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BY SCOTT HUVER | June 1, 2010 | Lifestyle
LEFT: Welcome to Reel Inn; RIGHT: mouthwatering fare at Taverna Tony. BOTTOM, FROM LEFT: Welcome to Reel Inn; mouthwatering fare at Taverna Tony
As much as that sentiment deftly encapsulates the allure of LA’s posh Pacific playground—that serene-yet-sexy enclave of sand, surf, superstars and somebodies—there’s so much more Malibu to talk about.
The more than 20-mile coastal stretch was discovered by the screen set in the late 20s, embraced as an idyllic, away-from-prying-eyes escape from the hoopla of Hollywood (Clara Bow, Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper and Jack Warner were among the initial crux of the fabled Colony). Yet their very presence trumpeted its seaside splendors to the world, cementing it in the public’s fantasy of living the LA dream. How appropriate then that Malibu’s original name, Humaliwo, in the native Chumash, loosely translates to “where the surf sounds loud.” By the timetanned, sun-blonde, pre-Baywatch, plastic-curved Malibu Barbie declared it her home in 1971, the community had landed on the pop-culture map forever.
Malibu remains a magnet for movie stars and megamillionaires: If phone numbers were ever actually listed in the ’Bu, you’d find entries for James Cameron, Julia Roberts, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, Leslie Moonves, Cindy Crawford, Ron Meyer, Brian Grazer, Sting and the community’s most prominent (and most shirtless) poster boy, Matthew McConaughey. After property purchases by David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Terry Semel, Frank McCourt and other moguls, Carbon Beach evolved into “Billionaire’s Beach,” where neighborly walks to “Dealmaker’s Rock” can change corporate fortunes.
It’s this unique blend of high-profile and low-key—a billionaire beachside bedroom community where improbably perched palaces by Lautner, Neff, Neutra, Gehry and Meier overlook scruffy surfers hanging 10 and bikinied beach bunnies catching rays—that defines Malibu’s appeal.
The Malibu Pier at Surfrider Beach has reclaimed its status as a focal point. Built in 1905, it has at last been restored to new glory—the place where the luxe and the laid-back converge to enjoy surf culture (don’t miss the Surf Museum), sportfishing, whale watching and costal harbor tours. Fabled Alice’s Restaurant may be gone, but you can still get anything you want: The Beachcomber at Malibu Pier was built to re-create the 40s feel of the pier for cozy but classy fine dining while dolphin-spotting over wine by master sommelier Michael Jordan; the Malibu Pier Club offers cocktailing and pub fare in full tiki-room glory; and Ruby’s Shake Shack insiders know to ask for the off-menu Malibu mud pie shake and beach burger.
Cuisine is a cornerstone of local living, enjoyed overlooking the waves crashing along Pacific Coast Highway or amid the rustic tranquility away from the beach. Coogie’s Beach Cafe is an ideal ocean-air spot for breakfasting among Pamela Andersons and Robert Downey Jrs., or wander to the shore from Bob Morris’ Paradise Cove Beach Cafe in the footsteps of James Garner’s Jim Rockford, whose The Rockford Files trailer used to be parked nearby. The Marmalade Cafe in Cross Creek Plaza and Howdy’s Rancho Café across the street at the Malibu Country Mart are local mainstays for grabbing a bite while shopping at the array of boutiques between screenings at the Hollywood Theaters Malibu Cinemas. Or just let the kids frolic in the chemical-free sandboxes at the Country Mart’s play area (also eco-committed, the restaurants convert grease into biodiesel fuel).
For later-in-the-night noshing around the Mart and the neighboring Malibu Lumber Yard and Cross Creek Plaza, Guido’s Malibu recaptures a retro-50s vibe with Italian fare fit for a Rat Packer; Tra di Noi Ristorante’s “cucina autentica” menu brings the “Boot” to the ’Bu; and party-hearty Taverna Tony brings the Med to Malibu with “Opa!”-inspiring Greek cuisine, livemusic and (ofteninteractive) belly dancing. And if we need to tell you about Nobu and its sushi splendors, you’re clearly new to the ’Bu.
Along PCH, Neutra-designed Geoffrey’s Malibu’s every-table ocean views are ideal for romanticbrunching. Its earliest incarnation, Holiday House, is said to have been a favored flirting spot for Marilyn Monroe and JFK. The dinner scene at the Chart House is sublime at sunset, and the beautiful, floral-filled environs of BeauRivage nearly outsparkle the Pacific, mixing Mediterranean dishes with exotic game such as antelope and wild boar. Though housed in a Spanish-tiled cottage that once served as the jail, Terra diners don’t want to escape from its organic meats and home-garden-grown vegetables.
For beach bums slipping out of their wet suits, coastal casual also prevails: Since 1958 old-school beach shack Neptune’s Net has served live-welled crustaceans, fried fish, icy brewskis and its famed clam chowder to the tune of revving Harleymotors. Diehards love debating the merits of the Net versus Malibu Seafood, a picnic-y, BYOB hangout with its own fresh fish market, and the Reel Inn, which is as beloved for its silly signage as for its deep-fried delights.
Nightlife has never been Malibu’s forte—Mel Gibson proved that may be a good thing—but a few welcoming watering holes exist. Moonshadows Blue Lounge is a Malibu meeting ground for drinks and DJ beats on the deck. Mai tai one on at surfer shrine Duke’s Barefoot Bar (where the real-life Gidget, Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, works as the “ambassador of aloha”), especially on Fridays, when liveHawaiian hula girls shake their grasses off. Sure, the patio at Gladstone’s Malibu can be touristy, but oh, that mojito menu! For more upscale imbibing, sample Malibu Wines’ tasting room or join one of Malibu Family Wines’ elite wine clubs at the Saddlerock Ranch vineyards. Can’t control your consumption? Despite its low-wattage nightlife, Malibu offers several high-end rehab facilities like Promises Treatment Centers and Passages Malibu. Just have someone else drive you.
Or indulge in a retail high instead: Why trek all the way to Rodeo or Robertson when the Malibu Country Mart and adjacent Malibu Lumber Yard provide a plethora of chic shopping? Planet Blue, Ralph Lauren, Ron Herman, Chrome Hearts, MAC, Juicy Couture, John Varvatos, L’Occitane, 7 For All Mankind and many more moda meccas at Country Mart (even Sotheby’s International Realty, if you’re feeling particularly big spender-ish), while Lumber Yard offers Kitson, Intermix, Tory Burch, James Perse, Alice + Olivia, Maxfield, J.Crew, and more— you should probably pick one between La Perla or Crumbs Bake Shop.
If you chose lingerie over cupcakes, you may be ready for an overnight stay at the Malibu Beach Inn, Mr. Geffen’s 47-room hotel with a masculine-mellow, surf-chic design scheme and Carbon Beach cachet—the shoreline is just steps away. And don’t let Casa Malibu Inn on the Beach’s modest façade fool you: The vine-covered, villa-esque retreat is coastline-chic with a palm tree-studded brick courtyard leading to a private beach raked smooth at sunrise.
How about a little ’Bu culture? The glorious grounds of the Getty Villa are a must-see, housing priceless Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts. Or tour Adamson House, a 1929 Mission Revival home of the family who originally owned Malibu’s lands, replete with exquisite tiles from their famed Malibu Potteries. For a more contemporary glimpse of local living, visit Ramirez Canyon Park’s 22.5-acre estate, where Barbra Streisand resided for nearly two decades—the tour covering four of her architecturally significant showplace homes is something to sing about.
Ultimately, though, Malibu culture begins and ends at the beach. Third Point, near Malibu Lagoon, is a sweet spot for serious surfers looking for high-speed shortboarding; intermediates stick to longboarding at Surfrider, while rookies should consider lessons from Malibu Mike, who guarantees you’ll stand on the first day or you won’t pay. As the “Gold Coast” stretches northward, the beaches become even more beautiful and the water cleaner. The imagery couldn’t get more SoCal iconic—from tide pool-dotted Paradise Cove (where Frankie and Annette frolicked for all those 60s beach-party flicks), beyond the soaring promontory of Point Dume, past the riptides and lifeguard towers of Zuma Beach’s sprawling surf central (The Hoff oft Baywatch-ed there), onward to the southwest higher-impact pipeline of Westward Beach, the westernmost part of Malibu, where Charlton Heston found the Statue of Liberty in the movie Planet of the Apes.
Freedom, in fact, is part of the promise of Malibu, even if you don’t live there. Beach lovers—like those entering via the Zonker Harris Access Way, honoring the champion-tanning “Doonesbury” character—might discover the owners of posh beachfront pads crave privacy to the point of hiring security to warn people away from the beach. But legally, everything below the wet-tide line belongs just as much to the public as to the millionaires. So stroll on and enjoy leaving your own sandy footprints on Malibu as it makes its mark on you.
Photographs by Ulrica Wihlborg