking trails of the state park from Zuma as well. This south-facing beach attracts lots of visitors on summer weekends but is relatively quiet during the week.
If you're into playing beach volleyball, make sure to bring a ball with you since nets are set up along the stretch of beach for informal games with friends.
The shallow water and gently sloping sand make it a good place for swimming and body surfing most of the time, but keep an eye out for posted flags that signify safe swimming areas. Zuma is known for occasional dangerous riptides and rough surf, although lifeguards are on duty in the summer months to monitor conditions.
There are eight paid parking lots all around Zuma Beach with nearly 2,000 parking spots, although if you find an open spot along the side of Highway 1, you can park for free.
Westward Beach is actually the southern-most section of Zuma Beach and extends all the way to Point Dume. It's known for its clean water and for being of the top surf spots in surf-crazy Malibu, even hosting several premier tournaments throughout the year. If you're lucky, pods of bottlenose dolphins are known to make an appearance, sometimes so close to the shore that you'll feel as if you're swimming with them.
If you forget to pack your lunch or get thirsty, The Sunset restaurant is right at the beach entrance with a full menu of fresh items to enjoy. The patio area looks over Westward Beach and the Pacific Ocean, so it's also ideal for a sunset drink after spending the afternoon lying in the sun.
Even though Westward technically a part of Zuma Beach, the Zuma parking lots are farther north and you'll have to walk across the entire beach to get there. The closest parking lot is a paid area the end of Westward Beach Road, the same one you'd use to reach Point Dume State Beach.
El Matador Beach
Some people call El Matador a "pocket" beach, which is a small stretch of sand cradled between two headlands. The Matador's pocket is full of incredible views with towering arches and rock formations, so it's a particularly popular spot for photographers and photo shoots. In fact, you'll more likely than not come across at least one group taking wedding pictures, graduation shots, or family portraits.
If you happen to be at the beach during low tide, walk toward the north end of El Matador to explore the caves that can only be reached when the water is low.
Because it's a small beach with limited parking available, you have to arrive early on warm weekend days if you want to get a spot. Weekdays are easier, but during summer break even those can be difficult.
El Matador is actually a part of Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach, along with the neighboring coves of El Pescador and La Piedra. Look for the exit off of Highway 1 to the El Matador parking lot, which is a paid lot that has direct access to the staircase leading down to the beach.
Leo Carrillo Beach
If you're driving north from Los Angeles, then Leo Carrillo State Beach is one of the last beaches you'll hit in Malibu. The promontory called Sequit Point juts out into the ocean and separates the beach into North Beach and South Beach, and the former is the bigger of the two.
Leo Carrillo is especially popular with pet owners since it's one of the only beaches in the area that allows dogs, as long as they stay on the North Beach section. So if you're traveling with your four-legged companion or just want to enjoy the company of other peoples' dogs, Leo Carrillo is the beach for you.
For cheap accommodations near the water, Leo Carrillo State Park has campgrounds where you can pitch a tent or park the RV within walking distance of the beach. Campsites fill up quickly, so make sure you book a reservation as far in advance as possible.
There's a paid parking lot with direct access to the North Beach and lots of parking spaces, although it may fill up on summer weekends or holidays. If you want to visit South Beach, you can walk from North Beach or look for parking along Highway 1. Just know that if you park in the North Beach lot and walk to South Beach along the sand, evening high tide may prevent you from getting back.