CATCHING A BREAK
The other side of billionaire playground Malibu.
Malibu is less than an hour from LA, up the Pacific Coast Highway, yet it has always felt elusive to outsiders.that’s a bit unfair, considering its mood-altering beaches make laying your towel in Santa Monica look like the definition of settling. Even away from the sand, Malibu is a high church of fauna and renewal with its cragged mountains; winding, sagebrush-lined canyons; and shimmering light that has seduced filmmakers for decades, from Sydney Pollack, who filmed The Way We Were there (Barbra Streisand later became one of Malibu’s best-known residents), to Kathryn Bigelow, whose Point Break, set at Leo Carrillo State Beach, is the Sistine Chapel of surfing movies. Farther north, Malibu’s lush remoteness unfolds, and it becomes clear why the locals have wanted to keep this 34-kilometre stretch of coastline to themselves.
The truth is it has never been a particularly great place for visitors to stay, unless you have the extra mortgage payment you need for a week of vacation detox at a wellness retreat such as The Ranch. Development has always been a slightly dirty word in Malibu. And the town’s more Joan Didion-minded, eucalyptus-wafting boho side doesn’t immediately reveal itself, while its clichéd trappings — paparazzi, preposterously rich entertainment folk, expensive sushi — are smack dab in the centre of town.
Discreetly, Malibu’s cool is becoming more accessible, as a handful of smart, stylish boutique motels have opened in the past year. The let’s-pack-a-last-minute-bag-and-get-the-hell-out-oftown weekend is finally doable. Some people think of Malibu as Los Angeles’s Montauk, the free-spirited hamlet at the eastern tip of Long Island, but the analogy is off.there are no rowdy weekenders here; surfers outnumber Range Rovers.
“It really is a bit of an outpost,” says Gregory Day, who runs the recently renovated Malibu Beach Inn.“nobody is coming here in suits and ties. Malibu has an equal share of celebrities and locals — though they can be one and the same. But it’s a surprisingly friendly beach town.you come here to unplug, sit on the beach, read your book,go hiking,surfing,paddleboarding.it still feels very untouched.”
Native, a midcentury motel where the likes of Bob Dylan and Marilyn Monroe once stayed, basically spoon-feeds guests that evocative low-key California we all crave once we’ve cruised
past Topanga Canyon. As soon as you check into one of Native’s 13 rooms, you’ll want to throw on a robe made from African deadstock cotton, crack open a cold one from a vintage cooler, sit on your private patio and admire the potted cacti and hip guests.
When it comes to beach time, the rule of thumb is this: Malibu’s coast gets ever more ethereal and dramatic the farther north you go, which is why you should make a day of it at El Matador State Beach. It’s only a 10-minute drive from Native and has otherworldly caves, sweeping cliffs and chilly tide pools that even the ocean-fearing can’t resist exploring. There are no taco trucks or souvenir shops hawking overpriced towels.are there a few people taking too many selfies?yes, but you’ll be hard-pressed to keep your phone in your pocket when you’re hiking down a steep staircase looking out at one of the most stunning vistas on earth bathed in sunlight.
Anyone who knows anything about surfing or has seen Big Wednesday (another surfing cult classic) should stay at another motel with a backstory, the Surfrider, which sits across the PCH from an iconic beach break.“i love that Neilyoung’s Crazy Horse Saloon was right next door, which meant some pretty epic names stayed here at one time,” says Surfrider co-owner Matthew Goodwin. “We’ve heard Dylan, The Doors — their drummer actually popped in recently — Jimi Hendrix.the true Malibu is an eclectic mix of so many things: free spirits, billionaires, surfers, artists.there’s a wildness to this part of the coast.”
Goodwin,an architect who grew up in Malibu,and hisaustralian wife, Emma Crowther Goodwin, have remodelled the dilapidated roadside motel over the past few years, remaking it into a kind of Nancy Meyers set by way of Françoise Hardy — all teak floors, beige linens, pitched roofs, whitewashed walls and endless sun streaming into oversized ocean-facing windows. It’s a soulful, surfer-friendly hideaway. There’s wetsuit storage, an outdoor shower, custom-made surfboards (for those who can’t haul theirs onto the plane), a guests-only roof-deck bar and breakfast to go, complete with a Thermos of coffee for early birds who want to get out on the water before the kitchen opens. If you’re thinking of hopping on a board but want a local to hold your hand, Matthew takes guests out in the motel’s vintage Land Rover (the “surf truck”, as he calls it) to find the breaks at Zuma, one of the most famous surfing spots in the world, or the variety of waves at County Line Beach.“i joke that the reason we opened the Surfrider is so I could surf all day with people from all over the world,” he says.
Of course, there’s another Malibu beach fantasy, one that’s less about time-travelling back to some earlier, hippie-tinged California than about revelling in this town’s affluent, let’s-compare-yachts aspect. The Malibu Beach Inn, a formerly forgettable motel on tony Carbon Beach, has been undergoing a much-needed facelift and now resembles the Danish Modern crash pad of a Neutra fanboy’s dreams. Even if you’re not staying here, make a reservation at Carbon Beach Club, snag a spot on the patio, order the whole branzino and a bottle of wine, and hog the table for as long as you want, because there are sublime ocean views wherever you look. And, yes, Nobu Malibu is still very much a thing — ask any local for dining tips and this inevitably shows up on the list. If you can’t get a reservation, consider staying at the restaurant’s new hotel, the Larry Ellison-backed Nobu Ryokan, next door. Direct beach access, custom-made furniture and Japanese soaking tubs do not come cheap, but you’ll also have priority at the restaurant.
Malibu isn’t a standard food pilgrimage destination, which is refreshing if you’re tired of planning a whole day around scoring the primo ramen in town but have to eat at five or 11pm to get it.you come to Malibu to be outdoors all day, eat no-frills seafood, have a few cocktails and gobble down meals made with exquisite organic produce, much of it coming from the nearby One Gun Ranch.which is not to say you won’t have some excellent food here, starting with breakfast. For a pre-hike açai bowl, you’ll want to stop by Sunlife Organics, a bastion of cold-pressed juices and blended smoothies where neither turmeric nor split-open geodes are in short supply.day drinking with kids?try Paradise Cove,where you can sit in an Adirondack chair on the beach and drink bloody marys or beers while Junior builds a sandcastle. Order fish and chips at Malibu institution Neptune’s Net and sit at one of the picnic tables overlooking County Line Beach. Fish shacks are plentiful here, and you can’t find a better lunch or dinner than at Malibu Seafood or Reel Inn, both of which have outdoor seating.taverna Tony is in a fancy strip mall, but once inside you feel as if you’ve just landed in Crete.you’ll see old-money Malibu locals drinking California chardonnay and eating spot-on Greek food.
At some point you’ll want to have a meal at Malibu Farm Restaurant, on the pier. (This is also where you’ll find One Gun Ranch’s version of a stylish souvenir shop, Ranch at the Pier.) The views are just a bonus; you come for chef Helene Henderson’s Cali-inflected farm-to-table menu: cauliflower-crust pizza, spaghetti-squash lasagne.this is the kind of delicious surfer fare that will make you rethink how you eat back home. And then, the next day, when you’ve come to your senses and are ready for a big piece of meat, check out the Old Place, a steakhouse in the Santa Monica Mountains that opened in 1970. Rustic would be an apt description, not a lazy one. Sometimes the restaurant runs out of food, since everything is fresh, having been procured from nearby Oxnard, and it doesn’t own a freezer.you’ll likely have to wait outside, because the place is, as its website deadpans,“the size of a shoebox”. But making a night of it is worth it, especially if you grab a glass of wine at the nearby Cornell Winery or go exploring in the woods. There are hawks, deer and probably marauding wildcats — it feels about as close to LA as the moon.that’s the whole point, after all.
The signage for the preserved Surfrider hotel in Malibu, California. Right: local surfers in 1950. Above: the path to the beach from the Surfrider.
Emma Crowther Goodwin and Matthew Goodwin. Above: the rooftop restaurant and bar at Surfrider.