Photos by Emily Scher
El Matador State Beach
Sunbathers routinely explore the caves and cliffs of El Matador State Beach. With its distinct rock formations, this pocket beach is just one of the many hidden gems making up Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach. Even from the parking lot, the view of the ocean is worth the visit. To find this spectacular spot, simply look for the sign off PCH. There is a small lot accessible from 8 a.m. to sunset for an $8 fee. Note: there is no lifeguard tower here. And be prepared for a hike down the bluff to the sand—but El Matador will be worth the journey.
Leo Carrillo State Beach
With its coastal caves, rock formations, tide pools and offshore reefs, Leo Carrillo State Beach is the ideal spot for beachcombers and explorers of all ages. Actor, preservationist and conservationist Leo Carrillo (1880-1961), the namesake of this state park, helped acquire much of the park land between Malibu Lagoon and Point Mugu. The park has a couple of surf spots, and also draws divers, snorkelers, windsurfers and kite surfers. In the campground across from the beach, there are public restrooms, showers and backcountry hiking. Dogs on leashes are allowed north of lifeguard tower 3, the day-use areas and the campground, but not on the south beach or backcountry trails. Parking is available for $12 per day or $3 per hour at a lot across the street and is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
County Line Beach and Staircase Beach
Made famous by The Beach Boys, with their 1963 hit “Surfin’ USA,” County Line is a favorite among surfers for its great peaks and point break. It’s also popular with standup paddleboarders, divers, kite surfers and wind surfers. Located west of Yerba Buena Road on PCH, there are portable restrooms but limited parking. Staircase Beach is considered a Leo Carrillo pocket beach, along with County Line, and has limited parking at 40000 PCH, with no amenities. Dogs on leashes are allowed on Staircase Beach; there are no dogs allowed on County Line Beach.
Sycamore Cove Beach
Sycamore Cove Beach and Point Mugu State Park (adjacent to the beach) welcome campers, hikers and beachgoers year-round. With more than 70 miles of surrounding hiking trails, there are limitless adventures that await in the grassy valleys and rugged hills within the 15,000-acre park and Boney Mountains State Wilderness Area. To learn more about the area’s flora and fauna, check out The Sycamore Canyon Nature Center—or simply watch for monarch butterflies and seabirds. While there, keep an eye out for dolphins and seals, or explore the tide pools; pack a picnic and take advantage of the open sand and picnic tables. A lifeguard is on duty during the day. As long as they are on leash, dogs are allowed. Sycamore Cove Beach can be crowded on weekends, so get there early to snag a picnic table and a parking spot. The parking lots and restrooms are available from 8 a.m. to sunset.
Corral Canyon Beach is near Solstice Canyon and Dan Blocker Beach. Surfing, snorkeling, fishing, swimming, tide pooling, sunbathing, beach walking and scuba diving in the rock reef parallel to the shore are among the many activities to enjoy. Amenities include a lifeguard during the summer months, toilets, picnic tables and campground. There is a public parking lot across the street for Corral Canyon Park (part of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area). The park has a 2.5 mile-long hiking trail loop and a pedestrian underpass that goes under PCH to the beach. In addition, there is also parking at the far west end of the beach, along with picnic tables, but beach access is difficult from there. No dogs are allowed on the beach.
Nicholas Canyon Beach
About a mile-and-a-half southwest of Leo Carrillo and about four miles from the Ventura and Los Angeles county line, Nicholas Canyon Beach sits quietly off PCH, hidden from view. Though Nicholas Canyon Beach is popular with divers, swimmers, surfers and hikers, the somewhat concealed location makes it less crowded than its neighboring beaches. Referred to as “Point Zero” by local surfers, this beach has one of the few perfect left point breaks in Los Angeles County. Nicholas Canyon Beach has restrooms, stairs to the beach and lifeguards on duty. For those seeking an opportunity to learn more about the area’s history, visitors can make an appointment to experience the Wishtoyo Foundation’s working Native American Village. Showcasing the daily life of the Chumash people—from ceremonies to tools used, the visitor center offers unique tours and presentations. The park entrance is easy to miss from the road, so be sure to keep a lookout for the sign; there is paid parking available from sunrise to sunset.
El Pescador Beach
El Pescador, the third pocket beach within Robert H. Meyer Memorial Beach, is a calm, sandy cove with rocky areas surrounded by tide pools. Like El Matador and La Piedra, El Pescador has a paid parking lot with restrooms open from 8 a.m. to sunset, but has the shortest hike to the sand. This beach is not a surfer hub, but the calm waves are gentle and great for children. Like La Piedra, El Pescador is the ideal spot for tide pooling, strolling down the sand, birdwatching and sunbathing. Take a long walk up and down the shore to El Matador or La Piedra, or simply explore the rock formations. As a fairly small beach, El Pescador beach can get crowded on weekends, but is often quiet on weekdays.
La Piedra Beach
Sandwiched between El Matador and El Pescador, the quiet La Piedra Beach is ideal for beachgoers who would rather explore the tide pools and sunbathe instead of muscle through the beach crowds. While there aren’t any lifeguards on duty, beach hikers are bound to see wildlife—from seabirds, to harbor seals, to the abundance of sea creatures in the tide pools. Within walking distance to El Matador, the trek down the bluffs to the beach is not for the weary, so be ready. The parking lot is open from 8 a.m. to sunset.
Malibu’s perfectly shaped right point-break wave has attracted surfers for decades. With a view of Malibu Pier, it was the location for many surf movies in the 1950s and 1960s, and a favorite spot of surf legends (Miki Dora and Gidget among them). Malibu gave birth to contemporary California surf culture, long before it was named Surfrider. Declared the first-ever World Surfing Reserve in 2010, the beach welcomes both longboarders and shortboarders with its three point breaks. There is a lifeguard on duty during daylight hours and restrooms. This spot is a part of Malibu Lagoon State Beach, a sanctuary where up to 200 species of birds attract birdwatchers during the spring and fall migrations.
For a long walk or leisurely day on the sand, venture to Westward Beach’s three-mile stretch. Winding south of Zuma and wrapping halfway around Point Dume, this beach of deep blue waters and expansive sands hosts sea lions, dolphins and seals as frequent guests. The wide stretch of beach is perfect for kicking around a soccer ball or throwing a football. Unlike most other Malibu beaches, Westward Beach sits away from PCH. There are lifeguards on duty, and picnic tables and restrooms available. The waves and tides of this beach are powerful so it is advised only experienced swimmers answer the ocean’s beckoning call. Parking is available at the end of Westward Road for a fee. From the parking lot, it’s a wonderful hike to Point Dume Natural Preserve trail.
For decades, Zuma has been one of the most popular beaches in Southern California. With four miles of sand, Zuma Beach has plenty of room for the whole family, so bring the sand toys and boogieboards. Just be careful taking a dip—the waves and riptides at Zuma can be powerful. Home to the Junior Lifeguard program and Pepperdine University’s Sand Volleyball, this beach welcomes sporty beachgoers; a lengthy walk to adjacent Westward Beach can provide exercise, too. In September, triathletes flock to Zuma Beach for the popular Nautica Malibu Triathlon. Near Parking Lot One, there are 10 volleyball courts open for public use; there is plenty of room to throw a frisbee or football, or take a long run along the boardwalk. This beach has all the amenities: lifeguards, public restrooms, showers, changing rooms and snack bars. Off PCH, there are plenty of parking spots available for a fee, but be ready for the crowds. To secure the best beach spot, arrive early.