Thanks to a Burgeoning Food Scene, Malibu Draws a New Crowd

Here's where to eat, stay and play in the popular SoCal city.

May 2, 2023 6:21 am
Malibu, California
Malibu, California

Entering Malibu, along the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll pass an iconic welcome sign pledging “21 miles of scenic beauty.” That’s a significant breadth of panorama for any city to promise its visitors — even for this legendary slice of Southern California sunshine. But it turns out the slogan actually undersells the experience here: scenic beauty is just the start. 

For years Los Angeles County’s most exclusive beachfront community was seen as nothing more than a playground for well-heeled glitterati and over-tanned surfers, all sculpted in the image of Greek gods. Mere mortals could pass along PCH and marvel at the spectacle, but there wasn’t much keeping them there in terms of quality food and drink or reliable overnight accommodations. 

Things slowly started to change in the late aughts with the grand reopening of the Malibu Pier. It brought with it the potential for a new destination committed to local commerce. The century-old landmark underwent extensive refurbishment in 2008, but it wasn’t until six years later that it fully delivered on that potential. That’s when local rancher Helene Henderson opened Malibu Farm at the foot of the historic wooden platform — joined shortly thereafter by a cozier cafe at the end of the pier. 

Malibu Pier
Malibu Pier

In the interim, just down the street, famed restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa had secured a stunning beachfront address for his eponymous franchise. The hotspot immediately began beckoning a nighttime crowd from greater Los Angeles, including folks who had never before considered sticking around past sunset. 

Fast forward to today and you’re looking at a landscape that’s become a dependable staycation destination for Angelos. And for tourists touching down at LAX, it’s no longer unreasonable — nor uncommon — for them to head straight for that Malibu welcome sign and stay there until it’s time to head back to the airport. 

“Having grown up in Malibu, I’ve seen the shift from sleepy to chic, and there’s a great mix to do,” says Max Block — an F+B expert who co-hosted a podcast called Table Setting. “I’ll always love a lazy staycation weekend, grabbing breakfast burritos at Lilly’s, then hitting Little Dume with a good beach read.” 

According to Block, even old standbys such as Paradise Cove Beach Cafe and Malibu Mutts have opted to up their game to keep up with the competition. He recommends the clam chowder from the former and the “world’s best” chili cheese fries from the latter. 

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Kathy Delgado packs her car with blankets and beach chairs and beelines up from Long Beach to the Malibu Country Mart to create wondrous weekend picnics. “My routine involves compiling seasonal provisions from Malibu Kitchen and Gourmet Country Market or Broad Street Oyster Company,” says the restaurant designer and French antique dealer. “Then I just walk down to the beach and nibble with my toes in the sand.”

For dessert she surveys the whimsical shopfronts that have cropped up across town in the past few years. “When I desire some jaw-dropping retail therapy, I head to Malibu Park at Cross Creek”and into Teressa Foglia for the most incredible hat atelier outside of Paris,” she shares, excitedly. “If you’re an antique aficionado like me, this is where you’ll view the most awe-inspiring retail displays anywhere. Heavy inspiration on French and European antiques mixed among the racks of clothing.”

Later this spring, the shopping center welcomes Magnolia Pearl — a new West Coast flagship for the Texas-based outfitter specializing in “Boho Chic” ensembles. 

A number of noteworthy hotels and eateries sit just along the surf

Another modern upgrade to Malibu has been the winery tasting room boom. A key moment occurred back in 2014, when Malibu Coast was granted official status as an AVA (American Viticultural Area). Since then, there’s been a “space race” among the sun-swaddled vineyards of this mountainous region to offer the most over-the-top experiences. At Cielo Farms, live music, wood-fired pizza and afternoon yoga can all be paired with the sturdy house red blends. At Saddlerock Ranch, a 2-hour wine safari includes tastings and a ride through vines populated with camels, yaks and water buffalo

Back down along the surf, boutique and luxurious Malibu Beach Inn recently partnered with Dierberg Vineyards to offer guests an all-inclusive winery and lodging experience. It includes a suite overlooking the ocean along with a private tour and lunch at the exclusive winery which is typically closed to the public. But you wouldn’t have to go too far afield to enjoy such a level of wining and dining. In 2020 the property revamped its culinary program, bringing an enviable array of California cuisine, craft beer, cocktails and a world class wine program to its Carbon Beach Club lobby restaurant. 

Not to be forgotten, chef Nobu’s decade-old dining destination remains a top hotspot. In 2017 his restaurant group opened a five-star Japanese-inspired lodging next door. The opulent Nobu Ryokan, where sleek beachfront suites start at $2,000 per night, is among the most stylish overnight stays anywhere in the country. 

Here’s a cheatsheet to help you plot the perfect Malibu getaway. 

Broad Street Oyster Company's famous lobster roll
Broad Street Oyster Company’s famous lobster roll
Broad Street Oyster Company

Where to Eat in Malibu

Nicolas Eatery — This family-run restaurant specializes in hyperlocal ingredients rendered with a French touch. Escargot, pate aux champignons and Bouef Bourgiugnon are perennial standouts. But Block recommends going on Tuesdays when they host a weekly Vietnamese pop-up. 

Broad Street Oyster Company — A seafood sensation since first opening in the summer of 2019, the menu is far more robust than its name suggests. The raw bar is a revelation, to be sure; uni, mussels, clams are all can’t miss. And yet so is the lobster roll, which has been accused of being the best on the West Coast. Order ahead so you can avoid the massive queues that tend to accumulate during main meal hours.

Cholada Thai Cuisine — Nothing is finer than being in this baby blue diner. Traditional Thai curries, glass noodles and Gaiyang (marinated chicken) accompany beachside vibes, served by expat chef/owners who also happen to be husband and wife. 

Locals swear by Moonshadows
Locals swear by Moonshadows

Where to Drink in Malibu 

The Bar at Nobu — They’ve got the best Japanese whisky selection in town, naturally. But their cocktail program is surprisingly eclectic and not egregiously overpriced. Come for the $21 Matsuhisa Martini — with Suntory Haku Vodka, junmai sake and ginger — and stay for the people watching. 

Rosenthal Wine Bar & Patio — Many of the winery experiences in Malibu are suspended high in the hills. If you’re looking for something laidback along the shore, head here to enjoy easy-drinking Cabs and Chardonnays. It’s a decidedly contemporary vibe with food trucks and live music banging away all weekend long. 

If you prefer Old School to modern, there are plenty of places to wet your whistle. “Duke’s and Moonshadows are both classics,” according to Dan Dunn, Venice native, drinks author and host of the What We’re Drinking podcast. “The views are spectacular and there’s always a chance for a celebrity run-in. I like to take psychedelics, go to Geoffrey’s and imagine I’m hanging out with Johnny Carson and Phyllis Diller.” 

Where to Stay in Malibu

Nobu Ryokan — This is quite likely the most exclusive overnight option in all of Los Angeles. No wonder it attracts a constant parade of A-listers. It’s the privacy and intimacy of these outsized beachside suites that calls to the celebs. But you don’t have to be on the run from paparazzi to appreciate the amenities and the attention to detail affected here. Who doesn’t want to enjoy a speciality Nobu breakfast from the comfort of their own onsen-inspired wooden bathtub? The property is currently paired up with Beverly Hills Car Rental on a “Cruise the Coast” package: A luxury supercar such as a Lamborghini Urus Graphite Capsule or a Porsche GT3 is dropped off for you at the hotel and is yours to whip around the coast throughout the duration of your stay. You even get your own complimentary bento box lunches to take around with you as you cruise.

Malibu Beach Inn — After its extensive refresh in 2020, this boutique property has emerged as the consummate romantic getaway for LA staycationers. Spacious rooms feature lanais overlooking a private beach, with the Channel Islands hovering along the horizon. Down in the lobby, Carbon Beach Club’s menu favors California cuisine with a Mediterranean bent. Behind the bar a wide selection of whiskies and agave spirits are on offer. Those arriving by electric vehicle will appreciate the ample charging stations, though with the hotel’s positioning just steps from Malibu Pier, you might just want to keep your car parked for the duration of your stay. Rooms typically start at $600 per night. 


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