In Los Angeles there is a challenge bucket-list enthusiasts strive to conquer: Surfing by morning in the waves of the Pacific and skiing in the afternoon down the slopes of Big Bear Mountain Resort.
This always has seemed like an ambitious plan to me. Personally, I prefer a different kind of double-attraction-day with much less hassle. It, too, combines the beach and the mountains. Only in Malibu.
Just north of Santa Monica, in Malibu, there are many trails that weave through the slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains. Here you can hike, mountain bike, and horseback ride to your heart’s content. Whenever I hike here I am struck by how the natural beauty of this area engulfs me, making city life feel far away. I just love being able to stumble upon streams, waterfalls, and unexpected wildlife, and to experience panoramic views of coastline and skylines.
Here’s my proposed itinerary for a particularly secluded day in nature involving mountains and sea in Malibu, outside Los Angeles.
In the morning, drive north about 45 miles on the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica. On your right you’ll pass rolling hills and precipitous cliffs, as well as The Getty Villa and fresh seafood restaurants. On your left you’ll spy long sandy beaches, rocky shores, and waves teeming with surfers under the shining California sun.
Once you reach the northern end of Malibu, passing Leo Carrillo State Park, you’ll find Sycamore Canyon. Park your car on the beach side (the west side) of the Pacific Coast Highway. Before you get out, take in the beautiful beach scene, turquoise waters, and sea life such as dolphins or whales that are often spotted off these shores.
Then, with some water, a hat, trainers, and sunglasses carefully cross the highway and head into Point Mugu State Park. Pass through the Sycamore Canyon campground toward the Big Sycamore Canyon Trailhead, after which you’ll find yourself at a crossroads. Three different trails lead north, south, and straight back. Going straight you’ll find yourself on a wide fire road that leads nearly 10 miles to the Ventura Freeway on the Valley side of the mountains. This option is great for those looking for an easier hike or those on mountain bikes, as the dirt paths are relatively flat. But with this choice, you won’t get those great ocean views.
Taking one of the other trails, you’ll find yourself on an 2.7- to 3.5-mile, steep loop leading you right up to stunning vistas of the Pacific. The trails are populated with low-lying plants of coastal sage scrub, California lilac, and buckwheat, to name a few. And the breeze off the water is quite refreshing.
Along the way you’ll notice smaller marked trails that shoot off these main arteries. Those trails also will loop around like the others. That means there are many variations on this same hike that can provide different views of the coastline and surrounding mountains.
Viewfinder Tip: Hiking in Malibu during the cooler months means you can comfortably hike any time of day.
Once you’ve made your loop and the morning temperatures start to rise, head back to the car, where a rather secluded beach awaits. Take a dip in the water and sunbathe on the beach. For sustenance, be sure to pack some food or drink. Or drive over to one of the many famed Malibu haunts for a bite.
The hike described above is only one of many beloved by locals and visitors alike. As a tip for those looking to craft a similar hike/beach day without having to drive up the coast, the trails at Will Rogers State Park near Santa Monica are suitable alternatives. While these are more well trafficked, they still feel remote and provide great views. For another option and to get a real visceral impression of hiking in Malibu watch my video hiking the Sandstone Peak Trail.
Where are your favorite places to hike and why?