by Nick Marshall
If there’s a better spot than Malibu to dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean, few people can name it. The 21 miles of coastline that stretch from Tuna Canyon to Point Mugu are enchanting enough to lure in some 250,000 visitors on summer weekends, but any time is good to visit. West Coast surfing culture has its roots in the “Bu,” while the beach homes along Carbon Beach provide room for the stars.
With its pleasant year-round Mediterranean weather, it always feels good to spend time in Malibu, and that’s even before you’ve picked up on the town’s eco-friendly, wellness-driven vibe. So where to start? When it comes to the beaches in Malibu, here are our top recommendations...
1. Topanga Beach
It’s not just the first of the beaches in Malibu you’ll come to if you’re approaching from LA or Santa Monica. Topanga Beach is also our home. Grab a bite and head onto the narrow, rocky strip of sand. The reef outcrops make swimming difficult, but Topanga Beach is a big draw for surfers. It’s a relatively quiet beach with easy walking access, on-street parking and wheelchair access.
2. Las Tunas
With the water coming right up to the rocks, the next beach up the coast won’t hit the spot for sunbathers or swimmers, but it has an irresistible allure for anglers in search of bass or halibut (California fishing license required). One of the quieter hidden beaches in Malibu, it’s also a great location for diving among the rocks and reef.
3. Malibu Lagoon State Beach
Head down the path from the bluff and you’ll discover the beautiful tranquility of Malibu Lagoon State Beach where the creek meets the ocean. This wetland area is home to hundreds of species of migratory birds and just a great place to have a stroll. Take a moment, too, to look into the Malibu Lagoon Museum at Adamson House to learn more about the history of the town, and enjoy some of the best views over the beach.
From the lagoon, walk back toward Malibu Pier, another top fishing spot, and you’ll reach Malibu Surfrider Beach. This is the spiritual home of West Coast surfing, and home to the world’s first surfing reserve. It’s busy, of course, but the three point breaks here offer bucket-list surfing.
4. Dan Blocker Beach
If you’re willing to hike the coastline trail from the parking lot at Corral Canyon Park (there is no direct beach access from the lookout), you’ll discover a highly rated surfing and scuba diving spot at Dan Blocker, which is named after the actor who played “Hoss” in Bonanza. It’s a narrow strip of sand about one mile long. Some will see it as rocky, others as quiet, but either way it’s a scenic picnic location.
5. Point Dume State Beach
This is a beautiful one-mile stretch of sand reached by a hiking trail from the bluff and dunes. The big draws here are the views, whether it’s looking across Santa Monica Bay from the clifftop or spotting whales (in winter) and dolphins close to the shore. Film buffs will recognize Point Dume State Beach as the setting for the final scene in the original Planet of the Apes.
Pro tip: If you’re lucky enough to befriend a local with a key, you can access the secluded Little Dume Private beach. It’s a firm favorite, and is where Chef Rockwell grew up going with her family.
6. Zuma Beach
If you want to be in the thick of the action, but still step right from the parking lot onto the sand, come to Zuma Beach, the largest in Malibu. The clean white sands here stretch for almost two miles, with lifeguards on duty, making it an ideal family beach. You’ll also find lots of food stands to choose from. Swimming and bodysurfing are popular; but watch out for rip tides.
7. Carbon Beach
Dubbed “Billionaires Beach”, this narrow, one-mile strip of highly coveted coastline is where you’ll find the beach houses of the rich and famous. It’s worth visiting out of curiosity rather than for the setting itself.
Pro tip: Despite the signs claiming the beach is private, all Malibu beaches allow public access along the waterline.
8. El Matador Beach
The reward for climbing down the steep steps to this scenic beach is a magical landscape of rocky outcrops and awesome sunsets — if you pick your moment, that is. At other times, it can be busy with everyone from wedding groups to Instagrammers in search of the perfect backdrop. Once you see it, however, you’ll recognize it.
9. Nicholas Canyon
One of the last beaches on Malibu’s stretch of coast, Nicholas Canyon is likely to be the first stop for serious surfers. That’s because of its perfect point break, earning it the nickname “Point Zero” among board-lovers. It’s also a great beach for kitesurfing, windsurfing or just a picnic. Nearby is the working Native American village at Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, giving fascinating insight into Malibu’s history.
10. Leo Carillo State Beach
Having featured in Grease, Pirates of the Caribbean and Letters from Iwo Jima, among others, it’s not surprising that Leo Carillo State Beach is also known as “Movie Beach.” With its unusual rock formations and sea caves, there’s plenty to explore. It also happens to be a great surfing beach, with slow, steady surf in chest-high water. The beach is dog friendly, and a beautiful spot to spend the night, either camping or in the RV park.
Of course, we’ve had to leave out some favorites to get the list down to just ten, so there are even more hidden gems to discover. In the end, there’s enough coastline in Malibu for everyone to find their favorite beach.
Nick Marshall has been writing about the latest trends in food and travel for more than 15 years.