Stretching for 27 miles along the Pacific Coast, Malibu occupies an iconic stretch of sand and surf, filled with some of Southern California’s best restaurants, chicest boutiques, and endless options to enjoy the outdoors.
One thing it lacks? Places to stay. The Coastal Commission and local community have made even offering Airbnb’s a challenge, leaving few opportunities for visitors to stay overnight. However, the Surfrider is perhaps the most appealing accommodations for those looking for a charming base to explore Southern California’s toniest beach town.
The Packing Edit
Originally built in 1953 as a roadside motel geared towards surfers (it’s across the street from one of Malibu’s best breaks), the 20-room property had been neglected until its current owners reimagined it in 2018 as a contemporary California beach house. The renovation has yielded the perfect blend of unselfconscious 60s surf mixed with cool coastal flair.
Enter directly off of PCH (the hotel is not on the beach, but across the street from it), and park in front of the rooms. The reception area features a small check-in desk and a long dining table, beautifully arranged with coffee table books, floral arrangements, and bowls of fruit. A loft directly upstairs offers plush linen-covered sofas and a small library of books, while groovy sounds are softly piped in for an upbeat ambiance. Above the sofas hang a trio of pieces by Le Corbusier. It’s the ideal lounge spot to wait for your mate to finish getting ready, while people watching on property. However, don’t expect a scene. The property is only open to guests, so the atmosphere is alluringly low key.
While not over the top, the 20 rooms are delightfully light and bright. The property offers five room types that each measure 25-square metres and all share similar décor. However, the differences are due to room location. The Pacific Room, with its upstairs corner vantage point, has the most private balcony, featuring sweeping ocean views across PCH, while, in contrast, the Surfer’s Hideout is indeed geared towards wave catchers who are looking for more of a crash pad (it’s located just beneath the kitchen which can be noisy from 6AM to 10.30PM).
At the top end, two suites offer additional space and stunning views. The Malibu Suite features a spacious living room with a television and sofa, and a sleeping area with king-size bed, television, and a desk. The double-length outdoor terrace offers both an outdoor seating area and a hammock for enjoying the sweeping views. Another suite, the Surfrider Suite, comes with a king-size, four-poster bed, kitchenette, and its own double-size terrace. No matter which room you book though, expect wood floors, rain showers, Bellino linens, Grown Alchemist amenities, and outdoor terraces.
The Little Extras
For a hotel of this size (and budget), the extras are impressive. Complimentary Mini Coopers are on hand for exploring the region, and beach umbrellas, towels, and sunblock are all on loan to use at the nearby beach. Hard-core surfers will appreciate the surfboard and wetsuit storage, as well as the hot-water outdoor shower to rinse off sand. Unfortunately, it’s not pet friendly, but technically, neither are Malibu’s beaches.
Also, shopping in the area is plentiful, but the onsite shop has some great finds, such as the marigold-coloured towels made in Marrakech, especially for the hotel, and the branded hats and T-shirts, which make for great souvenirs. Adorable bottled cocktails for one are almost too cute to drink.
The Food + Drink
The highlight of the hotel has to be the Roof Deck Bar and Restaurant. Only open to guests, this laid-back roof bar feels like the chic terrace of a friend’s beach house. Ample seating at sofas with firepits, intimate tables, and the bar area, accommodates everything from romantic dinners to forced mid-day time in front of a laptop. Open and panoramic (but full of heaters for the cooler months), the setting is so compelling, expect to see most guests Facetiming with friends at home to show them the sunset. However, don’t expect the scene of nearby Nobu Malibu. This is the opposite. Come barefoot and in your robe for breakfast; relax in your bathing suit in the afternoon; have dinner in anything from your most casual jeans and tank top to your favourite party dress — there’s no dress code here. Come as you are, and linger as long as you like.
If the setting weren’t enough, the menu highlights regional California fare from a myriad of local farmers. Acai bowls and fresh green smoothies are the breakfast go-tos, while the seasonal lunch and dinner menus typically include fresh ceviche with catch of the day, light pastas, and an array of fresh salads. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the double-chocolate cookies topped with sea salt. They’re perfection and will haunt you after you leave.
The To-Do List
The best thing to do in Malibu is to slow down. The beaches are iconic and great for surfing (and sometimes people watching), but don’t expect warm water and an ideal swimming environment. You’re better off taking a walk down Carbon Beach, in front of the hotel towards the south, than swimming in it. All beaches are public, which means you can walk directly in front of the multi-million-dollar homes that dot the sand, while still dipping your toes in the water.
Just a few minutes north of the hotel, browse around the Malibu Country Mart and adjacent Malibu Lumber Yard (once an actual lumber yard), an outdoor shopping and dining complex flush with beach-driven boutiques. Larger chains like Intermix and James Perse occupy significant square footage, but so do local gems like Maxfield, Madison, the Malibu Colony Co., Malibu Shaman, and Fred Segal. However, Malibu traffic in the summer can mean it takes 20 minutes to get there, and lines for even the smoothie and sandwich shops can have massive waits. But that’s part of the charm. Don’t expect anyone to rush to do anything here.
The town has limited night life. If you can, snag a reservation (weeks in advance) at Nobu Malibu, or if you’re a Soho House member, use your one-time-only pass to get into the club’s Little Beach House, which requires its own separate membership.