1. Leo Carrillo Beach
Where Mulholland Highway collides with PCH and leather-clad bikers roar up the coast to Neptune’s Net is one of California’s most welcoming stretches of sand. Bring the kids and make a weekend of it: Camp under the sycamores at Leo Carrillo State Park, and use the fire pits to get your clambake on. When the tide is low, follow the trail under the highway and cut west toward Sequit Point. As you scramble over mussel-encrusted boulders, you can scour tide pools for nudibranchs and anemones before pushing a little farther to explore sea caves.
2. El Pescador, La Piedra & El Matador
Jagged rock formations, lazy piles of driftwood, and crashing surf draw weekend crowds to this insanely photogenic triad of “pocket beaches” (known collectively as the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach). Wander down the bluffs to reach them on a weekday, however, and you might have the place all to yourself.
3. Broad Beach
Its name no longer applies, since erosion has taken its toll on this once-wide strand that is alternately called Trancas. Homeowners have built rock wall fortifications to stave off the waves. As you walk along the lovely beach at low tide, you’ll understand why celebrities like Dustin Hoffman and Pierce Brosnan have homes here. Park near 31344 or 31200 Broad Beach Road; each address is adjacent to a public access path.
4. Point Dume
Favorable winds make Zuma Beach, just west of the Point, a primo surfing spot. Southeast of this famous destination is Westward Beach—the setting for the finale of 1968’s Planet of the Apes—where the water is exceptionally clean (beware the strong currents). The neighborhood on the cliff overhead leads to the Point Dume Natural Preserve, featuring twisting paths and a downhill jaunt to a secluded beach with its own danger (paparazzi).
5. Escondido Beach
Score a parking spot near 27420 Pacific Coast Highway for the public access path to this strand east of Paradise Cove (or reach it from the stairway near Geoffrey’s restaurant). Escondido recently made the news when Eve Plumb, who played Jan on The Brady Bunch, put her 1950 shack, purchased by her family four decades ago, on the market as a teardown. Asking price: $4,950,000.
6. Malibu Colony
Don’t let the gate that blocks off Malibu Colony Road discourage you from exploring its beachfront, which you can enter from Malibu Lagoon to the east. As long as the sand beneath your feet is wet, you’re welcome to ramble along and ogle the 100 or so homes, many of them on stilts and owned by the likes of Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner. But first pick up some lunch from the Malibu Country Mart on the other side of PCH.
7. Sweetwater Mesa Road
If U2 guitarist the Edge (real name David Evans) has his way, he will be building five mansions on this pristine mesa that overlooks Malibu Pier. The Sierra Club, citing the area as environmentally sensitive, has filed a lawsuit to overturn the California Coastal Commission’s approval of the controversial project.
8. Surfrider Beach
The place is a throwback to the time Gidget romped, Lance Carson and Miki Dora shredded waves in The Endless Summer, and the Beach Boys were just, well, boys. Longboarders can ride the slowly breaking rights for days at this beach, which played a huge part in the rise of surf culture. The lot will likely be full, so park a half mile up PCH at Malibu Lagoon. First-timers can rent a board from the Malibu Surf Shack and haul it into the whitewater at First Point, the surfing area farthest east—just keep clear of the advanced surfers.
9. Carbon Beach
“Billionaire’s Beach” has long had a reputation for exclusivity, what with superrich homeowners dragging their feet when it came to building public entrances. Following innumerable legal battles, the proletariat triumphed and now can whack paddleballs in the shadow of Larry Ellison’s mansion(s). Seek out one of four access points—the newest of which opened last year across from the Malibu aquarium. The wet sand is public property, and the Our Malibu Beaches app lists the easements where dry sand is fair game. Bonus: The town’s swank hotel, the Malibu Beach Inn, just reopened here.
10. Topanga Beach
A steady break for surfers, ready parking, and plenty of room to spread out a picnic: Access doesn’t get much easier than at Topanga, the easternmost beach in Malibu. After a day of hiking in Malibu Creek or Topanga state parks, it’s especially sweet to dip your toes in the water before heading home.