In some ways Malibu can feel like the end of the Earth. On one side, the great expanse of the Pacific, the other secluded from civilization by the Santa Monica Mountains. Malibu is a destination point even for Los Angeles natives, legendary for its surfers, seafood, and unattainable real estate. But there’s more to Malibu than barefooting it along the beach or driving up the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down if you know where to look for it. The network of trails in the hills above lead to some of the most breathtaking views of endless ocean, while heading up into some unique Mediterranean microclimates. And hey, you’ve gotta maintain that bod if you’re going to be lazing by the beach, so you might as well hoof it up the mountain. Here are our picks for the best hikes in Malibu.
Mugu Peak Trail
If you’re into a serious glute workout with a big payoff, the Mugu Peak Trail is perfect. It’s not a long loop at just 2.7 miles, but the way up throws a lot of casual hikers off. You may need to stop for a breather or two on the climb. But keep pushing; the reward is well worth it—a 180 degree vista looking out over the Pacific at Point Mugu, just on the western edge of Malibu. It’s pretty far up PCH, almost into Oxnard, which makes for a slightly less crowded trail.
Solstice Canyon Loop
A very popular hike, but what it lacks in isolation, it more than makes up for in sights and microclimates. It starts with a shady, woody walk up to the ruins of the Roberts House Ranch, a Paul R. Williams-built mid-century Malibu masterpiece that burned down in 1982. Up above the house is a modest but beautiful waterfall. Hop over the waterfall’s brook, and head up into the mountain, where a dirt path climbs through several switchbacks until you reach the top, where you can look down the canyon onto a majestic view of the Pacific.
Point Dume Cove Trail
Not all the best hikes in Malibu are tough. Somewhere between a hike and a beach day, the Point Dume Cove Trail is a cruisey trip that you can knock out in about an hour, featuring fine views over the bluffs of Point Dume. This one is great for the whole family (but no dogs allowed) and is a pretty heavily trafficked trail—so not so good if you’re seeking seclusion. The trail is filled with natural moments: gorgeous wildflowers, perfect for sunsets, and some hikers even report seeing sea lions and whales from the summit. An added bonus: You can head down to the beach afterwards to relax and check out the tide pools.
A meticulously maintained trail that heads up into the chaparral of the Topanga State Park just above Will Rogers State Beach. An out-and-back hike that takes a few hours, the trail is pretty steep for the first few miles, before opening up towards the top, where there’s a fantastic view of the Pacific. Grab a few moments on the bench that overlooks Santa Monica to the left and Malibu to the right. Bring sunscreen as there’s not much shade, but don’t bring your dog.
Backbone Trail to Sandstone Peak and Mishe Mokwa Trail
Perfect if you’re looking for something in that sweet spot of not-too-difficult-but-still-sweat-breaking. The Backbone Trail, which actually runs 70 miles along the length of the Santa Monica mountains can be taken in a small chunk here. The Backbone portion of this hike is a switchback-heavy jaunt up to Sandstone Peak, a rock formation that looks as precariously perched as a basketball on one of the Harlem Globetrotter’s fingertips. Keep heading up around to Inspiration Point, where you can look west and see the Pacific on a clear day. Take Mishe Mokwa Trail on the way down, where you’ll pass through an area rich with Coastal Sagebrush.
Zuma Canyon Loop Trail
This hike isn’t tough, but it is long. The whole loop is 10.7 miles, and it’s exposed, so be prepared with lots of water and dollops of sunscreen. Also be ready for gorgeous views and a plethora of California flora and fauna (watch out for rattlers!). This is a multi-use trail that allows both dogs and mountain bikes. It’s a popular horse riding trail as well, so take care not to step in anything.
Rock Pool & Century Lake Trails
There are lots of hikes in the mountains above Malibu, but this 4.4-mile jaunt is the one for an adventurous hiker eager to get back to nature without having to load up the SUV for a weekend out in backcountry. Don’t miss out on the former M*A*S*H set near the 2.5 mile marker. Also, don’t turn back early. You’ll miss out on a dip at the Rock Pool, which also has some decent holds for climbing (the Rock Pool was also a location in the 1968 Planet of the Apes film). There are a few turns to take throughout this hike, so we recommend downloading GPS track points to avoid adding more than you’d like to your trail time.
This mellow Malibu hike meanders through sage, chaparral, and ancient oaks that lead to a waterfall. The falls are a must-see in the winter if there’s been a decent rain, but even if it hasn’t rained in a while and the falls aren’t flowing, it’s a lovely four-mile walk. There’s a single track, making it easy to navigate. Budget about two hours for an easy, scenic walk at a constant but moderate pace.
Temescal Canyon inside Topanga State Park is wooded with spectacular views of the ocean, all in a quick loop that doesn’t require an entire day of hiking. It is also the route to Skull Rock, an appropriately named formation worth exploring for geology geeks. If you’re the kind of person that’s bothered by hikers wearing yoga pants and tapping on cell phones, the beginning of the hike might turn you off. But push on and you’ll be handsomely rewarded with epic views.
Paseo Miramar is more of a locals-only trail in the early mornings, where Westsiders come for ocean views and well-maintained fire roads, plus a serious booty burn, considering the heavy climb on the way up to the summit. The reward is one of the city’s most spectacular seaside vistas—Parker Mesa Overlook—making this 5.5-mile loop through the Pacific Palisades parkland one of L.A.’s not-to-be-missed hikes.
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