The Other Days of Malibu:
Day 1 - Sea Mountain Ranch - Our Arrival
Discovering Malibu Beaches
Morning brings us a clear sunny day with the clouds gone and the Pacific Ocean spread out at the bottom of the mountain. It's 3000 feet below us and yet looks close enough to touch. The ocean is more spectacular viewed from this elevation because you get a greater sense of its vastness. Dressed and downstairs we check out an elite continental breakfast. Besides the pastries, bagels, fruit, juice, cereal, and coffee that you would expect, there is the fried rice to die for. I know. That doesn't sound like yur usual breakfast fare. Trust me. It is. With our meal assembled we took it into the breakfast nook where we could look out over the pool and down the mountain towards the ocean. As I write this I want to go back so badly. The essence of Hawaii is captured here.
Pat asks me what I have planned for the day. My reply is that, though we've driven this coastline many times, today I want to go from one end to the other stopping at each beach to get a sense of it's special flavor. What we're going to do is hook up with the world famous Mulholland Drive and follow it along the valleys and ridges of the Santa Monica Mountains to where it joins the coastline near the Ventura county line.
The Santa Monica Mountains are a maze of canyons and ridges. The few trees that grow here are in the canyons. The hillsides are mostly chapparel, the kind of oily brush that gives Southern California its fire ecology. This mountain range has a mysterious quality to it. It lacks the high peaks of an alpine region yet there are vistas that take your breath away. From pullouts along the highway you can peer down into canyons that twist and turn. The mostly dry river bottoms are dotted with sycamores and they beckon you to come and explore their reaches hidden from your eye. A number of years ago development was marching through these mountains. Then, through the efforts of many groups, a large area of the mountains was set aside as parkland. So what you have is wilderness intermixed with houses perched on hillsides and small communities nestled in the canyons.
One of these communities is Malibu Lake. We've been driving for over an hour, taking our time and stopping to take in the views. There isn't a sign of any water anywhere. These mountains today are almost as dry as the desert. Then we come around a curve and we see the lake. It's not large. Maybe its 200 yards across and 1/2 to 3/4 mile long. It's a private community but you can drive by the lake and there are trails in the area for equestrians, hikers and mountain bikers. The lake and the homes have a New England quality. What an amazing place only minutes away from the San Fernando Valley but a totally different serene world.
We continue our drive towards to ocean but it's clear to us that you could spend hundreds of weekends in these mountains exploring their nooks and crannies. After several hours of driving really slow and taking in the rugged beauty, we arrive at the Pacific Ocean. Technically we're out of Malibu now but we turn north on Hwy 1 and go up to Pt. Mugu State Park. It's just past here that the mountains back off from the sea and give way to the coastal plain. People often ask us where you can camp right at the ocean's edge. Pt. Mugu is one of those places. There are no hooks up and the toilets are portable ones. In other words this is primitive camping but it is right at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. There are fire rings here and tent campers are as welcome as motorhomes. Click on State Parks to go to their web page.
Now we head back south on Hwy 1 to explore this great coastline. The beaches in this section are small and bordered by rocks. About four miles south of Pt. Mugu we cross back into Los Angeles County from Ventura County. Here we find Leo Carrillo State Park. The beach is day use only. There is camping in the canyon that runs back from the beach. I'll quote here from California Beaches by Parke Puterbaugh and Alan Bisbort. This is an excellent book for anyone wanting to explore California's beaches and beach towns.
" You are on the geological cutting edge of California's tectonic assembly line here."
This quote explains perfectly the complexity of this state park where ocean, mountain, and canyon come together.
Next is Nicholas Canyon County Beach. There is a parking fee here. You park and walk down the bluffs to the beach. Surfers sometimes refer to it as Point Zero and there has been nude use here but authorities regularly discourage such use. El Pesacador State Beach is our next stop. There is no fee at the time of this writing for parking here and walking down to the beach. Both of really like this beach. It would be hard for it to be crowded in the summer because there is so little parking. You can feel pretty alone here. Back on the highway two more state beaches come up. They are La Piedra and El Matador. El Matador has picnic tables on the bluff looking over the ocean and the trash cans are tied down with massive chains. The chains have to be worth way more than the trash cans. I guess there has been a problem here with people stealing trash cans.
The highway heads away from the ocean a bit as it leaves El Matador. Watch carefully to your right for a road that takes you back along the beach. The name of the road is Broad Beach Rd. It takes us back along the beach where we now encounter houses. It appears that you can't get to the beach from here because the houses block your access. But California law has required that access be provided to the beach. People can only own the beach to the mean (average) high tide mark. This means that all beaches are public below the mean high tide mark. Sure enough we spot an opening to the beach. There is a sign that says Coastal Access.
I park the car on the side of the road opposite from the houses and we walk down a path between two houses to the beach. This is, as the name implies, a broad beach. The homeowners have posted threatening signs warning that this is a private beach. Well it is only to the mean high tide mark and here it is pretty easy to see where that line lies. Don't let the signs scare you off. Respect the property of the homeowners but this beach belongs to all of us. Enjoy. At the entrance to the beach are trash cans with ads for Adopt a Beach. For information, call the organization at (800) 358-0231 or check out their web site at Adopt a Beach This organization places trash cans on beaches and advertising pays for the expense.
Broad Beach Road comes back onto Hwy 1 at Trancas Beach. Now the beach is right along the road. There are no bluffs and the beach extends to and adjoins the famous Zuma County Beach. You can park along side the highway here but it's much safer to enter via the toll gates at Zuma. Here you find the classic California beach scene in the summer. There are dozens of volleyball nets and this place is packed on a summer weekend. Today there is only a few people here. The parking fee is $6.00 per car in the summer and $4.75 in the winter. Click on Zuma Beach to get the latest on weather and beach activities.
Zuma Beach ends at Point Dume. There is a beach here as well but around the headlands there is a protected Point Dume State Beach. Getting here is not easy but it's worth the effort. Go back onto Hwy 1 and travel south again. You have climbed again up onto a headlands. The area to your right is a development called Malibu Riviera. Watch for a street off to your right named Dume Road. Follow it down to a fork to your right, Sea Lion. This ends quickly at Broadview. Turn left and the road takes you by parking for Point Dume State Beach Preserve. There is a time limit here of just two hours. Do it though. There is a narrow but beautiful beach at the base of the bluffs.
Back on Hwy 1 again, the entrance to Paradise Cove is about a mile from where we come back onto the highway from visiting Point Dume. Is it as neat as it sounds? It is quite lovely but they charge you $20.00 to park here for the day. My wife said,"No way am I paying $20 for the privilege of going to the beach!" The lady at the toll booth said we could avoid the heavy usage fee if we ate at the restaurant on the beach. You get 3 hours of free parking with a validated ticket. Well, not today. She gave us a copy of the menu for the restaurant. Prices were high but not too high considering the restaurant was right on the beach. Maybe another day. A sign there read, "No dogs, surfboards, or boats." Keep that in mind if you want to Paradise Cove. I don't think dogs are allowed on any of the beaches we visited.
Another 3/4 of a mile on Hwy 1 and Pat spots another beach access sign. I park the car on the road in front of Geoffrey's Restaruant and we go back to check out Escondido Beach. The stairs down to the beach are the steepest I've ever seen. We only looked down. The beach didn't appear to us to be worth the climb back up. This is another beach where million dollar plus homes line the beach and you only can go up to the mean high tide mark.
Just where the highway comes closest to the beach and then turns to go back up on the headlands, you'll see Malibu Cove Colony Drive. Just like on Broad Beach, the road takes you by multi-million dollars home, but look closely and you'll find a beach access point. We come back onto the Pacific Coast Highway just before Dan Blocker Memorial State Beach. The beach is right along side the road. About a mile further and we again catch a road that goes off at an angle to the right. This is Malibu Road. Just like before, there are houses blocking most of the beach access but look closely and you'll find a beach access point. These places aren't easy to find and there's little parking. But once past the houses and onto the beach, you'll have it pretty much to yourself and the people who live there. Be warned that there is no lifeguard services or facilities at any of these beaches where you have to hunt for public access amindst the houses.
This road brings us back into the only real shopping district along the entire Malibu coastline. Malibu City Hall is located here as well as the famous Malibu Colony. The mix at the Starbucks is college students from nearby Peperdine University, beautiful people who look like they could be in the entertainment industry, or are trying, and homeless looking types. For all I know maybe these homeless looking people were the people in the movie industry. Anyway, it makes for a good place to do people watching. Pat and I decide that we want to come back to this part of Malibu tomorrow and spend a good part of the day here. Grabbing some coffee and a pastry, we're back on Hwy 1 again heading towards Santa Monica. The area really begins to look tacky now. For the most part rundown looking houses and apartments obscure and block your view of the beach. The beach is very narrow here. The only two hotels on the beach along the entire Malibu coastline are located in this area. For our money, these beaches aren't worth a stop. On the other side of the road is where most of the businesses are located. With a few breaks here and there this is one long ugly strip mall. If you came to see Malibu and this is a far as you got, you'd be pretty disappointed. We end our beach drive at the Santa Monica Pier about 13 miles down the coast from the Malibu Colony.
We'd planned our day to end up here at the pier. I pay the attendant the $5.00 parking fee and we walk up to the pier. It's not to busy today. It's cool and evening is coming on. We consider eating on the pier at either a restaurant or one of the beach stands but their prices are way to high for what you get. So, we settle to just walk out to the end of the pier. A number of people are fishing. From the end of the pier we look up the coast towards where Malibu is located. The Santa Monica Mountains to the north are now a black ragged silhouette. They come down to the ocean and form the northern boundary of the Santa Moncia Bay. I've always loved this view of the pier, the beach, the bay, the mountains and the lights of Santa Monica.
Looking for better and cheaper food we walk back on the pier towards Santa Monica. It's only a couple of blocks to the Promenade. This place is bustling even though it's early in the evening. We slip into the mall and check out the food court. It's awesome. There's a greater variety of food here than any mall type food court I've ever been in and it's inexpensive food. Pat and I mix up our dinner with Lebanese and Indian food. Then we head out onto the Promendade to stroll. This is a fun and safe place to watch people. We end our our stay in Santa Monica by stopping at a European style deli. This place has the best asortment of sweet goodies I've seen outside Europe.
The Other Days of Malibu:
Day 1 - Sea Mountain Ranch - Our Arrival
CaliforniaSeahorse Beach Resort
Sea Otter Inn
Mandalay Beach Resort