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  • Writer's pictureNicole Leonetti

Perfect Day in Malibu

I must admit that growing up on the East Coast I wasn’t much of a beach goer. Since moving to California, however, I have fallen in love with the ocean, and my favorite place to enjoy the sun, surf, and sand is Malibu! I hear it all the time from people who live in Los Angeles that they never get to the beach. And to them I always say “no excuses – play like a champ!” Seriously, there is no excuse not to enjoy the beach if you live in California. So, on your next day off, here are a few of my top picks of places to go in Malibu. And if you are not a resident of the Golden State, make sure you plan a Malibu day on your next trip – you won’t regret it!

Leaving from the Valley! Get in your car (a convertible would be nice) and take the 101 to Topanga Canyon, Malibu Canyon, or the Kanan Road Exit to head to Malibu – which exit you take depends on where you plan on stopping first. While driving, you should listen to The Beach Boys, The Doors, or Frank Sinatra. Trust me – it will get you in a great beach mood.

I always like to start the day with lunch because…I love food! Here are my personal favorites for a great lunch in the ‘Bu:

Reel Inn: I love this place! Take Topanga all the way to the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), turn right, and Reel Inn will be just about the first thing you come to on your right. The restaurant is across the street from the ocean so there is no beach view, but the food makes up for it! They have the most delicious, fresh seafood you can imagine. I always get the Cajun-Spiced Sea Bass (or Halibut) with the Cajun Style Rice, but I know anything you order will be delicious! They also have a patio, wine, and beer, so it’s perfect! The restaurant is super casual, so you are good in beach attire—assuming your beach attire includes shoes and clothes!

Geoffrey’s: Ahhh, Geoffrey’s! I’ve been going to Geoffrey’s since before I lived in California and I have to say it’s kind of like heaven. This place is fancy! It would be a good place to go if you have guests in town (or, ideally, someone else picking up the bill). Geoffrey’s is excellent for lunch or dinner, but I prefer lunch to take full advantage of that view. The view is EVERYTHING! Most of the tables are located on patios overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They have amazing service and a lovely menu full of California cuisine. I typically like to have the seafood options, but non-Seafood lovers will definitely find something they enjoy. Also, I had the best celebrity sighting there of my life so it’s always on top of my list.

Duke’s: Duke’s is fun! Another place with a fantastic view, I enjoy going to Duke’s with friends and having lunch out on the patio by the Barefoot Bar. Duke’s has yummy food, good drinks, and a great atmosphere -- you feel like you are on a boat when you are there! It’s fun to watch the surfers out on the ocean while sipping your wine safely at your table.

Moonshadows: Full disclosure: I originally went to Moonshadows years ago because I knew that Britney Spears had been there on a few occasions…seriously. While I’ve never seen Brit there, the restaurant has become one of my favorites all on its own. They have perfect outdoor seating with a phenomenal view where you can eat a full meal or just enjoy drinks and snacks. They have a good mix of delicious seafood and non-seafood items for both lunch and dinner. I recommend going for lunch to revel in the gorgeous view.

After lunch. you will have plenty of time to enjoy Malibu before it’s time to eat again. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you will know that my days revolve around eating. I understand, though, that physical activity is actually required between meals. Here are a few things I would recommend:

Paradise Cove: You could go to Paradise Cove for lunch as well, but I would suggest going to one of the restaurants above for lunch followed by a stop at Paradise Cove to take advantage of the beach access, beverages, and parking. Parking is easy and the restaurant will validate/discount with purchase of food/drink. Once you are parked, order a drink, and sit on the beach! Paradise Cove has a few free Adirondack chairs that you can use, or you can rent beach chairs or beds by the hour/day. You can also bring your own beach chairs and towels and setup on the beach. I love Paradise Cove because you can buy champagne, beer, or wine and drink it right on the beach. This is one of the few places you can do this legally in Malibu, so it’s very special to me. I suggest walking south along the beach past the rocks where you will find a quieter piece of ocean front. It’s a relaxing place to spend the afternoon. You can go in the water if you would like, as well, but—depending on the time of year—it may be quite cold! Pro tip: use the restaurant’s bathroom instead of the outdoor restrooms. They probably frown upon that in the restaurant, but so far I haven’t gotten into trouble (knocking on wood).

Malibu Lagoon: This is another spot in Malibu I enjoy going to because they have convenient parking and it’s in close proximity to the Malibu Country Mart and Malibu Village, which I will describe in a minute. Park your car and walk up a path to the beach! You have great views of the Malibu Pier, and you can even walk over to it depending on the time/tide. This is another good beach spot where you can set up chairs/towels and enjoy!

Malibu Country Mart / Malibu Village: If you have had enough sun or you don’t want to be seen in your bathing suit, then it’s time to shop! The Malibu Country Mart and the Malibu Village are adjacent to each other, so I consider them the same destination. There are many restaurants and shops to choose from. My favorite shops to visit here are Grom (yes – it’s a gelato place so not technically shopping!), Saje Wellness, Beauty Collection, Sunlife Organics (amazing juice/smoothies), and Malibu Shaman. There is also a SoulCycle, but plan to shower somewhere after! I could wander around this place all day…or at least until it’s time for dinner.

Zuma Beach: Ahh, Zuma! Zuma is the first beach I came to when first visiting Malibu and I continue to love it! It’s just the perfect beach to get some sun, enjoy the views, and people-watch! It seriously has great people-watching! I can spend hours reading on the beach or attempting to build sand castles (that happened once). You can also try more high-risk activities like surfing or boogie boarding. I’ve attempted both of those with varying results, but had fun! The only negative I can find with Zuma is the restroom situation. I panic if I’m not near a convenient restroom. So, I tend to panic at Zuma (what is with the short doors there??)

Escondido Beach: Ok, so I shouldn’t even tell you about Escondido Beach! It’s my secret place that I treasure, and I don’t want a bunch of people to start going. Since I love all of you so much, though, I will share my secret. I discovered this beach by accident after having lunch at Geoffrey’s one day. There is a little gate just past Geoffrey’s that says “Beach Access” so we went through the gate, followed a little wooded path, and happened upon this amazing view of the beach! It was like traveling to Narnia! So, why this view is so fabulous is because it’s actually way above the beach and then you go down many, many steps to get to the actual beach. This is worth it – just try to remember that you will need the energy to climb back up the steps at the end of your beach adventure. The beach is never too crowded, and you can relax, read, and enjoy! Sometimes we walk from Escondido Beach to Paradise Cove. It’s a long walk, but one of the most beautiful walks you can imagine. You also pass all of these amazing beach-front mansions that you can dream about owning one day – or even just being invited over for a visit. Then when you are at Paradise Cove you can grab a drink, hang out, and then walk back to Escondido Beach and pretend you live in Malibu! To access this beach, you need to park on the PCH, which isn’t always easy to do. I recommend going a little bit earlier in the day and having patience. It will happen for you - I have faith!

After all of the swimming, sunbathing, reading, or shopping, you will be ready for dinner! Here are a few places I suggest. You can go to all of these places for lunch as well, but some of them do not have the views you may be looking for during the day so best to save them for the evening when the focus is on the food:

Taverna Tony: I love Taverna Tony! It’s a Greek restaurant with all of the traditional favorites! I know a Greek Salad sounds pretty basic, but theirs is outstanding! Everything tastes super fresh and like it was made with love. My other favorite is the Vegetarian’s Paradise! I am by no means Vegetarian, but boy do I love a platter of Hummus, Tzatziki, Spanakopita, Feta, and other Greek specialties. On some evenings, they have live music, which makes for a fun atmosphere! The restaurant is located in the Malibu Country Mart on the non-ocean side of the PCH, so don’t expect any views.

Nobu Malibu: Ok, Nobu has great views and it may actually be a little more affordable at lunch, but doesn’t “Dinner at Nobu” sound nice? Nobu may be the more expensive option for dinner, and you may have to be a little more dressed up than you intended to be, but come on—it’s Nobu! Just go and savor the experience.

Café Habana: I know I say this about everything, but I love me some Café Habana! It’s just a nice, easy place to go that has really good food! This is another place that doesn’t have a view. You go to Café Habana for the food – and the margaritas! The Habana Burrito is always good, but lately I’ve been enjoying the Brown Rice Bowl or the Salmon – so delicious! They have tables inside, but try to get a table on the patio if the weather is cooperating. This is another place located in the Malibu Country Mart - so it's convenient if you are already parked there for shopping.

Saddle Peak Lodge: This place is wild! Saddle Peak Lodge is a great place to go for dinner on your way home from Malibu as it’s located off Malibu Canyon on your way to the 101 (assuming you don’t live in Malibu, which--if you do—call me!) It’s akin to a mountain lodge and you feel like you are in another time when you walk through the door. This may not be the best place for your vegan or vegetarian friends. While there are vegan and vegetarian options, this place specializes in game meats, which may not suit their sensibility. I definitely enjoy it, however, and my mouth is watering right now thinking of the Cast Iron Johnnycake with Maple Butter along with the Cowboy Ribeye!

After dinner, go home and dream of the ocean breeze and the crashing waves! If you did everything correctly, you’ll be properly tired yet satisfied from a perfect day at the beach! The best part is being in your car during the week while driving your soul-crushing commute and seeing a little sand on the floor of your car – you’ll instantly remember how much fun you had in Malibu!


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