Here’s How to Plan an Epic Day at El Matador Beach

by Erica Garza

Though the  most popular of the three “pocket beaches” within Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach, El Matador Beach remains one of Malibu’s best kept secrets. With sea caves, archways, wildlife viewing and a long stretch of white sand, the beach has plenty to keep you busy for an epic day on the coast. Use our guide to discover everything you can do in and around El Matador, along with the best time of year to visit.

What to Do at El Matador Beach

A popular place for photographers shooting sunsets and supermodels, El Matador is situated just north of Malibu and is accessible via a steep staircase along a 150-foot bluff. Once you make the hike down, you’ll be greeted by towering cliffs, rugged rock formations and amazing sea stacks made by wind and water. In fact, you may want to bring your camera, too. Surfers and body boarders love the beach’s swells, but you don’t have to get in the water to enjoy El Matador. In fact, swimming might not be so pleasant because of the rocky nature of this beach. 

Pack a picnic and hang out on the sand watching birds fly by or explore El Matador’s caves and picturesque arches in the rocks. Condé Nast Traveler likened these archways and craggy rock formations to a “jungle gym for adults.” The largest cave faces the ocean and is connected to the base of the bluff, but be sure to visit at low tide when it’s most accessible (check tide times here). 

Low tide is also a great time to visit the tide pools at El Matador, home to giant anemones, sea stars, hermit crabs, sea mussels and shore crabs. Be sure to check out the diverse flora growing on the bluffs as well, including California cacti and wildflowers. 

What’s Nearby

Make a day of your visit to El Matador and don’t miss these other nearby adventures:

When to Visit El Matador

Most people visit El Matador Beach in the summer when the water temperature is slightly warmer, but still quite cool for most. To avoid the crowds, visit El Matador in the winter where you might be the only person there. Weekdays also tend to be less busy than weekends. The best time of day to visit is during the golden hour, just before the sun sets, but always be sure to check the tides, or the beach will be hidden and inaccessible. 

The Basics: Parking, Restrictions and More

El Matador is located at 32215 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265. The beach is open from 8 a.m. to sunset every day, and parking costs $8, though you can park for free on Pacific Coast Highway (look out for no-parking zones to avoid parking tickets). No dogs are allowed on the beach. 

There are picnic tables located adjacent to the parking lot to enjoy a local meal from Rockwell Kitchen with mesmerizing views. 

Keep in mind that El Matador is easy to miss if you aren’t looking out for it, as there aren’t huge signs. While driving up Pacific Coast Highway, El Matador is just past Point Dume and before Leo Carrillo. Look for a small sign on the right indicating El Matador Beach is up ahead.

Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in TIME, Glamour, Health, VICE and Good Housekeeping.