Hot Fun in Malibu: The Best Attractions in SoCal's Famous Beach Playground

Malibu is Southern California's most famous beach playground, the place that everyone from Barbra Streisand to Pierce Brosnan and Matthew McConaughey call home. Its surf breaks are legendary, but there's much more to Malibu than looking for celebrities strolling on the beach and or diving into the Pacific Ocean wearing wetsuits.

From the breathtaking Getty Villa Museum to the wineries like Rosenthal Estate that make up the American Viticultural Area known as the Malibu Coast, there are lots of special places to visit in this gorgeous city that has helped make Los Angeles famous. There are places to just chill out, like the famed Malibu Pier, where a fishing pole and a cooler are all you need to enjoy the morning, or the Malibu Country Mart, where some retail therapy often combines with a bit of Hollywood star gazing.

The Adamson House Museum and the Frederick Weisman Museum (at Pepperdine University) both join the Getty Villa in providing a cultural and artistic backbone to the community, while Paradise Cove offers up longstanding fun in the sun for the whole family. No matter what experience you choose, there's one thing that Malibu almost always offers along with your visit – a sunny day with magnificent scenery.


Hailed as the first ever World Surfing Reserve by the non-profit Save the Waves Coalition, Surfrider Beach boasts amazing surf breaks right in the shadow of the Malibu Pier. As part of the Malibu Lagoon State Beach, the impressive swells created by Malibu Point draw waveriders of all ages and experience. Non-surfers can pack a picnic and play in the sand, bird watch on a walk through the lagoon and even try saltwater fishing up on the pier. You can even check in to the Surfrider Hotel across the street and sleep with the waves crashing nearby. But make advance plans to do that, as the cozy little hotel only has 20 rooms.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: It's the first-ever-designated World Surfing Reserve and the place where Frankie and Annette surfed in the movies.

Jenny's expert tip: Watch for a free parking space along Pacific Coast Highway or park in the lagoon parking lot nearby.

Read more about Malibu's Surfrider Beach →

Malibu Country Mart
Photo courtesy of Malibu Country Mart

With over 40 retail shops, plenty of eateries and even a playground filled with fun, the Malibu Country Mart is a year-round shopping destination on Pacific Coast Highway. The buildings that make up the shopping complex suggest a rustic country market, yet the shops inside reflect sophistication and high fashion. Shops include John Varvatos, Toy Crazy, Ron Herman, Oliver Peoples, Madison and Nomad Malibu. Malibu Country Mart is also home to some of Malibu's best restaurants, including top-notch Italian cuisine at Tra di Noi and steak and seafood choices at Lucky's, as well as 5 Point Yoga, a spot for both traditional yoga and aerial arts, too.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: Malibu Country Mart is Malibu's hotspot for shopping –" and celebrity sightings, too.

Jenny's expert tip: Did you road trip to Malibu? Get your car washed and detailed at Malibu Car Wash located at Malibu Country Mart while you shop.

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Carbon Beach Club Restaurant @ Malibu Beach Inn
Photo courtesy of Carbon Beach Club Restaurant

The Carbon Beach Club Restaurant is one of the most romantic places in Southern California to while away an afternoon. Located on the beach overlooking the Malibu Pier, the restaurant is part of the Malibu Beach Inn, a lovely boutique hotel. At the restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and/or drinks (if that's all you're in the mood for), you'll be swept up into the wonderfulness of it all, watching the waves crash along the shoreline, seeing the birds swoop and soar overhead and, if you are really having a lucky date, catching a humpback whale breach as it makes it way along the shoreline during migration seasons. Even if all you see are your lover's star-struck eyes, this is a place that has love in the air. Plan an overnight stay at the award-winning hotel with their "Romantic Retreat" package, complete with champagne and strawberries.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: Top-notch food and drinks and a lovely view of the Malibu pier both day and night are found here.

Jenny's expert tip: For a kickstarter to an exciting night, order the signature Johnnie-O Light & Sunny cocktail, made with Caliche Rum, ginger beer, lime and a kick of jalapeno.

Read more about Carbon Beach Club Restaurant @ Malibu Beach Inn →

Pepperdine University
Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki

If you're a fan of famous and beautiful college campuses, you'll want to swing by Pepperdine University during your time in Malibu. The campus is situated on the side of a hill above Pacific Coast Highway and overlooks the ocean, providing panoramic views and making Pepperdine University one of the most expensive schools in the country. The college is also one of the nation's best, a Christian university that has an ongoing calendar of faith-based special events that take place on its campus, many of which are open to the public. Pepperdine is also the home of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, which showcases the work of California artists from the 1960s to present day and is open every day except Monday.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: Pepperdine University is a gorgeous campus overlooking the ocean that also happens to be the home of numerous top-notch collegiate sports teams.

Jenny's expert tip: Be sure to visit the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, located on the campus, showcasing California artists.

Read more about Pepperdine University →

Adamson House Museum
Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki

The Adamson House is the fully restored home of the Rindge family, who owned all of Malibu in the late 1800s and well into the 1900s. The lovely Spanish Colonial Revival style beach house sits right on Pacific Coast Highway and is both a California Historic Landmark and a National Historic Site. Adamson House is filled with original furnishings, looking just as it did when the family built it in 1929, using many of the Spanish tile manufactured by the family's famed Malibu Potteries. As you take guided tours of the house, gardens and nearby museum, you'll learn more about the family, as well as the Spanish settlers and Chumash Tribe that went before.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: The Adamson House Museum offers a glimpse into what the Malibu enclave was like in the early 1900s, a throwback to another, extraordinarily different era.

Jenny's expert tip: Don't miss the Adamson House Museum gift shop, a place filled with examples of the Malibu Potteries works made here back in the day.

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Malibu Surf Shack
Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki

Open since 1972, the Malibu Surf Shack rents all the water sports toys you need to get into the real Malibu groove, communing with the ocean up close and personal. Give paddle boarding, kayaking or surfing a try; if you're not sure just how to ride a board or paddle a kayak, the experienced folks at Malibu Surf Shack are ready to show you how with private lessons. Once you've mastered your chosen sport, head out on a guided tour with one of the Surf Shack's experts. And if you're already a pro at stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking, simply head out on your own to see Malibu from a very different perspective â€" on top of the water.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: Malibu Surf Shack is the place in Malibu to rent surfboards, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards; take a lesson or a guided tour, too.

Jenny's expert tip: Make sure to watch for dolphins, sea otters, whales and seals during your water adventure with Malibu Surf Shack.

Read more about Malibu Surf Shack →

Paradise Cove Beach Cafe
Photo courtesy of Paradise Cove Beach Cafe

Paradise Cove Beach Cafe is literally right on the beach in the northernmost reaches of the Malibu community, almost to Point Dume. The inside of the cafe that has been on this spot for generations has funky booths with a beach-inspired vibe and large windows overlooking the Paradise Cove Beach. You also have the option of choosing lounge chairs right on the beach, giving you a chance to enjoy their famous Fruit Boba Rum Drinks and take in the Malibu sunshine with your feet in the soft sand. The menu has plenty of choices, with a focus on seafood options and BBQ specialties, both of which have sampler options ideal for sharing.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: Families and friends have been flocking to Paradise Cove for generations; go for the calamari and stay for a full day at the beach.

Jenny's expert tip: Make a day of it at Paradise Cove by renting chaise lounges and umbrellas to use on the restaurant's beach.

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Malibu Coast AVA/Rosenthal Malibu Estate Wine Bar and Patio
Photo courtesy of Rosenthal Winery

The Rosenthal Malibu Estate Wine Bar and Patio is a hugely convivial spot located right on PCH, where their outdoor garden literally rocks all weekend, as live bands keep things hoppin'. They have lots of shady tables and pour all their wines, both the Malibu Estate and Surfrider labels. No food is served, but you can bring your own to pair with their excellent estate wines grown in the specific AVA of Malibu - Newton Canyon. Rosenthal is the only winey in that AVA, and their Estate Wines label guarantees you're sipping wines from there. Try the Petit Verdot or the Cab Franc for a slightly different (and delicious) red wine experience; or go more traditionally with their luscious Cabernet Sauvignon or the oaky Chardonnay.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: There's nowhere else in Los Angeles where you can sip wine while feeding a docile giraffe.

Jenny's expert tip: Make a reservation on the weekends, as Rosenthal is a hugely popular weekend gathering spot.

Read more about Malibu Coast AVA/Rosenthal Malibu Estate Wine Bar and Patio →

Malibu Pier
Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki

The long Malibu Pier is an ideal place in Malibu to go for a relaxing walk. The pier is refreshingly uncluttered compared to most piers in California, with just a few restaurants and shops. As you walk down Malibu Pier you'll pass fishermen trying to catch their own personal catch of the day. From the pier you can see down the coastline, the multi-million dollar beach homes of Malibu hugging the edge of the sandy cliffs. The end of the Pier is worth a good long stop so you can gaze out at the ocean, unobstructed save for a few ships and revelers enjoying some exciting water sports.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: The iconic Malibu Pier opened in 1938, with great views of the Malibu coastline and the massive homes that dot the beach and hills above.

Jenny's expert tip: Rent fishing gear and bait right on the pier to cast your line in search of corbina, mackerel or halibut.

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Pacific Palisades
Getty Villa
Photo courtesy of Getty Villa

The Getty Villa is an incredible architectural masterpiece, the repository for the J. Paul Getty Foundation's extensive Greek and Roman antiquities collection, as well as ancient art from other cultures ranging from the Stone Age to the fall of the Roman Empire. Located just up the hill from Pacific Coast Highway on the way to Malibu from the south, it's the perfect place to begin a day of sightseeing up the coastline. The villa's four gardens are beautiful, the buildings are marvels of Italian marble, a faithful recreation of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy, a first century A.D. Roman country house. Admission is free, as are the various tours offered each day, both of the artistic treasures and of the special gardens.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: One of the world's great museums, the Getty Villa is a gorgeous place for lovers of ancient art.

Jenny's expert tip: Make this the first stop of an all-day adventure along the Pacific Coast Highway heading north out of Los Angeles.

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Meet Jenny Peters

Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good...  More About Jenny