Sandy beaches, golden hills, great weather. “21 Miles of Scenic Beauty” as the signs say. And there are a ton of fun activities. Malibu’s a fabulous vacation town during the summer.
We just ended a three week stay in Malibu as the first major stop of our year long trip. Having visited family in the area many times, we’ve developed somewhat of a favorites list. This is definitely a kid-friendly list, as that’s our current stage of life, but nonetheless all these places are knock-outs with or without kids in tow.
Best Place to Stay – Malibu Beach RV Park
Waves lull us to sleep, and it’s not just on a recording!
Malibu Beach RV Park is perched above the PCH (make sure you say PCH for the Pacific Coast Highway when in LA) with a great view of the ocean and surrounding Santa Monica Mountains. The sites are somewhat tight but the location is unbeatable for access to the surrounding beaches and the northern LA area. The resort is a bit more pricey than others, but given the location and the overall lack of RV accommodations in the area, that is somewhat expected. (It was not uncommon to see extremely nice set-ups such as a custom-made trailer pulled by a Porsche Cayenne.)
There’s a good contingent of international travelers here who rent RVs and hit the major destinations in southern California and the Southwest. My daughter, after playing with kids from a nearby campsite from Germany, came up to me and said, “Daddy, I think I speak German.” There are no playgrounds, but kids always seem to make do.
Best Place for Seafood for Families – Malibu Seafood
My kids ate the chicken, but you get the idea.
Malibu Seafood often has a line stretching out the door and into the parking lot, especially on the weekends. And this is for good reason. The seafood is delicious and decently priced. They don’t serve alcohol but do allow customers to bring their own adult beverages. Upon entering, you place an order at the counter and eat at the tables on the surrounding terraces. It’s not the fanciest place, but the laid-back atmosphere makes for a great place for families.
Many people seem to make somewhat of a picnic out of the experience… meeting up with friends or family, talking and laughing, enjoying a bottle of wine and a plate of red snapper or swordfish.
Best Place to Family Beach – Leo Carrillo
Critters abound in the tide pools, but no, kiddo, you can’t bring them back to the RV and sleep with them.
Sandy beaches surround a small protected ocean cove to form the heart of the Leo Carrillo State Park beach. Off to the south, Point Dume juts out into the ocean and the Santa Monica mountains grow to the east. The waves break just outside the cove at Leo Carrillo and come in at the perfect strength for younger children. And that is the beauty of this beach. Kids can play in the water with less worry for parents about oversized waves.
At high tide, the water fills the cove and runs up onto the sandy beach. At low tide, a rocky bottom is exposed and offers kids the chance to hunt for crabs and other sea life. There is a large rock outcropping that is fun to climb and a “secret” beach just on the other side. Although boogie boarding may not be the best, parents that surf can paddle out to catch the break. Overall, this is an fun-packed beach for kids.
Best Place for Road Biking with Kids – Santa Monica Beach Path
Okay. This is Santa Monica and not Malibu, but it’s close.
The Santa Monica bike path, or the northern part of The Strand, as it is known locally, is a nice flat seaside ride along the edge of the beach. We took it from the Santa Monica pier on down past Venice Beach. Out and back will take a couple of hours at a moderate speed. And you can stop to take in various attractions, such as the rides at the Santa Monica pier, the stores along Venice Beach or the beach-side skate park. While some spots were quite crowded, our kids had no problem navigating and had a great time. And the views are amazing.
Best Non-Beach Activity – Hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains
Sometimes we need a non-beach day.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is cris-crossed with trails from the 101 to the PCH. (Again, make sure to say “the 101” and “the PCH”.) They rise up about 2,000 feet over the sea, so there is quite a bit of vertical to be had, but relatively moderate trails can also be found. We enjoyed hiking near the Backbone Trail, which extends north-south through the Santa Monica mountains, and in Zuma Canyon, which leaves the well-manicured residences of Malibu to go up into the hills. Be prepared for a change in temperature, though, as it can be significantly hotter in the hills just five miles from the coast.
Best Place for a Picnic Lunch – Santa Monica Farmers Market
Another one in Santa Monica, but this place is fun!
Every summer weekend the Santa Monica Farmers Market sprouts up a couple of streets off the beach between 2nd and 4th Streets. Our family brought us our last weekend, and we loved it. There are not only fresh fruit and bread stands but also plenty of stands with fresh cooked food. (My only disappointment was that the crepes place ran out of batter just as I reached the front of the line.)
We set up a little picnic on the grassy lawn joining the market and ate while listening to a talented local band play at the edge of the clearing. Dancers also performed between sets. The kids seemed to like the “bubble guy” the best, which was just a guy sending soap bubbles into the air for the children to chase. (Okay, I may have chased one or two.) There is also a great stall with home-made games, robots and contraptions for the kids. Overall, the Santa Monica Farmers Market is a great lunch getaway.
Best Thing to Do Without the Kids – Beach Run
Run on the beach in the morning, any beach, anywhere.
Early in our stay, I diverted a run on a mountain trail down to the beach. Being from the mountains, trails runs have always been my thing, so I hadn’t even planned to run in the sand. Maybe it was the dolphins cruising up the coast on my first run or maybe just the crash of the waves, but I got hooked. Both my wife and I found running on the beach to be the perfect morning get-away. I find the best running is right at the interface of the surf and sand, where the sand is just drying out, but your run will definitely be slower than your usual pace due to the give of the sand. If you’re into running or looking for a little exercise, give a run on the beach a try.
These are just a handful of things to do in Malibu. It seems there are more beaches and activities than can be counted, but these are some of our family favorites.