Few people would disagree with the city of Malibu's tagline: “27 Miles of Scenic Beauty.” It sounds like the perfect place to find some amazing beaches to visit, but it's not quite as simple as it seems.
Along many of those miles, houses and mansions stand between visitors and the sea, blocking views and giving the impression that common people are not allowed. The first thing to do is to get past the urban myth that creates. California law says the area between the waterline and the average high tide line is public land, no matter where it is.
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. They are listed starting with the beaches closest to LA and Santa Monica.
First, a few things to know all Malibu beaches:
- Take a look at a map before you go to keep from getting confused by directions that don't take this fact into account: The generally north-south Pacific coast takes a turn at Malibu to run east-west. If you travel from Santa Monica and Malibu toward Ventura on California Highway One North, but a compass would say you are going west.
- Malibu's west-facing beaches are less than ideal places to watch a sunset.
- Don't smoke or drink alcohol at the beach. Leave those fireworks at home and forget about going nude. They are some of the things LA County prohibits on any beach. In general, animals are also prohibited with a few exceptions noted below
- Fires are allowed only provided fire pits or barbecues, and you can camp or sleep only in official campgrounds.
Carbon Beach (Billionaire's Beach)
Carbon Beach's nickname — Billionaire's Beach — may tell you everything you need to know about it. The thing to do at Carbon Beach is walk on it, dreaming what your beach house would look like if you had lots of money.
At high tide, the beach is mostly, if not all, under water. Use a tide table to time your visit to avoid that. Stay on damp sand, and you will be within your legal rights to be there.
You'll soon realize that all those rich folks are there for the spectacular views of mountains on one side, ocean on the other. The dwellings range from beach houses to glassy mega-mansions.
Rumor has it that Bob Geffen, Rob Reiner, and Dr. Dre are among the residents. So is Silicon Valley entrepreneur Larry Ellison who is rumored to own as many as ten properties. You know you're going to be wondering how much houses like these cost. For instant gratification, download the Zillow real estate app before you go.
The beach runs for about 1.5 miles east from the Malibu Pier. You can park near the pier and walk north or find a free parking spot along Pacific Coast Highway near one of these addresses and take the beach access path from there:
- Zonker Harris Access Way, 22664 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA
- West/Ackerberg Access, 22466 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA
- East/David Geffen Access, 22126 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA
If your vision of a Malibu beach is Sandra Dee as Gidget frolicking in a polka-dot bikini — or even if it isn't — Surfrider Beach at the east 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.
Besides surfing, Malibu Lagoon State Beach may have more things to do than any other beach on the Malibu coast. You can watch birds from trails in the saltwater marsh wetlands where Malibu Creek flows into the ocean. Or you can watch people on a walk to see the beach houses on Malibu Colony Beach just northwest of the park. And if you enjoy architecture and home decor, visit the Adamson House to see the best surviving examples of decorative ceramic tile produced by Malibu Potteries in the 1920s and 30s.
At the northeast end of the beach is the Malibu Pier, where you can have a meal at the Malibu Farm Cafe.
The address to head for depends on what you intend to do. You can park in the paid parking lot at 23200 Pacific Coast Highway near Surfrider and the Adamson House, in a small lot at Cross Creek Place for the lagoon, or try for free street parking along Pacific Coast Highway.
This small beach, located north of Malibu just off Highway 1 is framed by bluffs and looks out on onto the open ocean. Don't be surprised if it looks familiar. Television programs "The OC," "Baywatch, and "The Rockford Files" were filmed here, as were the movies "American Pie 2" and "Beach Blanket Bingo."
Because the restaurant and beach amenities are privately owned and charge for parking, Paradise Cove is never too crowded.
You can play on the beach at Paradise Cove, reserve a private beach terrace or a pair of comfy lounge chairs that they call a Double Bed. If you want to soak up a very local-feeling beach scene and stay for a shorter time, have a meal in the restaurant.
You have to pay to visit Paradise. Pay to park, that is, and there's also a per-person fee if you walk in or get dropped off. Restaurant validation covers 4 hours' parking, enough time for a meal and a little beach play. On weekends and holidays, it's a good idea to reserve a table to avoid long waits.
Paradise Cove is at 28128 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA
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, and enjoying more than a mile of sandy beach at the foot of the high cliffs. On a clear day, you can see across the Santa Monica Bay and might catch a glimpse of Catalina Island or the Channel Islands.
Point Dume is a place where you can relax on a beach blanket or hike on trails overlooking the ocean. People also go swimming in the ocean.
If you go on a weekday, you will find this park blissfully uncrowded. On a weekend or holiday, more people will be there, and the parking lot can fill up, but there's still plenty of room for everyone.
The Point Dume "Pinnacles" is one of the best beach dives in Southern California with excellent visibility, underwater rock towers, and lots of marine life. It's not a place for beginners, according to the Eco Dive Center.
Los Angeles operates Point Dume State Beach for the state of California. It's at 103 Westward Beach Road, Malibu, CA 90265. To get there with minimal confusion, enter the street address into your GPS, not the beach name.
There are 373 parking spaces at Westward Beach with trail access over Point Dume. You may find a few street spaces on Cliffside Drive between Birdview Avenue and Dume Drive.
With white sand, clean water and 1.8 miles of beach frontage, Zuma Beach is a go-to spot for LA residents and visitors alike. This south-facing beach attracts lots of visitors on summer weekends but is relatively quiet during the week.
The shallow water and gently sloping sand make it a good place for swimming and body surfing most of the time but look for posted flags the signify safe swimming areas: Zuma is also known for dangerous riptides and rough surf.
If you're lucky, you may see dolphins in the surf, so close to shore that you feel like you could reach out and touch them. In the winter, you might also catch a glimpse of grey whales migrating offshore.
People also like the section of Zuma called Westward Beach, which is on the southeast end of the park. It's not only family-friendly and known for its clean water, but some people say it's one of the best places to surf in LA, the site of several premier surfing events each year.
To sound like a local, drop the "beach" from its name and just say "Zuma."
Zuma Beach is at 30000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA. It has an enormous parking lot parallel to the highway, and you can also try for one of the free parking spots along the road. For Westward Beach, park in the lot along PCH on the end nearest Malibu, or try for free parking along Westward Beach Rd.
Some people call El Matador a "pocket" beach. That's a small stretch of sand cradled between two headlands. The Matador's pocket is full of incredible views of towering arches and rock formations.
El Matador is a good spot for photoshoots, connecting with nature, and getting away from it all. However, the only way to get there is by a trail that leads to stairs to the beach.
El Matador is one of the places some people call a hidden gem, but the beach can be so crowded during the summer that you might have trouble getting out of the way of people taking wedding pics, sweet 16 pics, baby pics, and more selfies than you can count.
On the positive side, it turns into solitude embodied on weekdays in the offseason.
El Matador is just one of three coves at Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach (the other are Lechuza and Broad, which are narrow beaches between waterfront mansions and the ocean). It's at 32200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265. Look for the signs along the highway and hope for good luck finding a parking spot along the highway or in the small paid parking lot.
At Leo Carrillo Beach, you can explore its 1.5-mile-long, sandy beach, caves, and rock formations. Or just settle down and relax to the ocean sounds. And look for dolphins swimming offshore.
The largest beach area at Leo Carillo (sometimes called North Beach even though it's technically on the west end) is a long stretch of sand, reached by driving west on Beach Access Road.
You can walk along the beach to the four coves east of Sequit Point at low tide, or by taking stairways that go down from the bluff. At low tide, you may find sea anemones, crabs, mussels in the tidepools. Beyond the coves is so-called South Beach or Arroyo Sequit. Dogs are allowed anywhere there as long as they stay south(east) of lifeguard tower 3.
There's also an RV park and campground are just across the street from the beach. If you want to stay there, reservations essential, but they can be confusing and hard to get. That is unless you use the guide to making reservations at California State Parks.
The beach is in Leo Carrillo State Park at 35000 West Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA. There are two paid parking lots or try for free parking along Pacific Coast Highway.