LA is a beautifully vast place, so big and traffic filled that it’s easy to get stuck in your own hood. But from Griffith Park to the beautiful Pacific coastline, it’s wonderful to take a day and explore a town from top to bottom. While the stunning beaches are the obvious draw, Malibu is full of great places to play, eat and soak up an array of culture all within a 21 mile stretch of PCH. It’s time to load up the family and explore this wonder that is waiting right in our “backyard.” Read on for our essential family Malibu to-dos.

photo: LeTania Kirkland Smith

Play and Explore

Malibu Bluffs Park
We know the beach is the earth’s most obvious playground, especially when you live on the West Coast (better known as the “best coast”) but Malibu is also chock full of playgrounds if you want to be slightly more relaxed while your explorers play. With all of the beautiful distractions of the Pacific Coast Highway, this gem can be easy to miss. Just south of PCH and across from Pepperdine University, this community park offers a spectacular perspective on the Pacific. Be sure to hike down toward the ocean with your explorers. Somehow, among the native plants and ocean breezes, things get a little more peaceful. After your hike, explore the grounds, including the chance to take in the whole of the Pacific Coast through the telescopes (where you can sometimes spot whales and dolphins!). There are picnic tables, a playground, zipline, soccer field, two baseball diamonds and a whale watching station. This is a perfect spot to start the day or wrap up the afternoon.

24250 Pacific Coast Highway
310-317-1364
Online: malibucity.org/facilities/facility/details/Malibu-Bluffs-Park-6

photo: LeTania Kirkland Smith

Las Flores Creek Park
This is a another hidden gem tucked into the canyons just north of PCH. If you’re trying to make it out to the farther reaches of Malibu this pocket park is a perfect pit stop where the little players can stretch their legs and use a clean bathroom (yes!). The playground is beautifully crafted with wood with a nod of old-school play structures. There are climbing webs, a multi-person spinner, play boat and one of the very few see-saws that you will find in LA.  Make sure your little ones take a look around as they will be surrounded by awe-inspiring sycamore trees. Once they have gotten in some play, be sure to take a walk along the trails where everyone can take in the beauty of over 45 native plants species and the creek below. This spot is not to be missed.

3805 Las Flores Canyon Rd.
310-456-2489
Online: malibucity.org/Facilities/Facility/Details/Las-Flores-Creek-Park-9

photo: LeTania Kirkland Smith

The Playground at Malibu Country Mart
The Malibu Country Mart is chock full of things to see, eat and buy but it also happens to be home to one of the fun play spots in Malibu. The playground is right in the center of things and near great eats like John’s Garden where you can grab a bite to go and eat on the picnic benches surrounding the playground. Once the they’re got a few bites in hungry bellies, they can move on to play, before taking in a few more. We know sitting still through and entire meal can be challenging so here is an excuse not to. The playground is on the small side but has all the staples: sand, slides and swings where your little energy capsules can move their bodies.

3835 Cross Creek Rd.
Online: malibucountrymart.com

Legacy Park
Legacy Park is located in Malibu’s civic center near the Country Mart and just across the street from the city library. Though you won’t find a traditional playground, here the park is full of space to run and to allow your babe’s imagination to soar. Legacy Park takes advantage of the natural resources that are at the heart of Malibu; dedicated to water improvement and conservation, the park is complete with a learning center, information kiosks and and interpretive center.  Be sure to soak in the large mosaic rattlesnake and frog that are sure to get your little explorers excited about the beauty all around them.

Explore

Malibu Library
Located right across the street from Legacy Park, the Malibu Public Library is a great option if you want to retreat indoors for awhile. The welcoming space has the obvious draw of books but also hosts a number of family centered activities and events through the week including “Music and Motion” for toddlers and tots, afternoon puppets shows for the older set and guitar concerts presented by Pepperdine University’s guitar department for the entire family. Check their website for details and calendar of events.

23500 Civic Center Way
Online: malibucity.org/index.aspx?nid=427

photo: Meghan Rose

The Getty Villa
Bring the entire family for a walk through the beautiful grounds that are are a replica of a Roman Villa. This place is full of spectacular views, an incredible collection of art and amazing gardens. Be sure to visit the family room where the kids can build draw on Etruscan vases, search for art treasure or become part of a shadow play. Plus, the Villa Cafe has Mediterranean meals that range from penne pasta and pizza to tasty salad and Mediterranean platters complete with tabbouleh and hummus for the entire family.

17985 Pacific Coast Hwy
Online: getty.edu/visit/villa

photo: Melanie Wynne via Flickr

Historic Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum
Malibu is full of history and the Adamson House and Lagoon Museum is the perfect place to begin to explore that. Walk into the museum and learn about the historic site that was once the home of the Chumash Indians until nearly the end of the 18th Century. As the family steps into the Adamson House, you will learn about the Rindge family who owned 20 miles of the coast line. The Rindge’s daughter later and her husband, Merritt Huntley Adamson later built the famed house. The house tour is a must for parents with a love for architecture. The house was designed in the Spanish Colonial style and is full of stunningly colorful original tile. While you swoon, your explorers will experience an ultimately colorful and tangible history lesson.

Note: Because of the delicate nature of the house and, quite frankly, all that beautiful tile we recommend this Adamson House tour for kids 7 & up.

23200 Coast Hwy
Online: adamsonhouse.org

photo: Pepperdine Center for the Arts

Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts at Pepperdine University
The Center for the Arts at Pepperdine hosts a wide range of performances all year long. From dance performances from China to a musical performance of the favorite children’s book Go Dog Go, this year’s calendar has something to please everyone. In addition to performances, the center also hosts family art days, free backstage tours and tours of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art. Check their website for this year’s schedule. And be sure to frolic on the amazing Pepperdine lawn that overlooks the ocean. There’s nothing else like it around.

24255 Pacific Coast Hwy
Online: arts.pepperdine.edu/events/family-performances

Hiking

Corral Canyon Park
If you have hikers in your house, this is the spot for your family. This 1,000 acre park sits on PCH between Kanan Dune Rd. and Malibu Canyon. Bring a hat, sunscreen and a picnic in your backpack. Explore the trail that lead to spectacular mountain and ocean views. As you head back down take in the marsh, native grass and Corral Creek. The park also offers picnic tables where the family can enjoy an outdoor meal after working up an appetite.

25623 Pacific Coast Hwy
Online: lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=4

photo: Don Barrett via Flickr

Solstice Canyon
This is the perfect spot if you have a variety of hiking levels in your home. The canyon offers easy, moderate and strenuous trails that offer mountain and ocean views. If you have little hikers in tow, the Rising Sun Trail is perfect, which will give you a view of a charming waterfall and the remains of the Keller House—a stone hunting canyon that is over 100 years old and was damaged by a fire in 2007. Make it to the Solstice Waterfall and you will also discover the ruins of The Roberts Ranch House designed by architect Paul Revere Williams in 1952. Solstice Canyon is a combination of natural beauty and human ingenuity.

3455 Solstice Canyon Rd.
Online: nps.gov/samo/planyourvisit/solsticecanyon

Another of our fave hikes is Malibu Creek Park, which has two hikes of varying lengths that each end at a natural pool you can swim in!  Check out our coverage of this gorgeous natural hike and swim (and other spots where you can swim in nature) here.

Beaches

Let’s face it: the beach is one of Malibu’s premier draws and it’s certainly worth the trek to explore the unique bits of coast this city has to offer. These are our fave spots when you’ve got the kids with you!

photo: LeTania Kirkland Smith

Malibu Lagoon/Surfrider Beach
Within walking distance to the Malibu Pier, this beach is a premier spot to watch surfers in action. The water is clean and when the tide is low, tide pools appear to reveal amazing marine life for your little explorers. Walk along the the sand to explore shells, rocks, seaweed, birds and all the other goodies that come with the Pacific. Parking is $12 and includes a short walk to the water. You can also park for free along PCH, but the traffic you face when crossing can be daunting with little ones.

23050 Pacific Coast Hwy
Online: californiabeaches.com/beach/malibu-surfrider-beach

photo: Meghan Rose

Paradise Cove
Paradise Cove is the perfect spot if you want to enjoy a little extra TLC on the beach. If you don’t feel like packing a picnic, The Paradise Cove Cafe offers a fun menu complete with clam chowder and other seafood favorites that you can enjoy right near the sand. There are also chaise lounges, umbrellas and even terraces for rent if you feel like really entertaining yourself in style. Otherwise, you can bring your beach towels and enjoy a simple day on the beach. Parking is free on PCH if you don’t mind a bit of a walk. Otherwise, it is worth making a purchase at the Cafe where spending $30 (which is easy to do with drinks, snacks or a full lunch either in or to to) means you can enjoy 4 hours of validated parking for $6 during the week and $8 on weekends and holidays. Otherwise, parking is $35 on weekdays and $50 on weekends (yup, you read that right!).

28128 Pacific Coast Hwy
Online: paradisecovemalibu.com

photo: LeTania Kirkland Smith

Point Dume
If you want to combine a beach day with a hike Point Dume is the spot. There is a parking lot near the beach for ease. First enjoy a scenic walk along the sand where the kids can take in the amazing rock cliffs (complete with climbers) and possibly even see seals soaking in a little sun along the way. Once your beach babes have had ample water and sand time, be sure to take the hike up top to the lookout. From the top, enjoy the spectacular views of the coastline. Your kids will be mesmerized by the clean air and incredible colors. You’ll be racking your brains to think of all the movies and TV shows you have seen shot here.

Tips: Plan your day so that you end it here.  While the sun begins to sink, you can still see the dolphins (and sometimes even whales) from your perch on top of the cliff.  Then you’re in a perfect sunset viewing spot.  If young tummies tell you that being here this late makes it time for dinner, The Sunset Restaurant waits by the shore to ply you with food & drink.

7103 Westward Beach Rd.
Online: parks.ca.gov/?page_id=623

photo: Jeremy C. via Yelp

 

Eat

Malibu Farm Cafe
If the kids are eager to walk along a pier and you want to avoid the crowds of Santa Monica this is the way to go. Shop, fish, wander and then EAT! Malibu Farm boasts one of the greatest kids menus around with offerings like corn dogs and quesadillas as well as salmon or tofu with pasta. Parents will also be pleased with the farm fresh food and incredible beer and wine list. If you want a more casual experience (yes, please!) walk to the end of the pier for Malibu Farm Cafe where you can enjoy breakfast and lunch counter service with lower price points and incredible pier views. The cafe is open until 4 p.m. on the weekdays and 8 p.m. on the weekend.

23000 Pacific Coast Hwy
Online: malibu-farm.com

John’s Garden at Malibu Country Mart
If you want a casual and delicious meal this is the place to go. Order from a selection of fresh sandwiches, salads and pressed juices and walk them out to a picnic table where the kids can nibble and hit the playground. Peruse the snack shop for staples like chips, drinks as well as fresh baked cookies and baked goods. It’s where all the locals get goodies to-go, so you’ll fit right in with the stars who call Malibu home.

3835 Cross Creek Rd.
Online: johnsgardenmalibu.com

Taverna Tony at Malibu Country Mart
If you’re looking for a specific culinary experience for the family, Taverna Tony is the place to go Greek. The Taverna has ample indoor and outdoor seating complete with Greek decor to transport you to one of the isles. If it’s chilly, try to get one of the cozy banquettes with the charming and colorful cushions where the family can get cozy. Enjoy the fresh bread with hummus and delicious olives. The kids can enjoy spanikopita (and get in that healthy spinach) while parents can enjoy a traditional lamb dish. Portions are large family style offerings so order judiciously.

23410 Civic Ctr Way
Online: tavernatony.com

Vintage Grocers
If you’re headed to the beach or a playground and you didn’t have time to make a full picnic, be sure to stop at Vintage Grocers. Along with high end grocery offerings that you can create a meal with, there are also fresh salad and hot bars, plus pressed paninis at the deli. Be sure to take a look at the bakery where you can snag their generous samples while you make your decision. Vintage Grocers also happens to have clean bathrooms in the store. Let’s not kid ourselves—our lives as parents so often revolve around such discoveries.

30745 Pacific Coast Hwy #24
Online: vintagegrocers.com

photo: Malibu Country Kitchen

Sweets

Malibu Kitchen and Gourmet Country Kitchen
If it’s a sweet treat the family is looking for, everyone will find something at this classic spot. This old school bakery offers traditional cookies, innovations (mmmm, the Oreo brownie bar) and cupcakes; all so big they could feed an army. The Country Kitchen also boasts jars of classic candy that your sweets fiends can peruse and you can pay by the bag. Grab something to go and enjoy it with the rest of your lunch by the playground if you’d like. Let them burn off that sugar.

21239 Pacific Coast Hwy

Grom Gelato
If it’s a cold treat the family craves head to Grom Gelato also in the Country Mart. Grom offers authentic gelato with ingredients directly from Italy. Whether it’s pistachio or biscotti your crave, Grom has you covered. Grom also offers sorbet if you need or want to avoid dairy. Though Grom posts are popping up all over the city now, this is the original West Coast storefront, and there’s just something about gelato by the beach.  While the kids attack cookies bigger than their heads from the Country Kitchen, you may want to pop next door for a small cup of sinful indulgence (we recommend the Cioccolato Extranoir, if you’re a chocolate fan; it’s to die for).

3886 Cross Creek Rd.
Online: grom.it/en

Caffe Luxxe
With all this running around PCH, parents are bound to need a caffeine boost. Caffe Luxxe is a newer addition to the neighborhood, but a welcome one. Whether it’s a black coffee you crave or a proper cappuccino they have you covered. If you want a sweet coffee treat be sure to try a dark chocolate Shakerato. They also have a wide variety of hot and iced tea offerings if coffee isn’t your thing. If the kids are looking at you with puppy dog eyes while you get a parent treat, you can offer the something because Caffe Luxxe serves delicious pastries from Milo and Olive. It’s a perfect first stop of the day if you’re heading to the beach and need to coffee up and get breakfast on the way.

22333 Pacific Coast Hwy
Online: caffeluxxe.com

What are your favorite hidden haunts in Malibu?  Let us know in the comment section!

—LeTania Kirkland Smith