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Malibu Beach Scenic Drive, Part I

Enjoying Malibu, Zuma Beach, and
The Santa Monica Mountains
Like an LA Native

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Update, November 2018: Sadly, the Woolsey Fire destroyed much of the Santa Monica Mountains portion of this drive. Pacific Coast Highway—California Highway 1 along the coast of Malibu—was not impacted in the same way.

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You can enjoy this exhilarating Malibu scenic drive in one day.

At your own pace, you explore some of California's finest beaches, natural areas, and celebrity hangouts, including—

  • Renowned Malibu Surfriders Beach,
  • Malibu Colony celebrity homes,
  • Mel Gibson arrest scene,
  • Beautiful Malibu Canyon,
  • Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area,
  • Jay Leno's favorite Sunday drive,
  • Malibu Creek State Park (former Fox Movie Ranch—M*A*S*H, Planet of the Apes),
  • Paramount Movie Ranch,
  • Topanga State Beach,
  • Will Rogers State Beach,
  • Point Mugu State Park, and
  • Where Malibu shops and goes to court.

Part II and the Santa Monica scenic drive take you on to —

  • "Billionaires Beach,"
  • Charles Manson home,
  • Zuma Beach,
  • Leo Carillo State Beach,
  • Point Dume,
  • Verizon's iDon't "Magic (Oh, Oh, Oh)" highway,
  • County Line Beach ("Surfing USA")
  • Santa Monica Pier (Baywatch, Ruthless People, etc.),
  • Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica (numerous films),
  • Muscle Beach ("White Men Can't Jump," etc.),
  • Venice Beach, and
  • the Dogtown skateboarding neighborhood.

With an extra day or two, add Santa Barbara, California's most beautiful city.

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Timing your Los Angeles scenic drive

This makes an easy one-day drive, but get an early start. During weekends or warm school holidays, leave especially early to avoid the worst traffic on its way to the Malibu beaches.

From May through October, you may wake up to fog or low clouds in Los Angeles. Do not be concerned, as this usually burns off by mid-morning at Malibu and Zuma beaches.

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area offers extensive hiking opportunities—you may wish extra days for these. Many hikes feature ocean views.

The Sierra Club features numerous day hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains open to the general public. See "Outings" on its Angeles Chapter website. Be sure to choose your correct fitness level.

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Reaching your Malibu scenic drive

From anywhere in the Los Angeles area, head for Interstate 10, the Santa Monica Freeway, and then travel westward toward Santa Monica.

From the Disneyland area, take the northbound I-5 to westbound I-10.

From the San Fernando Valley or southern Orange County, take the I-405 to the westbound I-10.

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Driving toward Malibu Beach

When you reach Santa Monica via Interstate 10, you are in for a surprise.

After driving under a web of overpasses in the Santa Monica city center, Santa Monica Beach pops up on your left.

Suddenly, you are on Pacific Coast Highway—California's famed Highway One—without even watching for a freeway exit.

Along this portion, a few buildings periodically block your beach views, but you will soon have an uninterrupted view of the Pacific.

You may be tempted to stop—but hold off—you'll return here later.

Continue "northbound" on Pacific Coast Highway.

You are actually traveling westbound toward and through Malibu. Because these face south, Malibu and Zuma beaches usually get their best surf during the summer and fall Mexican hurricane season.

On your right, the Santa Monica Mountains rise out of the sea.

If the cliffs look as if they're falling onto the highway, they are! This road closes nearly every year due to some big slide, and rocks can fall at any time. Note the barriers to protect you—hopefully.

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Will Rogers State Beach and Topanga State Beach

Continue on Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.

You quickly reach two great beaches—Will Rogers State Beach and then Topanga State Beach.

Will Rogers State Beach provided the main filming venue for Baywatch, the most popular television show in history, with over one billion viewers to date.

Note the wonderfully tan quality of the sand there.

Stop if you wish, but there are even better beaches ahead. Moreover, you will pass Will Rogers and Topanga beaches again today, when it will be safer to turn into their parking lots.

The late President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan lived in Pacific Palisades, the Los Angeles neighborhood above Will Rogers beach, until Reagan became president.

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Gladstone's

At the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, at 17300 on the beach side, sits Gladstone's, one of the Malibu area's most famous restaurants.

Featuring seafood and great views, Gladstone's hosted Surya's team as winners of a weekly task during the 2006/2007 season of The Apprentice: LA., and Entourage had its two foodies, Drama and Turtle, dining there.

Again, you will have the chance to stop on the way back.

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Malibu Beach gateway

Continue on Pacific Coast Highway.

After Topanga State Beach, you've reached the eastern end of Malibu.

Surprisingly, the first homes you notice at the main gateway to Malibu are far less than impressive, but the people in these residences are living on the beach, and—hey—we're probably not.

Unusual in California, which prides itself on its extensive public beaches, a long stretch of Malibu offers very limited beach access.

However, marked public pathways between some homes give access to the water. Time your use with low tide, and do not approach the often alarm equipped houses.

Better yet, visit the fantastic public beaches discussed below.

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Mel Gibson arrest scene

Approximately one and a half miles beyond the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway with Topanga Canyon Road (California Highway 27), Moonshadows Blue Lounge pops up on your left at 20356 Pacific Coast Highway.

At this pleasant beachfront restaurant and bar, Mel Gibson got smashed on the night of July 27, 2006, and then attempted to drive home before being stopped by police.

At 2:30 a.m., the arrest occurred just beyond the restaurant in the same block on Pacific Coast Highway. The "Lethal Weapon" actor was clocked driving at nearly twice the speed limit—driving at 87 miles per hour—with an open container of alcohol (out of reach).

As you know, remarks made by Gibson during the arrest prompted front page headlines around the world and most likely negatively impacted his film career.

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Spotting celebrities in Malibu

Relatively few upscale restaurants and lounges like Moonshadows serve Malibu. Especially during the evening, these public places provide excellent venues to spot celebrities.

If you respect the privacy of well-known patrons—if you do not ask for autographs or stick cameras in their faces or otherwise act as if you do not belong—you may even get to interact with them, but let the celebrities initiate conversation. Mel Gibson, for example, had friendly interactions with strangers at Moonshadows on the night of his infamous arrest, when he did not feel threatened by them.

See also the the Malibu Civic Center and shopping area below.

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Malibu Beach celebrity home areas

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During this scenic drive, you'll visit all of the premier celebrity areas of Malibu.

Soon after Moonshadows, wall-to-wall celebrity beach homes begin to line the beach side of Pacific Coast Highway starting before Los Flores Canyon Road.

Many of these look less than impressive, as their windowless walls front the highway to keep down traffic noise.

Homes on the beach prior to Los Flores Canyon Road, called Los Flores Beach, are among those that have been featured on Bravo's "Million Dollar Listing."

Other celebrity neighborhoods include the Malibu Colony, which you will visit later, and homes along or near Pacific Coast Highway as you drive back via Point Dume and Zuma Beach, which are featured in Part II on this scenic drive.

For additional privacy and living space, as well as isolation from the noise of Pacific Coast Highway, more and more top celebrities live on the hillsides—off the beach—mostly beyond the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Los Flores Canyon Road.

At one time or another, hill dwellers have included Barbra Streisand, Sean Penn, Tommy Lee, Richard Gere, and Mel Gibson.

Because ownership of celebrity homes constantly changes as careers ebb and flow and marriages take place and fail, you are not going to get some grossly inaccurate "map to the stars" here.

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Watch for 22119

After passing the Los Flores Canyon Road intersection ("Duke's Malibu" is on this corner), keep an eye out for the apartment or condo building at 22119 Pacific Coast Highway on your right.

You want to make sure that you do not miss the house across the street mostly hidden by an humongous hedge on your way back. We will discuss this very special home in Part II.

These beachfront homes block your views, but that soon changes.

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Malibu Surfriders Beach – Malibu Pier

The next public beach area comes up just beyond 22800 block of Pacific Coast Highway, just to the right of Malibu Pier, and it is a fine one.

The official name is Malibu Lagoon State Beach, but everyone calls it Malibu Surfriders Beach or usually just Surfriders Beach.

Without question, surfers consider Surfriders one of the premier surfing spots in the world. At Surfriders, wave size matters far less than wave quality. The incredibly long rides surfers enjoy are a joy to watch and even more to experience.

Because finding parking in this area can be a nightmare, grab any legal spot you see and walk across Pacific Coast Highway at the light.

Enjoy the view from Malibu Pier, which continues to be used extensively in film and television.

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Malibu Colony

To the right of the pier as you look out to sea—in the distance on the point—notice the famed "Malibu Colony," Malibu's most well-known celebrity home area.

A gatehouse prevents unauthorized auto access, but you can easily walk along the beach at low tide. Do not approach homes too closely, however. Otherwise, you may be cited for trespassing or even be arrested.

"The Colony" has been frequently featured in Bravo's "Million Dollar Listing."

Tom Hanks, Mel Brooks, Leonardo Di Caprio, and Sting have lived there.

Just past the pier, in the palm-shaded lagoon area, Malibu Creek reaches the ocean. You will follow this creek soon.

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Malibu town center

Continue west on Highway 1, Pacific Coast Highway.

A minute or two beyond the pier, Malibu's civic center and main shopping area pop up. The shops provide good places to stock a picnic lunch.

During off-peak hours (especially not during daytime on weekends), the supermarket and other shops in the commercial area to the left of Pacific Coast Highway feature good celebrity sighting. Please leave them alone, however.

Periodically of course, the courthouse and sheriff's station to the right of Pacific Coast Highway also come alive with Hollywood personalities.

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Pepperdine University

On the hill just beyond the Malibu civic center sits Pepperdine University. You simply cannot miss it on the right.

This striking hillside campus offers fine views of the Malibu coastline and the entrance to rugged Malibu Canyon.

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Malibu Canyon Road

Unless deciding to enroll immediately at Pepperdine after viewing its breathtaking location, we will drive through the Santa Monica National Recreation Area. Then, we will visit the most scenic section of the Malibu coastline.

As you reach its campus on Highway 1, notice Pepperdine's huge lawn (Pepperdine does not seem to be into sustainability) on the right going up to the university buildings on the hillside.

Just prior to the Pepperdine lawn, turn right onto Malibu Canyon Road at the light.

Be sure your gasoline gage shows at least 1/4 full before turning onto Malibu Canyon Road.

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Malibu Canyon

Almost immediately, you enter narrow, steep, and rock-lined Malibu Canyon.

This is one of the most picturesque areas of your drive. Although I once commuted through this canyon every weekday, I never tired of it.

Soon, you drive through what must be the most filmed tunnel in the world, which has been featured in a simply amazing number of films and television shows.

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Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Since entering Malibu Canyon, you have been driving through the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

You can follow our Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area route in this pdf file. Use the "zoom in" function for detailed viewing.

Many wanted the beaches of Malibu to be included in the park and some early maps showed this.

Unfortunately, Congress has not even appropriated the money needed to buy all the undeveloped mountain land within the park boundaries, let alone mansions along the shores of Malibu.

Nevertheless, enjoy. This is incredibly rugged country to find so close to a great city.

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Several cautions

Although you notice lots of vegetation, nearly no rain falls between early May and late October. As a result, many plants burn easily helping to create spectacular brush fires that spread rapidly.

As a consequence, please obey the no smoking signs.

If you walk, take water—these mountains get hot—and watch for rattlesnakes. During the heat of the day, these snakes stay mostly out of sight between rocks and under plants, which usually creates no problems if you stick to paths and don't step among rocks.

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Malibu Creek State Park

Soon after exiting Malibu Canyon, turn left off of Malibu Canyon Road into the main entrance (not the entrance into Tapa County Park) of Malibu Creek State Park, the former Fox Movie Ranch once heavily used for outdoor film and television production, including M*A*S*H and Planet of the Apes.

This tree-covered park provides a pleasant place to walk and picnic and your last chance to use facilities before returning to Highway 1, unless you detour to the Paramount Movie Ranch later on.

Be sure to save your state park parking receipt as it will be valid at the other state parks and state beaches you visit today, as long as they are equal or less in price. (As of this writing, they all are.)

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Mulholland Highway

Back on Malibu Canyon Road, which becomes Las Virgenes Road, continue north through the national recreation area. Comedian Bob Hope used to own much of the land in this part of the park.

At the first major intersection after Malibu Creek State Park—there are traffic lights—turn left (west) onto Mulholland Highway.

William Mulholland was the controversial engineer largely responsible for bringing the water that allowed Los Angeles to grow from a very small town into a major city. Although you cannot drive on a hikers only section between them, Mulholland Highway continues as the famous Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

Although not all in public hands yet, Mulholland Highway leads you through some of the best preserved areas of the national recreation area. This is rugged and beautiful countryside.

The highway is paved and mostly well-maintained, but you're in for some real mountain driving. Take your time.

On Sundays, you may pass Jay Leno. He loves the thrill of riding one of his motorcycles along Mulholland Highway.

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Paramount Movie Ranch

If this drive seems familiar, it should be.

As mentioned, the hills and valleys of the Santa Monica Mountains have served as backdrops for numerous films and television shows.

Nevertheless, Mel Brook's "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" filmed in the area did not fool me. These chaparral covered hills are no English Sherwood Forest—different climate.

Although film and television production occurred throughout the park, much of it happened at the Paramount Ranch, just off Mulholland Highway.

If you wish to visit the ranch, watch for Cornell Road, and then turn right onto that. The entrance to Paramount Ranch then comes up on your left.

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Directions back to Highway 1

Continue generally westward on Mulholland Highway.

After passing the intersection with Kanan Road (County route N9), watch for where Mulholland Highway forks, with one route veering slightly left and one slightly right.

At this confusing junction, take the fork to the right, in order to continue on Mulholland Highway.

Soon, you reach a "T" junction, an intersection where you cannot continue straight. This is the intersection with Decker Canyon Road, State Highway 23.

Turn left, in order to continue on Mulholland Highway.

After several minutes, turn right off of Highway 23 onto the continuation of Mulholland Highway. This takes you back to Highway 1 through often pristine countryside.

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Point Mugu

After reaching Leo Carillo State Park, Mulholland Highway ends. Learn more about this park later.

Turn right onto Highway 1.

Soon you reach Point Mugu State Park, which offers the most undeveloped and rugged coastline near Los Angeles.

Although this portion of Highway 1 does not offer the sublime beauty of Highway 1 near Big Sur, this is one of the most scenic portions of the route, and even more so on days when big waves crash and send up spray next to the highway.

After passing Point Mugu—a large and distinctive formation sticking out into the ocean, with Highway 1 briefly passing between it and the Santa Monica Mountains—Highway 1 veers right toward the north.

You will see a wide coastal plain stretching out in front of you.

The Naval Air Station on your left in the distance was where President and Mrs. Reagan landed on their way to their Santa Barbara ranch. The remains of President Reagan were brought back to California via this base.

Soon Highway 1 will expand into a divided, limited-access freeway.

After Point Mugu, you have choices:

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Option 1: Continue your Malibu Beach scenic drive

You can return to Los Angeles today via the most scenic area of Malibu, as outlined in
Malibu Beach Scenic Drive, Part II

This not only takes you past the most beautiful areas of Malibu coastline, but also major celebrity home areas.

For this option, either—

  • Continue up Highway 1 to the first freeway interchange, and then cross the highway to take the onramp back toward Malibu, or if traffic is light,

  • Cross Highway 1 at a marked vista point (using a left turn lane) before reaching the freeway, and then drive back toward Malibu.

Then continue your Malibu scenic drive with
Malibu Beach Scenic Drive, Part II

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Option II: Continue to Santa Barbara

You can continue on to Santa Barbara—usually less than an hour beyond Point Mugu via State Highway 1 and then U.S. Highway 101—and then return to Point Mugu to rejoin the Malibu scenic drive via Highway 101 and then Highway 1.

With one of the most pleasant urban environments in the U.S., most people find the garden city of Santa Barbara an absolute joy to visit. Its marked scenic drive leads you to nearly all the best places.

You can enjoy Santa Barbara staying as little as one night, but two or more are best. If hotel prices seem too steep in Santa Barbara (even a Motel 6 room goes for over $100 much of the year), consider staying in nearby towns like Carpinteria and Ventura.

For weekends or any warm day, you should reserve Santa Barbara accommodation in advance.

On your way back to Los Angeles, you can rejoin your Malibu scenic drive in Part II.

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Continue your Malibu scenic drive:

Malibu Beach Scenic Drive, Part II


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