South of Zuma Beach, houses begin popping up along Hwy-1 to block the oceanfront views, and more-elaborate multimillion-dollar homes dot the canyons above as well, forming the sprawling exurbia and movie-star playground of Malibu, which stretches along Hwy-1 for the next 27 miles to Santa Monica and metropolitan Los Angeles. Unless TV helicopters are flying overhead to document the latest wildfire or other natural disaster, it’s hard to get more than a glimpse of the garage doors or wrought-iron gates of these palaces, but this is the address of choice for the movers and shakers of the entertainment world: If you can name them, they probably own property here. Most of the truly huge estates are hidden away on ranches high up in the mountains.
One of these hideaways has been evolving since 1993, when Barbra Streisand donated her 22.5-acre ranch for use as a botanical preserve. Called Ramirez Canyon Park (5750 Ramirez Canyon Rd., 310/589-2850), it’s managed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and is open by appointment only, thanks to requests from neighbors. Ramirez Canyon meets the Pacific at the aptly named Paradise Cove, a private beach and boat launch which is worth checking out for the excellent little Paradise Cove Beach Café (28128 Pacific Coast Hwy., 310/457-9791), serving what may well be the world’s best sandwiches. Here they come complete with spectacular ocean views, and frequent activity by film and TV crews. Baywatch and The Rockford Files were both filmed on the sands and the rustic pier.
This stretch of coastline holds another great place to eat: Malibu Seafood (25653 Pacific Coast Hwy., 310/456-3430), a low-key beach shack drawing local gardeners, pool guys, and Hollywood starlets for BYOB fish ’n’ chips.
Continuing south along high-speed Hwy-1, the most prominent sight is the Pepperdine University campus, which was described by the late, great architect Charles Moore as “an overscaled motel set in obscenely vivid emerald lawns.” Below the bluff-top campus, the legendary Malibu Colony of celebrity homes stretches along the coast in high-security splendor. Just north of Pepperdine, a short drive up Corral Canyon Road gives access to Solstice Canyon, part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, where a well-marked, mile-long hiking trail leads through scrubby native chaparral up to a delicate spring waterfall, past numerous signs of the frequent fall wildfires (like the 4,900-acre Corral Fire of November 2007, which destroyed Malibu’s oldest home; the remains are preserved in situ).
Away from the mountains, about the only place in Malibu proper where it’s fun (and legal) to explore is the area around the landmark Malibu Pier, which juts into the ocean at the heart of Malibu’s short and rather scruffy commercial strip. North of the pier stretches Surfrider Beach, site of most of those Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello Beach Blanket Bingo-type movies made during the 1950s. The pier and the beach are part of Malibu Lagoon State Beach, which also protects the historic Adamson House (23200 Pacific Coast Hwy., 310/456-8432, Thurs.-Sat. 11am-3pm, $7 adults, cash only), a lovely circa-1930 Spanish Revival courtyard home, right on the beach and full of gorgeous tile work and other architectural features. Tours of the house are given throughout the day, and fascinating exhibits portray Malibu history and the Rindge family, who once owned the entire region.
Topanga and the Getty Villa
Between Malibu and Santa Monica, Topanga Canyon is one of the last great wild spaces in Los Angeles, with a number of parks, trails, and perhaps the last wild and free waterways—steelhead trout still spawn in the waters of Topanga Creek, which flows down from the mountains to the Santa Monica Bay.
Home to an alternative-minded community of some 8,000 hippies and New Agers (Neil Young recorded After the Gold Rush in his home here), Topanga was first established as an artists’ colony in the 1950s by the likes of Woody Guthrie and actor Will Geer, who played Grandpa in TV’s The Waltons, long after he’d been blacklisted during the anti-Communist McCarthy witch hunts. For over 40 years, Geer’s old property has been preserved as the Theatricum Botanicum (1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., 310/455-2322), a garden and politically minded 300-seat open-air theater, six miles up the canyon.
South of Topanga and open after a nearly 10-year, $275-million remodeling are the world-famous antiquities of The J. Paul Getty Museum (310/440-7300, Wed.-Mon., free, $15 per car, good at both museum site). Over 1,200 priceless classics are displayed in the pseudo-Pompeiian Getty Villa, where the oil magnate’s art collection was housed prior to the construction of the massive Getty Center complex along the I-405 freeway above Brentwood. Admission to the Getty Villa is free, but parking reservations are essential.
From the Getty Villa south to Santa Monica, the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy-1) runs along the wide-open sands of Will Rogers State Beach, gifted to the public by the Depression-era humorist.