by Dan Ketchum
We may prefer an expertly curated menu here at Rockwell Kitchen, but the selection of Malibu hikes is a lot more like a buffet — and we’re not mad about it.
No matter what your speed or preference is, from a low-key stroll among meadows to grand waterfalls and craggy rock climbing, the coasts, fields, hills and trees of our favorite beach town don’t just have you covered, they’ll absolutely spoil you for choice — take it from the locals, the hardest part is narrowing the list down to just five.
1. Solstice Canyon
If there’s one thing Malibu is known for, it’s beaches, but if there’s a second thing Malibu is known for, it’s canyons. Solstice Canyon is one of those “just right” hikes (and is a favorite of Rockwell Kithchen’s owner and executive chef, Alla Rockwell, who grew up hiking the trail), at about two-and-half miles — or roughly an hour — long you’ll be treated to a nice, pacey little cruise with plenty of natural pools, capped by a 30-foot tall waterfall.
But what makes this one so cool is how distinctly Malibu it is in terms of the man-made oddities you’ll discover along the way, most notably the scattered remains of a Polynesian-style property designed by historic LA architect Paul Williams, who defined the city with creations such as the Beverly Hills Hotel and Space Age Theme Building at LAX.
2. Escondido Falls
Speaking of waterfalls, they don’t get much more epic than Escondido Falls. The pearl of this multitiered hike is the tallest waterfall in the Santa Monica Mountains, at a stunning 150 feet high. To get there, you’ll traverse the forested paths of Escondido Canyon, challenging thick natural roots, lush green moss, rugged rocks and man-made ropes to earn the view (or you can opt for a more relaxing, mile-long hike and check out the lush, fern-framed 50-foot falls on the first “tier”). Rockwell Kitchen’s own Chef Rockwell grew up riding Escondido’s trails on horseback, making it her all-time fave Malibu hike.
3. Mishe Mokwa Trail
Once you’ve conquered the Santa Monica Mountains’ tallest waterfall, how about taking on its highest peak? You’ll find that in the form of Sandstone Peak, which you can reach via the Mishe Mokwa trail. Mishe Mokwa will take you 1,600 feet up mild Malibu hiking trails with a touch of optional climbing and a heap of fascinatingly gnarly rock formations. Your reward for the six-mile hike is a view that reaches all the way to the San Gabriel Mountains, clear on the other side of LA.
4. Charmlee Wilderness Park
Clean, abundant with cheap parking, easy to find and dog friendly, Charmlee is the Malibu hike you pick when you want a chill, hassle-free stroll where you’re not too likely to run into too many fellow hikers. The trails here are gentle, with easygoing slopes, focusing more on golden, flowery meadows (hello influencers) without skimping on the dazzling coastal views. No wonder it’s one of Malibu Magazine’s favorites.
5. Lower Malibu Creek
If Escondido and Mishe Mokwa were just warmups for you, the Condé Nast-recommended Lower Malibu Creek might be more your style. This eight-mile trail is an adventure that’s a little less curated than some of Malibu’s more accessible hikes, so it’s best to have a few GPS points set before you go. You’ll get your fair share of that iconic sandy Malibu brush, but the star of the show here is the rock pool, which looks like it’d be right at home in the Deep South, and offers equal measure of good swimming and mid-level rock climbing.
In addition to his experience as a mixologist, menu designer, bar manager and traveler, Dan has been a freelance writer and Los Angeles resident since 2009. He has previously written for Everything Food, Farmshelf, Hunker, Out East Rose, Salon.com and the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate, among others.