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Malibu Lagoon State Beach

Malibu Beach Trail

1 mile round trip around Malibu Lagoon;
to Corral State Beach is 4 to 6 miles round trip

When Southern California natives say “Malibu Beach” this popular surfing spot is what they mean: the site of beach-blanket movies and Beach Boys songs. The state beach—formerly known as Surfrider—is a mixture of sand and stone. More than 200 bird species have been observed at Malibu Lagoon.

For Frederick Hastings Rindge, owner of 22 miles of Southern California coast, life in the Malibu of a century ago was divine. “The enobling stillness makes the mind ascend to heaven,” he wrote in his memoir, Happy Days in Southern California, published in 1898.

Long before Malibu meant good surfing, a movie star colony and some of the most expensive real estate on earth, “The Malibu” was a shorthand name for Topanga-Malibu-Sequit, an early 19th-century rancho. This rancho extended from Topanga Canyon on the southeast to Ventura County on the northwest, from the tideline to the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains.

This beautiful locale attracted the attention of a wealthy Massachusetts businessman, Frederick Rindge, who was looking for an ideal spread “near the ocean, and under the lee of the mountains, with a trout brook, wild trees, good soil and excellent climate, one not too hot in summer.”

Rindge bought the ranch and proceeded to divide his time between a townhouse in Los Angeles, from which he directed his business affairs—and his beloved rancho. The New Englander-turned-ranchero gloried in rounding up cattle, inspecting citrus groves and walking his St. Bernard along his many miles of private shoreline.

Alas for Frederick Rindge, his happy days ended rather abruptly when a 1903 fire burned his property. He died just two years later. His widow, May Rindge, decided to keep the rancho intact and to keep the public out of her coastal kingdom. Armed guards patrolled the dominion of the woman the newspapers called “The Queen of Malibu.” For more than three decades, she not only stopped tourists and settlers, but blocked the state from completing Pacific Coast Highway. Eventually, however, the whole rancho was subdivided into ocean front lots and 100-acre “ranchos,” as well as sites for hotels, yacht clubs and small summer homes.

Malibu Lagoon hosts many different kinds of waterfowl, both resident and migratory. The beach is rock cobble on the ocean side of the lagoon. To the landward side of the lagoon stretches the alluvial fill flatland deposited by Malibu Creek. The town of Malibu is situated here.

Across from the lagoon is a stunning California landmark, the Adamson House, a beautiful Spanish-style home built by Frederick Rindge’s daughter, Rhoda Adamson. The house, built in 1929, makes lavish use of ceramic “Malibu Tile.” The grounds have been restored to their former beauty with many ornamental trees and shrubs. Fountains and flagstone pathways wind through the landscaped grounds.

Adjoining the Adamson House is the Malibu Lagoon Museum, which contains a collection of artifacts and rare photographs that depict the various eras of “The Malibu,” as this section of coastal Southern California was known.

Directions to trailhead: Malibu Lagoon State Beach is located at Pacific Coast Highway and Cross Creek Road in Malibu.

The hike:
First, follow the nature trails around the lagoon. Next, head down-coast to the historic 700-foot Malibu Pier, built in 1903. It’s a favorite of anglers and tourists. Sportfishing boats depart from the pier.

Farther down-coast is Zonker Harris Accessway, long the focus of debate between the California Coastal Commission, determined to provide access to the coast, and some Malibu residents who would prefer the public stay out. The original sign read Zonker Harris Memorial Beach, honoring a character from the Doonesbury comic strip whose primary goal in life was once to acquire the perfect tan.

Up-coast, you’ll pass Malibu Point; here the strong southwest swell refracts against a rock reef and creates the waves that makes Malibu so popular with surfers. Next you walk the narrow and sandy beach lined by the exclusive Malibu Colony residences, home to many a movie star. Toward the west end of The Colony, the beach narrows considerably and houses are built on stilts, with the waves sometimes pounding beneath them.

The beach is wider and more public at Corral State Beach, located at the mouths of Corral and Solstice Canyons.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at