Cruising down Highway 1, you come to the towering Santa Monica mountains. Below, the surf town of Malibu, California nestled seaside. It’s iconic, in movies, synonymous with Hollywood. But what most don’t know is just how laidback this chic surf town is.

California has a long coastline, and with it, several destinations to choose from for a coastal getaway. Malibu is one of them that stands out from the rest. Mild year-round weather, killer surf with beautiful beaches, and this sort of hip enclave of eateries and shops, all within miles of bustling Los Angeles. It’s the best of both worlds, or in their case, a quiet getaway for those looking for rest.

We chose Malibu for our first family trip. The kind of trip we intentionally wanted to be slow, thoughtful, and full of rest. An opportunity to kick back in the mornings, enjoy nature, all the while enjoying good food and accommodations.

What first stroke the inspiration for this trip was discovering the hotel, The Surfrider. A 20 room, more like your own beach house, hotel right across from Surfrider Beach. The eye-catching design centered on calming spaces felt like the main course for a slow trip to Malibu. Digging around more in Malibu, I knew we had to make the trip.

So after three nights of slowly exploring the canyons and coast of Malibu, I’m excited to share this travel guide. I hope you’ll be inspired to discover the rest, and if you choose, adventure to be found in Malibu.

The Slow Travel Guide to Malibu, California

What To Know Before Visiting Malibu

Best Time of Year to Visit Malibu
The weather in southern California is rather mild year-round, so you can visit any time. You can easily have a t-shirt kind of day in December though you will get the occasional fog and cooler days. The summers are busy, so I would keep this in mind when planning your trip.

Amount of Time in Malibu
I believe two to three nights is an adequate amount of time to spend in Malibu. However, with that said, you could easily spend a long week here and make numerous day trips.

Location of Malibu
Located just west of Los Angeles, Malibu is along the coastline of California in the Santa Monica Mountains region. Right on Highway 1, it makes for a scenic destination to drive to whether coming from the north or south. The closest airport would be LAX at around 24 miles away and you will need to rent a car to visit.

Where to Stay in Malibu

The Surfrider Hotel Malibu

When it came to planning this trip to Malibu, a big highlight was getting a chance to stay at the iconic Surfrider Hotel. Though it may be a hotel, it feels far from it. The best way I can describe staying at the Surfrider is having your own chic beach house. Like a home away from home, the perfectly located (across from Surfrider beach) hideout is pure bliss.

Checking into the Surfrider, I knew we were in good hands. The 20 room beach house set with natural tones and materials felt like a warm welcome home. With a sun-filled library and lounge space (books + guitar included), there were plenty of corners to hide out in during the day. There are also complimentary surfboards and paddleboards to use during your stay and even two Mini Coopers to use for a drive.

One lovely part of the stay is experiencing their roof deck restaurant and bar which is only open to guests. So it truly feels like it’s your own home where you can sip down a cocktail and enjoy a meal with epic sunset views. For breakfast, I’d highly recommend trying the nourish bowl and the fresh juice of the day. And if you find yourself wanting to settle in at the beach for the day, you can always grab one of their gourmet picnic baskets to go.

The rooms are thoughtful and designed with intention. There’s not a corner overlooked and those plush beds make for a restful night. You’ll find Parachute robes and Grown Alchemist bath amenities that add that spa touch. If I were to pick a room to hide out for the week, I would consider their Malibu Suite. With a lounge and deck space, you truly do feel like you have your own home.

My recommendation is to book this hotel in advance. With only 20 rooms, they go quickly.

Best Restaurants in Malibu

A Slow Travel Guide to Malibu, California
Uni Pasta + Lobster Roll at Broad Street Oyster

Broad Street Oysters
I can’t recommend popping into this restaurant enough while here. While known for their fresh oysters on the half shell, there are a few other plates to note. Their lobster roll is absolutely delicious as well as their uni butter spaghetti. You can even get fresh uni on the half shell sourced right up the coast from Santa Barbara.

Its most iconic location is certainly Malibu and for those looking for an upscale dining experience, come here. Top-end sushi, Japanese dishes, and beautiful views — all of which will require a reservation several weeks in advance. You can also get sushi to go which is another wonderful option for both lunch and dinner.

Malibu Farm Restaurant
A classic for Malibu and a good option for a casual yet refined meal. Their location on the pier is a wonderful spot on a sunny day. I love their tacos here, especially the pork belly one.

Topanga Living Cafe
If you head up the mountain into Topanga, I’d recommend coming in for lunch at Topanga Living Cafe. A calm space to hang out, their health-focused menu is really fresh.

SunLife Organics
Perfect spot to grab a juice or acai bowl while in town.

Saddle Peak Lodge
One restaurant we didn’t get to as it wasn’t open during the days we were there is Saddle Peak Lodge. It’s a classic for the area and up in the mountains, serving hearty meat dishes.

Malibu Country Mart
There are several other eateries and coffee shops like Blue Bottle here in the Mart if you need anything else. There is also a Whole Foods, so we popped in for a few snacks while in town.

Things to Do in Malibu

A Slow Travel Guide to Malibu, California

Catch Sunset at El Matador Beach

One of the most beautiful parts of the coastline we found on the trip was at El Matador Beach. You park at the top of the cliff and take the steps down to the beach. There are rock outcroppings and a decent amount of beach to go for a walk. I would come for about an hour or so before sunset to get a parking spot, especially on weekends.

Take a Scenic Drive into the Mountains

Nestled in the Santa Monica Range, there are several scenic drives you can take from Malibu. I’d head out towards Malibu Canyon, taking Latigo Canyon road and then cut across on Mulholland Hwy through over to Calabasas and down into Malibu again. There are several routes, so you can pick and choose. Either way, it’s incredibly beautiful and you get epic views over the Pacific.

Surf or Paddleboard at Surfrider Beach

This is a wonderful area to go surfing or for a morning paddleboard ride. If you’re staying a the Surfrider, there are complimentary boards to use. Another popular beach for surf is Zuma.

Visit the Town of Topanga

One of our days when we had grey weather was spent driving up into the mountains to the quaint town of Topanga. It’s a popular hideout for retreats and the few cafes and shops make for a great stop. Pop into Moona Star, the Well Refill, and Kinship Station for shopping. For food, we loved eating at Topanga Living Cafe and the Inn of the Seventh Ray is another popular choice.

Have a Beach Day at Zuma Beach

Pack a lunch, grab a towel and umbrella, and post up at Zuma Beach.

Go Hiking in the Mountains

This area is full of great hiking trails. Unfortunately with baby, we didn’t quite make it out so we saved a few hiking trails for the next time we visit. Some of the more popular trails to hike that we noted are Solstice Canyon, Zuma Canyon Trailhead, and Escondido Canyon Park.

Other Nearby Day Trips

While in Malibu, you could choose to use it as a base to do longer day trips. Some other things of interest nearby would include the Getty Villa, shopping at the Palisades Village or Brentwood Country Mart, visiting Santa Monica, or even down to Venice. All of this is within under thirty minutes to an hour one way, so easily could make an afternoon of it.

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