by Dan Ketchum
If you’re headed down the PCH to Malibu, chances are you already know all about hiking the Grotto or Mishe Mokwa trails, or bumming it on classic beaches like Zuma, El Matador or Topanga Beach (the beach Rockwell Kitchen calls home!). These natural attractions are staples for a reason, and one of the key reasons Malibu has been a nationwide destination since the 1950s.
But to experience Malibu at its most authentic, don’t just dip your toes in the water — dive in to the community head first. Here are five ways to do just that.
1. Hit the Trails on Horseback
Hiking will just about always be at the top of the list of what to do in Malibu, but why just hike when you can hike like a cowboy? Even if you’ve never seen a horse in your life, local businesses like Malibu Riders will (gently) put you in the saddle and expertly guide you through picture-perfect locales like Zuma Canyon and the Paramount Ranch western town (which is reopened and currently being restored after being damaged by 2019’s devastating Woolsey Fire).
Be prepared to spot the occasional deer, bobcat or coyote alongside a heaping helping of wildflowers and wide ocean views.
2. Country Life, Malibu Style
Nailing a perfect balance of West Side polish and laid back canyon country, you’ll find the Trancas Country Market nestled on a 17-acre natural sanctuary between beachsides and mountainsides. Inside it's barn-style trappings, Vintage Grocers is ground zero for thoughtfully sourced food from local growers and fisheries while Nati and Hiptique offer trendy but approachable clothes shopping (with Drill Surf & Skate repping old-school Malibu skate culture, too). Shine Beauty Collective and Alicia Adams Alpaca add a touch of luxury pampering to the equation, but lounging in the open-air commons or browsing the local favorite garden nursery doesn’t cost a thing.
3. Community Eats
All along the PCH, you’ll find plenty of places to eat, but few Malibu restaurants are an experience. That’s where Rockwell Kitchen comes in. You’ll always find us serving the community with the fresh, farm-to-table eats curated by chef Alla Rockwell, who hails from the local Point Dume and who cut her teeth at numerous high-end L.A. restaurants.
Feel good about what you eat with locally sourced, low-carbon footprint dining that gives back to the community — you’ll definitely need some cinnamon roll waffles and a revitalizing swig of Laird Superfood Coffee to start your adventure, or maybe a (biodegradable) plate of smoked corn chickpea tacos to refuel for your next one.
4. Drink Wine, Feed Zebras
Of all the things to do in Malibu, “feed a zebra a carrot with one hand while sipping a sauv blanc in the other” might not have crossed your mind, but Malibu Wine Safari is here to change that. The vino is sourced from local vineyards throughout the Santa Monica Mountains, but the red and white wine flights are paired with something a little different than charcuterie: real-life encounters with creatures like water buffalo, alpacas, bison, llamas, cows, zebras and a giraffe named Stanley (for real) across the 1,000-acre Saddlerock Ranch.
5. Become One with the Waves
You can’t separate Malibu from ocean beauty, and those waves are full of opportunity — you can meditate and observe or immerse yourself in the surf, literally. In addition to action sports and lifestyle apparel, Boardriders offers local lessons that both educate and inspire with progressive surf culture.
For a conscientious, community-facing choice, the Surfers Healing camp typically hits the neighborhood yearly, offering a free-of-charge surf camp that aims to enrich the lives of people with autism through the power of surf.
If you enjoy the healing power of Malibu’s waters, why not pitch in to keep them clean? The Surfrider Foundation hosts regular beach cleanups through L.A., presenting a unique opportunity to take in nature while you help preserve it. And we’d like to think you can’t get much more Malibu than that.
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.