A day trip to Malibu, CA can be a fabulous experience, and this Malibu itinerary will help you to see more Malibu attractions in a relatively short timeframe. Though you could easily spend a weekend in Malibu (or more), this “Perfect One Day Trip to Malibu” itinerary will give you the best Malibu vacation possible in one single day.
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It’s easy to see why Malibu, CA is both popular with locals as well as very well-known all over the world. The tall palm trees, the epic coastline, the sunny skies… need I say more?! However, many tourists hear “Malibu” and picture something more akin to ritzy, upscale Beverly Hills.
Actually, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Malibu is a quiet, tranquil area with a small-town vibe. Mom and Pop shops and restaurants still line the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Many of the beaches are totally free to park and visit. There are strict laws on exactly where and what you can build, keeping those oceanfront views unobstructed. And, the natural cliffs and wild landscape is plentiful.
These are exactly the reasons why I love Malibu, in fact. It’s NOT flashy. It’s NOT loud. Rather, Malibu is laid back; it’s beautiful; it’s even rugged in some areas. Whether you live in Los Angeles or are passing through on a PCH road trip, you can absolutely make a memorable one day getaway in beautiful Malibu. And I will show you how.
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The Perfect Day Trip to Malibu CA
Early Morning Activities in Malibu
1. Start your day with a hike.
My top recommendation on starting the day off right is to wake up and arrive early (before sunrise if you wish!) to enjoy the beautiful views on a morning hike. If you’ve been around here for a while, then you know that I spend a lot of time hiking the desert, but oceanside hikes are nothing short of magical.
There are several Malibu hikes that I’m a fan of, but for the early morning I recommend the Zuma Ridge Trail. This trail is on the northern end of Malibu, taking you farther away from Los Angeles. Because of its locale, this trail tends to be less crowded than some of the others in Malibu. You’ll enjoy peace and quiet, taking in the ocean view and mountainous scenery – and possibly have it all to yourself.
The trail will take roughly 2 hours to complete, and is moderate in difficulty. The early morning departure will keep you comfortable as the sun climbs, since much of the trail is not shaded. Depending on the season, you might see wildflowers if you are lucky!.
There is a secret spot offering 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean, found about half a mile into the hike on the left hand side of the trail. Keep your eyes peeled for an unmarked path on the ground because the view is incredible if you can find it!
Zuma Ridge has free parking. Follow Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to Busch Driveand drive all the way to the end. The free parking lot is on the right side of the road. Also, very important: Be sure to find the “Zuma Ridge Trail” sign as there are two trail options at the beginning.
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2. Or, do some window shopping.
If hiking is not for you, and you’d rather sleep until the sun is up, then this option might be for you. The Malibu Country Mart is a great place to explore a mix of quirky and high-end options, and will easily keep you occupied until lunch.
3. Drive along Malibu’s Pacific Coast.
Alternately, you could embark on a driving tour of the coastline and take in the beauty of the changing scenery of the Pacific Coast. I love a good scenic drive and Malibu has that in spades.
The drive along the 27 miles of coast will showcase everything from quiet neighborhoods to local surf spots to rocky cliffs. It’s a beautiful sight to see and not a bad introduction to Malibu.
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Lunchtime in Malibu
You have a ton of great food options for lunch in Malibu, depending on your tastes (and your budget). Here is a list of several restaurant options to choose from. If you hit that hiking trail, you are bound to be hungry, so let’s get to it!
- Marmalade Cafe ($$) – a mid-range sit-down restaurant serving great brunch and lunch options. Healthy foods and more Americanized meals fill the menu. The breakfasts are wonderful and I’ve enjoyed great grilled veggie salads (though this dish may be seasonal). Marmalade Cafe is located in Malibu Village, just off of PCH and next to Sephora.
- Chipotle ($) – if you are on a budget, this well-known chain is a short walk around the corner from Marmalade, in the same shopping area. Nothing fancy, just a tasty and budget friendly meal.
- Ollo ($$) – Ollo is a restaurant on the ocean-side of PCH, in the Malibu Ralph’s plaza. The restaurant serves excellent lunch or dinner options, from veggie burgers to flatbreads to salads and soups. Always tasty, this is a great and trendy spot for a bite. Pricing is mid-range; maybe slightly higher than Marmalade.
- Duke’s Malibu ($$) – This is the very same Duke’s that you will find in Hawaii, from the very same legendary surfer. Seafood, tacos, and salads fill the menu as well as popular drinks. One great thing about Duke’s is that you are right on the water, so you will get great views.
- Malibu Farm ($$) – Directly on the pier, Malibu Farm offers fresh, local farm-to-table fare, from salads and sandwiches to fancy burgers and wine. You will of course have gorgeous views since you sit over the Pacific! Malibu Farm closes at 3pm though so plan ahead to make enough time for a leisurely lunch.
Post Lunch Options
1. Relax with a beach day.
Every single one of my restaurant suggestions for lunch are conveniently located just minutes from the ocean. No matter which you choose, you’ll be in a prime spot for some post-lunch relaxation on the beach.
Malibu Lagoon State Beach and Malibu Surfrider Beach are both nearby and are excellent choices for the afternoon!
Malibu Lagoon State Beach does have a paid lot, but I recommend parking for free on the street if spaces are available. This picturesque beach is home to a lagoon that serves as an estuary for migratory birds. It’s a great place for wildlife viewing.
Malibu Surfrider Beach is well known for surfing (as the name suggests) and saltwater fishing. This beach continues under the Malibu Pier, where Malibu Farm sits, by the way.
In the summer, you can sunbathe; swim; play beach or water spots; hangout. Reading a book on a blanket or simply taking in the scenery is ideal.
Allow a few hours to just relax after driving, hiking, and eating. It will probably be a welcome break.
2. Explore the Hindu temple.
Tucked away inland, off of Malibu Canyon Road, is a hidden gem that will transport you straight back to Cambodia or Thailand.
This pure white Hindu temple (with gold accents) is a stunning sight, with ornate architecture positioned against the blue sky, and the sound of bells clinking in the wind. I find this spot super peaceful, incredibly beautiful, and it transports me across the sea to my days in Southeast Asia.
Please be respectful and take off your shoes as the sign instructs if you choose to walk up into the temple. Locals from Calabasas can be seen here often for worship and events.
3. Take a tour of the Adamson House.
A colorful Spanish-style building built in 1929, this house technically sits within Malibu Lagoon State Park. The house allows visitors 7 days a week – more info can be found here.
Inside, you’ll find vibrant artifacts, rare photographs, and information on Malibu’s history. The famous tiles on site were manufactured by the now-closed Malibu Tile Works.
Dinner in Malibu
There are a TON of excellent dinner choice in Malibu. Here is a range of options depending again on your tastes (and your budget).
- Cholada Thai ($$) – This is a cute beach shack type restaurant with a great Thai menu, including all of the traditional curries, noodle dishes, and soups. Prices are very reasonable and the colorful ambiance is fun.
- Mastro’s Ocean Club ($$$$) – This is an upscale restaurant built directly over the cliffside, offering some pretty spectacular views of the ocean. The menu has seafood like lobster and fish, as well as steak dinners. Not a ton of vegetarian options, though.
- Taverna Tony ($$) – A fairly large Greek restaurant located in the Malibu Country Mart, with friendly staff and tasty food. This is an excellent place for a get-together or a cozy meal.
- Malibu Seafood ($$) – You might be surprised that this casual beach-shack eatery is frequented by celebrities. You order in one building, and then the seating is in a separate enclosed building with picnic table style seating. Surprisingly inexpensive and a fun experience.
Ending Your Trip: The Perfect Day in Malibu
The perfect end to any day trip or getaway in Malibu is to watch the sunset over the ocean. Since the sun sets to the West, the California Coast is hands down, the most spectacular place to watch that magical sunset.
The most epic spot for a Malibu sunset is on the rocky cliffs of El Matador State Beach. This beach is beautiful at any time of day, due to the small coves surrounded by rocky cliffs, the large sea caves, and the natural tidepools teeming with ocean life. But the sunset takes this beach to another level.
I’ve returned to El Matador time and time again to watch the sun go down, and it never gets old.
My best tip is to arrive about an hour before sunset and park on the street (for free!). Give yourself some extra time for parking, walking, and finding the perfect spot, as this is a popular spot. Climb down the cliffside stairs and set up a blanket, or perch on one of the cliffs. Don’t forget your camera, this will be a sunset to remember!
Other Interesting Stops On Your Malibu Day Trip
- Rosenthal Winery – a wine tasting room located on PCH, directly across the street from the Pacific Ocean. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and there’s a fun giant-sized Adirondack chair outside for a photo op.
- Horseback Riding – You might be surprised to hear that Malibu and the surrounding communities contain a lot of ranches and farms. Horseback riding in this beautiful setting is possible with a trail guide through companies like Malibu Riders.
- Paddle-boarding and Surfing – Water Activities are plentiful along this stretch of coast. Malibu Coastal Adventures can help you with everything from rentals to lessons depending on your previous experience.
- The Getty Villa – On the Southern Malibu border sits The Getty Villa, a wonderful museum full of Greek and Roman art. Entry is free but parking is not. This is the sister-museum to The Getty in Los Angeles.
Feel free to swap our or add in any of these additional activities to make the itinerary perfect for your one day in Malibu. You can easily fill several days of fun activities along this beautiful stretch of coast, but described above are some of the best options to make your Malibu trip one to remember.
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