Running right along the beach, the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy-1) heads south from Oxnard around the rocky headland of Point Mugu (pronounced “ma-GOO”), where the U.S. Navy operates a missile testing center and the Santa Monica Mountains rise steeply out of the Pacific Ocean. Most of these chaparral-covered granite mountains have been protected as parkland, with hiking, cycling, and riding trails offering grand views and a surprising amount of solitude. Before or after a hike in the hills (or a Harley ride along the coast, the preferred mode of arrival), the ramshackle Neptune’s Net (42505 Pacific Coast Hwy., 310/457-3095) restaurant is a great place to hang out and “star”-gaze while enjoying fresh seafood, served up on paper plates for that down-home Hollywood feel.
South from here, state-owned beaches mark your progress along the coastal road, but this stretch is basically natural wilderness—apart from the highway, of course. Biggest and best of the beaches hereabouts is the lovely Leo Carrillo State Park (310/457-8143), which has a sandy strand, some great tide pools, and a sycamore-shaded campground (reservations 800/444-7275). Leo Carrillo (1880-1961) was an actor (he played Pancho in The Cisco Kid TV show) and preservationist who was instrumental in expanding the California state parks.
South of Leo Carrillo, which marks the Los Angeles County line, there are many more public beach areas, including (in roughly north-to-south order) Nicholas Canyon County Beach, El Pescador State Beach, and El Matador State Beach (where episodes of TV’s Baywatch have been filmed). At big, brash Zuma Beach County Park, where volleyball courts and snack bars line the sands, the PCH bends inland around the headlands of Point Dume State Beach, a great spot for winter whale-watching.