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 perched high in the hills in 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.


Solstice Canyon
Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki

Solstice Canyon is a trail in Malibu that takes you through the stunning Santa Monica mountains. You'll enjoy gorgeous vistas, including of the nearby ocean, and will come across a variety of plants and foliage. Solstice Canyon is also famous for its waterfall which can be hiked to, the only year-round waterfall in the Santa Monica Mountains. The full Solstice Canyon hike is six miles long, though shorter variations can be done. Solstice Canyon is also full of history, including a stone cottage that can be seen from the trail that dates back to 1865. The Chumash tribe also lived on this land in the past.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: Solstice Canyon is a hiking trail that provides gorgeous views of Malibu as you hike through the Santa Monica mountains.

Gina's expert tip: Arrive early to avoid the crowds, especially on weekends, as Solstice Canyon is a popular hiking trail.

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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 Planet Blue. Malibu Country Mart is also home to some of Malibu's best restaurants, including top-notch Italian cuisine at Tra di Noi and famous Chinese food delicacies at Mr. Chow.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: Malibu Country Mart is Malibu's hotspot for shopping â€" and celebrity sighting, 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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Zuma Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on the California coast â€" or any coast for that matter. Located on the north end of Malibu, Zuma Beach is mellow with soft sand, making it an ideal beach to lounge back and relax. There are also volleyball nets on part of the beach for those looking to get in a bit of exercise during their time in the sun; sometimes in the summer, you'll be able to watch top players competing in tournaments held here. With a paid parking lot, bathroom and even an outdoor shower, you can spend the whole day on Zuma Beach and then get ready to go straight to dinner in town.

Recommended for Malibu's Best Attractions because: Zuma Beach is a clean, beautiful beach in Malibu that has bathrooms on site and volleyball nets.

Gina's expert tip: Zuma Beach is part of the whale migration path, so watch for both whales and dolphin pods passing by.

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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.

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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.

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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 Wine Safaris
Photo courtesy of Malibu Wine Safaris

Malibu Wine Safaris combines a ranch adventure with wine tastings â€" and a meal, too, if you'd like â€" to create a unique day experience in the Malibu hills. This family-owned company is located on the Saddleback Ranch, a 1,000-acre estate that features a vineyard and an incredible assortment of wild animals, many of them veterans of Hollywood movies and television shows. They offer various safari trips to see the critters, which include zebras, camels, alpacas, bison, and even a giraffe named Stanley. Every tour (for the over-21 set only) includes tastings of six wines or four flavors of mimosas, as well as tours of the ranch and an animal encounter. Starting at $65 for a 90-minute tour and extending to a $180, 120-minute excursion that includes a visit to the ancient Chumash cave paintings on the ranch and a catered lunch, the Malibu Wine Safaris all happen in open-air vehicles that allow everyone a terrific view along the way.

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: Book your tour online well in advance, especially if the weekend is your preferred time to visit.

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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: El Matador Beach is a rugged piece of Malibu coastline with rocks jutting up from the sand and ocean.

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