Today, mention of Malibu conjures images of an exclusive enclave of Hollywood elite and captains of industry in multi-million-dollar homes along a stretch of perfect beaches, edged by the Pacific Ocean to the southwest and by canyon-etched mountains on the landward side, with the ribbon of Pacific Coast Highway running between these.
Long ago, there was no Pacific Coast Highway, no mansions, no billionaires. For several thousand years, the region was home to the woven-branch curved homes of the Chumash people. The Native American tribe called it “Humilawo,” which means, “The surf sounds loudly.” The name “Malibu” is the result of many generations altering the original “Humilawo” moniker (the “Hu” is soft, with emphasis on “Milawo”).
The Chumash had coastal communities ranging from what is now Morro Bay in the north to Malibu in the south, and also inhabited three of the Channel Islands (Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel). They fished in the waters of the Pacific using the tomol plank canoe, which allowed them to catch both small and large prey, including swordfish. The canoe’s design also allowed the craft to be paddled up and down the coast, facilitating trade between various Chumash villages.
The first European appearance in what is now called Malibu is believed to have occurred in 1542, when Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo moored his ship in one of the creeks to obtain fresh water. In 1770, the Spaniards actively began to colonize the region, attempting to convert the Chumash to Christianity and incorporating the Malibu area into the California mission system. The Chumash people who survived exposure to European diseases brought over by the Spaniards were displaced and dispersed along the coastline. In 1901, a Chumash reservation of 127 acres was established. The last known native speaker of the Chumash language died in 1965. The tribe now operates a successful casino located in Santa Ynez.
In 1802, the Malibu lands were part of the 13,000-acre Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit. Frederick Hastings Rindge and his wife May K. Rindge obtained the ranch in 1891. Their home is now known as the Adamson House, which is part of the Malibu Creek State Park and designated as a California Historical Landmark. The Rindges fought to keep out trespassers, whether individual or governmental. The Rindges battled in court against the Southern Pacific Railroad to keep tracks out of the ranch. Because of the specifics of the laws governing such matters, Rindge wound up building his own rail line through the property to thwart Southern Pacific. When Rindge died, his widow completed the task. The Rindge railway ran for fifteen miles, from Los Flores Canyon to just past Point Dume.
In 1926, May Rindge created the Malibu Potteries tile factory as a way of raising funds so that she would not have to sell off property. At its height, the factory employed over 100 workers. The tiles produced there, considered to be collectible, can still be seen in a number of both residential and business structures in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. A fire gutted Malibu Potteries in 1931. Attempts to reopen it were thwarted by the financial fallout of the Great Depression.
In 1929, the state of California won the right to build Pacific Coast Highway, which is still the primary route through Malibu. Malibu Colony was one of the first enclaves of homes within Malibu, beginning in 1929. Even at the outset, it was exclusive, with May Rindge deciding which Hollywood stars she would allow to build vacation homes there. Some of her approved residents included Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. In the 1930s, Rindge allowed permanent dwellers, whose ranks included Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon.
Malibu Colony is now a gated community, where most of the homes have a view of what is sometimes called “the Queen’s Necklace” – the Southern California coastline stretching from Point Dume to the north to Santa Monica and then Palos Verdes to the south.
More recent Malibu inhabitants, according to public records, include Herb Alpert, Pamela Anderson, Richard Dean Anderson, Jennifer Aniston, Simon Baker, Beck, Ben Bostrom, Ryan Braun, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, James Cameron, Adam Carolla, Cher, Miley Cyrus, Bette Davis, Giada DeLaurentiis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey, Jr., David Duchovny, Bob Dylan, Melissa Etheridge, Kenny G, Lady Gaga, Kevin Garnett, David Geffen, Whoopi Goldberg, Louis Gossett, Jr., Matt Groening, Laird Hamilton, Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, Janet Jackson, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Anthony Kiedis, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Page, Brad Paisley, Pink, Robert Redford, Rihanna, Axl Rose, Edward P. Roski, Rick Rubin, Tom Schaar, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, Charlize Theron, Eddie Van Halen, Andrew von Oeyen and Bruce Willis.
Summer rentals in Malibu have also brought in captains of industry, tech innovators, artists, executives and royalty to California’s most luxurious beach community which often is now referred to as “the Hamptons West” during summer months. Monthly rental costs are in the same ballpark as the Hamptons and the traffic is incrementally better in Malibu than in its East Coast beach competition.
There are many notable real estate landmarks and records set in sought-after Malibu. Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst purchased much of the Big Rock land in 1936, but sold half of his holdings to realtor Art Jones. Jones was one of the first in his profession to see the value of Malibu and invest there. Besides his Big Rock acquisition, Jones leased land from the Rindges in Malibu Colony and owned or part-owned the Malibu Inn, the Malibu Trading Company and the Big Rock Beach Café, now known as Moonshadows to those who drive along PCH.
The Rindges also owned Serra Retreat, a fifty-room mansion where they intended to live, but never saw completed. In 1942, the unfinished building was sold to the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church and used as a religious retreat. In 1970, the structure burned and was repaired, incorporating many Malibu Potteries tiles in the restoration.
In 1949, Louis Busch opened the realty office of Louis T. Busch and Associates on Pacific Coast Highway, where he would work for the next 65 years, until his death in 2014. As a founding member of the Malibu Board of Realtors, Busch was involved in the development of many Malibu structures and tracts, as well as the city’s ever-increasing property values. As of 2015, the asking price for a 238,000 parcel of undeveloped land is $4,900,000. A beach house with ten bedrooms and 14 bathrooms is on the market for a cool 60 million. 35 million buys six bedrooms, six baths.
Alexis Carson, widow of the late Johnny Carson, sold their Malibu estate in 2007 for record amount of $38 million. The mostly glass structure was designed by a nuclear physicist in 1984. The sale helped power the booming, high-end real estate market in Malibu – one that now rivals East Coast beach communities such as East Hampton and South Hampton, as well as more chic enclaves like Sagaponak and even Long Beach Island in New Jersey.
Currently, the record sale in Malibu is at $75,000,000 for a nearly 10 acre estate purchased, in cash, by a Russian billionaire. The seller is reported to be Howard Marks, the money manager behind Oaktree Capital. By no means is $75,000,000 the limit in Malibu, but these record sales represent the current market conditions.
Malibu, befitting the original-minded, creative people who flocked to the beach community in the 1950s, is home to truly innovative architecture. While it can be a challenge to build on or near the beach, that didn’t keep the likes of midcentury masters like Richard Neutra and A. Quincy Jones from developing properties in Malibu. More modern architectural masters have worked in Malibu, such as local Ed Niles. The city also contains homes designed by Richard Meier, who is best known for his work on the Getty Museum high above West Los Angeles.
Malibu contains some very unique homes, such as the 747 Wing House, which literally is topped by the wings of a 747 jet. The glass, steel and cement structure is set in the mountainside, with floor to ceiling views from all rooms.
Although the Beach Boys (Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks, Bruce Johnson, Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson, Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin) actually got their start a bit southeast of Malibu in Hawthorne, California, the surf rock sound the band created in the Sixties created an indelible soundtrack for the coastal city. With songs like “Surfin’ Safari,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Surfer Girl,” “California Girls” and even “Good Vibrations,” it felt like they were speaking directly for the board culture worshipping the waves at Point Dume and County Line.
Innumerable films, TV shows and music videos have been filmed in and around Malibu. There are the obvious ones, like the Gidget movies, the Zuma Beach telefilm, Hole’s music video “Malibu” and the reality series Million Dollar Listing. In the Iron Man films, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) maintains a fabulous one-of-a-kind cliff-side home on Point Dume (until it gets blown up). The series Baywatch was a great international ambassador for Malibu, where it was set, even though the show starring David Hasselhoff was actually produced in nearby Santa Monica. Cheech and Chong fans still lovingly recall the opening from the duo’s Up in Smoke.
Then there are the famous productions that don’t advertise that they’re really made in Malibu, like several of the original Planet of the Apes films (and the TV series) and TV’s M*A*S*H*, shot on 20th Century Fox Studios Malibu ranch. Parts of the TV series The O.C. were actually shot in Malibu, in a rare case of a whole neighborhood being made to seem arguably less glamorous for the screen.
Pacific Coast Highway spans most of the California coastline, from Dana Point in the south to U.S. 101 near Leggett in the north. Construction on what would become Route 1 began in 1910, but its current incarnation began in 1934, when the first signs went up. However, the stretch between Santa Monica and Malibu was originally Highway 3, or Roosevelt Highway. May Rindge opposed this and fought in the courts from 1907, when she posted armed guards to keep out construction crews, until 1923, when the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the county on its right to appropriate the land for the highway. In 1925, a Superior Court judge ordered Rindge to yield the land to the county for $107,289 in compensation. The Malibu section of the then-Roosevelt Highway was the last to open in 1929. A road was blasted through the mountains at Point Mugu using WWI surplus explosives, thereby creating the Mugu Rocks.
Later, though, residents of Malibu and other Southern California seaside communities succeeded in preventing Pacific Coast Highway from turning into a super-freeway envisioned by regional planners. Although California’s highway agency bought up a number of land parcels to ease right of way during the 1960s, the project met with so much civilian resistance that it was abandoned by 1972.
Still part of Los Angeles County, Malibu was incorporated as a city in 1991. Under California law, this meant that Malibu as a city was no longer subjected to as much rule by the county government as it had been previously. The push for incorporation began in 1986. Malibu residents had managed to thwart plans for a nuclear reactor, a freeway and changes to sewer lines. When the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan for a sewer project that would have serviced 400,000 residents in the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu wanted its own board of supervisors to officially fight this, fearing that it would require the widening of the already-busy Pacific Coast Highway.
The current Malibu government consists of a five-person City Council, which includes the mayor and mayor pro tem. Malibu is in California’s 27th Senate District, the state’s 33rd Congressional District and the 50th Assembly District.
When Malibu was incorporated, it shrank from 27 miles to 21 miles. The city is considered to extend into the surrounding canyons. Ventura County is to the northwest, the Santa Monica Mountains (Agoura, Calabasas, Woodland Hills) are to the north and Topanga is to the east. The main road through the community is Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1). The current population of Malibu is approximately 13,000.
Malibu is legendary for the quality of the surfing available in its waters. In 2010, Malibu Surfrider Beach was designated as the first official World Surfing Reserve. Point Dume has worldwide renown as a surfing site. The city’s many other beaches include Malibu Beach, Zuma Beach, Topanga Beach, County Line and Dan Blocker Beach (this last named for the late star of the TV western Bonanza). Parks include Malibu Bluffs Park, Trancas Canyon Park, Las Flores Park and Legacy Park; nearby are Malibu Creek State Park, Leo Carrillo State Beach and Park, Point Mugu State Park, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach, El Pescador, La Piedra and El Matador.
Getting to the beaches can be challenging for non-residents. Although the public is supposed to have full coastal access, there are private beaches that charge an entry fee. Additionally, some residents have tried to block their walkways to prevent outsiders from crossing from the road to the public sand and waves. Nowhere is this controversy more public than on Billionaire’s Beach, which is more traditionally known as Carbon Beach and is home to numerous properties owned by Larry Ellison, David Geffen and other luminaries. In July 2015, public concerns were assuaged, as access to these rare beaches was increasingly opened to the public.
Malibu doesn’t have a large population, but many flock from the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles and the South Bay to soak in the sun and enjoy amazing views for twenty-plus miles of oceanfront beauty. One of the best ways to enjoy Malibu is to come for a fine meal, as there are a growing number of restaurants offering world-class meals.
Years ago, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck opened Granita in a high-end shopping center not too far from the campus of Pepperdine University. Granita brought Spago-like California cuisine to the coast and was well-received by food critics. However, unlike Spago, Granita didn’t pass the test of time. There are rumors of Puck returning to Malibu, as more and more world-class restaurant venues are being constructed in various PCH locations.
Closer to the Ventura Country Line is Geoffrey’s, a California cuisine restaurant that has been a Malibu fixture for years, serving Hollywood elite healthy fare with an impressive ocean view. Geoffrey’s was featured in the Robert Altman film The Player and is an excellent place for brunch.
Today, the most famous restaurant in Malibu is Nobu. Perched just to the south of the Malibu Pier, going to Nobu for Japanese cuisine is more like going on vacation than dinner. The outdoor areas at Nobu touch the waves crashing on the beach. The beautiful people are very much on display and the parking lot often has more exotic cars on display than the L.A. Auto Show. Most impressively, the food lives up to the hype.
Currently, in Nobu’s former digs about a mile up PCH, is the legendary Mr. Chow’s, which brings high-end Chinese cuisine to Malibu, with particularly impressive dumplings and authentic noodles.
Traverna Tony’s is yet another Malibu landmark. This is fresh and tasty Greek food that needs no bailout, as there is a line out the door of customers there specifically to dine on the eatery’s signature flaming Saganiki cheese, which literally is delivered on fire to the table. Fear not, as it’s delicious.
Less dressy but equally famous restaurants representing eating landmarks include the beachfront Moonshadows, the new Maestro’s Ocean Club near Pacific Palisades to the south, Neptune’s Net to the north and the always-fun, island-themed Duke’s. In the Malibu Country Mart, there are some sleeper spots to find great food in Malibu, starting with the home of the city’s best sandwich from the Malibu Kitchen and General Store. After picking up an artisan sandwich, carefully walk across the parking lot to Grom for a real Italian gelato made from the freshest and most delicious ingredients, but be forewarned: you don’t need a very big order, as this frozen treat is super-rich. Lastly, on north side of the development where the lumber yard used to be located, is Café Habana Malibu, which offers outside seating and real-world Cuban dishes.
Horseback riding is a popular activity in Malibu. Homes can be designed and purchased with attached stables, and there are at least three horse boarding facilities within Malibu proper and many more in the adjoining communities. Rides can be taken along the scenic mountain trails and even on select beaches.
There is now a PCH Scuba Staircase in Malibu, so steep it is nicknamed “Heart Attack Hill.” There is inexpensive parking, though the waters are recommended for experienced divers only. Local marine life includes harbor seals, bat rays, sheepshead and other Pacific Coast near-shore fish, darting in and out of the kelp forest.
Building and or renovating home in Malibu can be tricky, thanks to close environmental controls from the Coastal Commission, city planners and general access to the hilly seaside land. This is not to say the wait isn’t worth it, as the right buyers pay a high premium for a fully finished home in Malibu.
Sometimes, residents get into disputes with one another and with the authorities. When David Evans, aka U2’s the Edge, decided in 2006 that he wanted to build five separate residences plus an access road in the Malibu mountainside, both neighbors and the Coastal Commission objected. The concerns were that the construction projects would disturb the undeveloped look of the cliffs, create a geological disturbance and damage or destroy native flora. In 2011, the Coastal Commission rejected Evans’ plans. He appealed and, in 2014, a compromise was reached. Evans could build, but the total development area had to be smaller at 151 acres, on a less steep grade and on a lower plateau, with some of the individual buildings made shorter as well.
In 1991, Julie Andrews and her filmmaker husband Blake Edwards donated $338,000 to the state of California to build a public-access staircase down the cliffs to the beach. Unfortunately, the proposed site of the staircase adjoined the property of former MGM president Frank Mancuso, who didn’t want it next to his home.
The Malibu Chamber of Commerce was established in 1949 and currently has over 500 members. Many luxurious shops can be found in the Malibu Country Mart outdoor mall, the Point Dume Plaza and the Malibu Lumberyard (so named because the site used to house a lumberyard). Drug and alcohol rehabilitation is also a major industry in Malibu, with (as of 2013) 35 state-licensed addiction recovery centers in the city, as well as many more unlicensed sober-living residences.
In 1960, Malibu was the first site of the public demonstration of a laser by Dr. Theodore Maiman of Hughes Research Laboratories (now known as HRL Laboratories LLC, which remains one of Malibu’s largest employers). The firm TRW later built a lab without steel in order to test magnetic detectors for use with satellites and medical equipment.
Because of its unique terrain, Malibu has given birth to an increasingly popular wine industry. Malibu Family Wines operates a vineyard, with tours and wine-tasting events, on Mulholland Drive. Rosenthal Estate Wines grows grapes in Malibu and has a tasting room co-sponsored by The Surfrider Foundation. One word of caution for wine tasting (or any other kind of adult-beverage tasting): PCH in Malibu is full of police officers willing to give out a costly and embarrassing DUI. Get a designated driver or take Uber home if need be.
Fire protection comes from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and law enforcement is provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which serves Malibu via its Calabasas division. County health services are provided at the Simms/Mann Health and Wellness Center in Santa Monica. There are three Malibu post offices, all located on Pacific Coast Highway.
There are three local public elementary schools, all part of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. John L. Webster Elementary School is in central Malibu, Juan Cabrillo Elementary School is in the northwestern section, in the Malibu Park area, and Point Dume Elementary School is, as the name indicates, in Point Dume. Malibu High School serves as both middle school and high school, encompassing grades 6-12. Private schools include Calmont, Our Lady of Malibu (Catholic), Colin McEwen High School, New Roads and St. Aidan’s School (also Catholic).
Pepperdine University is in the hills just east of Malibu. Pepperdine moved to its current campus in 1972 and was then part of Malibu, but when the city incorporated, the university insisted on being designated as outside the borders. The private school is affiliated with the Church of Christ, but secular students and teachers are accepted. Malibu is also served by Santa Monica City College.
The city seal shows a round yellow sun peeking out from behind three mountains of various shades of green that dip into the blue sea at the bottom. This embodies the Malibu ideal: warm skies, inviting woodlands and the endless ocean, all together in one magical place, available to those whose accomplishments have provided the means to stay here for a while, or forever.