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Malibu, naturally.

To get to Malibu, head west from Santa Monica and make a Zen-like leap of faith: understand that you must lose Malibu before you find Malibu.

The preconceptions will be hard to overcome. The name Malibu resonates like few others in American culture. It speaks of golden girls and surfer boys, escape for some, arrival for others. When the country shuts its eyes and dreams of California, it sees a beach house at Malibu--with stars in the hot tub.

For a place so entrenched in the popular imagination, Malibu begins rather inauspiciously with a simple population sign (15,272). There's nothing else here, nor where the city fades out after stretching along the Pacific Coast Highway nearly to the Ventura County line.

On the map, it's a snake of a place, kind of an American Chile: 25 miles long and no more than 3 miles wide. But many visitors drive through Malibu and never know for sure that they've seen it.

Most of them haven't. As a destination, Malibu is evasive, hard to define. PCH is too fast, the enclaves of beach houses and ranches largely obscured. You don't pass stars, homes as much as you zip by the tightly packed garages, which open onto the highway. There's no true center, and the mostly undistinguished commercial strips could be anywhere.

About the only reassuring cliche for drivers is the de scendants of Duke Kahanamoku, Mickey Dora, and Hollywood's own Ronald Colman, parked on the shoulder, slipping out of wet suits as the music of Faith No More and Fishbone blasts out over the waves. The surfers are lean and tan, as are the stationary cyclists visible from the road on the balcony of a health club, pedaling their wares, going nowhere, fit.

But the celebrity hype, Malibu Frisbees, and old Gidget movies only distract from what attracted the stars and lots of lesser lights in the first place: a classic embrace of mountains and ocean a short drive from the frenzy of Los Angeles. So walk the beaches, explore the canyons, and experience the town's informal ways to really discover how the other half percent lives.


In Malibu, the dream does endure, usually at a hefty price. But if Beverly Hills is a Mercedes, then Malibu is a Land Rover. It has only three supermarkets and no sewer system. This isn't the lifestyle of the rich and fatuous, locals say, but a beach town where celebrities from Sinatra to Janet Jackson have carved out some privacy on the continent's edge.

But there's another contingent in Malibu--people living in the town's sprinkling of apartments and ordinary three-bedroom houses, and in remote canyon areas. Many are old-timers who arrived before Malibu became mellow, a state of mind, or a midsize Chevrolet. A resident since 1939, Reeves Templeman, former publisher of the Malibu Times, says, "A lot of us working stiffs bought early. We had a feeling of being a close-knit family."

In those days, a half-acre ocean-view lot in the mountains cost $300 (now about $1 million), the fire engines were green, and Warner Baxter of The Cisco Kid served as Malibu's unofficial mayor. "Now," says Templeman, "there's an entirely new crop, which is fine, but it's people with a lot of money who don't want to be bothered. Things are getting kind of citified."

Malibu officially became citified one year ago, after a long fight to incorporate. City boundaries generally follow the property lines of Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit, bought by Frederick Rindge in 1892 and controlled for decades by his illustrious wife, May. Depending on whom you talk to, cityhood was either an elitist attempt to lock the gate and throw away the key, or the only way to block a controversial sewage treatment plant and other development.

The Chumash Indians, the first to live here, named their settlement (believed to be at the present-day Malibu Lagoon State Beach) Humaliwo, which means "the surf sounds loudly." They existed on and for the ocean, paddling their planked canoes called tomols to sea for fishing and trading.

Today's residents still relate closely to the land and ocean, by choice and necessity. Robert Walker is an actor, owner with his wife, Judy, of the store-gallery Tops Malibu, and an avid kayaker who has lived here on and off for 46 years. He sometimes takes the old Chumash highway, paddling to friends, homes instead of tempting fate and traffic on PCH.

Malibu has changed plenty since the days when he played with Bing Crosby's kids on the beach, but Walker says a sense of place has endured. "I've traveled the world, and I always come back. There's a lot of hype about Malibu, but also an intangible magic that maybe goes back to the Chumash. It sounds like hocus-pocus, but the area has an energy that's indefinable."

And sometimes uncontrollable. "The other side of nature is the power to destroy," says local architect Buzz Yudell. On the bad days, waves and high tides rock homes and send refrigerators out back doors. Surfing sofas wipe out right through picture windows. Likewise, memories of past Santa Ana fed infernos keep canyon residents keenly aware of wind direction. Fires destroyed two of the original Rindge family homes. A big fire in 1970 burned all the way down Malibu Canyon, forcing wildlife and residents to the ocean for escape. "It's a piece of hell," Templeman says, recalling a fire that burned through the canyon where he lives. "You can't imagine the horrendous feeling when there's a 200-foot wall of flame half a mile away. Coming at you."


Malibu Country Mart, by default the main shopping district, exemplifies the city's informality and affinity for nature and native cultures. There's a bookstore called Malibu Shaman. Natural fabrics, organic foods, and primitive or folk works reflect a kind of affluent, post-hippie New Age sensibility. And this is where you can see what being a star in Malibu really means: Whoopi Goldberg waiting by herself for a friend after doing some shopping. Unbothered.

"Malibu has a feeling that you have to pick up on as a store owner," says Mary Ann Cohen of the Mart's Gallery Milieu. "It's not glitzy, and people like their isolation and tend to be more eccentric and creative."

Over at the Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum, it becomes clear that eccentricity, creativity, and isolation have been powerful forces for some time. Here you find the story of May Rindge's battle through the 1920s to keep Southern Pacific from gaining a right-of-way across her ranch, and then to prevent construction of what is now PCH.

While today's privacy efforts border on extreme (electric fences, video cameras), Rindge's mini land wars featured Supreme Court eases, armed guards on horseback, the dynamiting of roads, and other mayhem that made her a villain to many Southern Californians the imperious "Queen of Malibu." The battles drained the family's resources, and forced her to begin selling off the lots that became the Malibu Colony, the Hollywood enclave that's been home to Gary Cooper, Gloria Swanson, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, and Sting. Some still refer to mudslides on PCH as "Rindge's Revenge."

Her struggle also led to Malibu's most lasting art. In 1926, she opened the seaside Malibu Potteries to raise money for the estate, and to create tile for the family homes. Malibu Potteries, designers and glazers produced a now legendary decorative art that, like parts of Malibu, recalls an idealized California, Frederick Rindge's original vision of an American Riviera. Made with local water and mountain clays, the tiles literally came from the land. But like so much here, it was eventually to the sea the factory went when a huge storm destroyed its last ruins--the tile floor in 1983.

On a still afternoon, nature seems capable only of an embrace--certainly not battery. The Adamson House looks out on the coastal crescent at Surfrider Beach, its legendary waves nearly absent. Heading out toward western Malibu, even PCH seems quiet. From the cliffs at Point Dume, the ocean spreads out forever, a deep blue broken only by an occasional diving pelican.

Later, at Broad Beach, the Pinatubo-influenced sunset paints the wet sands a rosy orange. Houses that had seemed so faceless from the road reveal themselves to the secluded beach. Many have the cool lines that come from the desks of celebrity architects and the checkbooks of the stars. There's no identifiable pattern of design except for big picture windows. A few look like weathered retreats, as if their owners had to worry more about property taxes than remodels.

Sand dollars pockmark the beach as conversation turns to dreams and money and the dreams that money can buy. The afternoon has a timeless beauty unaffected by the comings and goings of current residents. It recalls the words of a traveler named J. Smeaton Chase, who wrote at Malibu 80 years before, "An inexhaustible freshness was in the air, as if the world had been created within the week."


Winter or early spring is the time to get inside Malibu. (In summer, PCH becomes a beachgoer-clogged parking lot.) Rains turn the hills green, recharge streambeds, and clear the skies. A winter or spring weekday is purest Malibu.

(Unless otherwise noted, area code is 310; see map on pages 24 and 25 for place references.)

BEACHING: Public beaches are well signed on PCH. The more adventuresome seek seemingly private beaches with public access. Stairs to Broad Beach are between the 31300 and 31100 blocks of Broad Beach Road, while a series of stairways to the Malibu Colony s beach are well-concealed between 24300 and 25500 Malibu Road (Webb Way gets you there from PCH). Parking is on the street and often tight. Signs on the beach signal private property; it's best to go at low tide.

HIKING: An easy hike is into lower Zuma Canyon. Just drive up Bonsall Drive off PCH until it ends, park, and head up the canyon as far as your feet allow (3 miles round trip with some boulder-hopping to a small dam). To hike Solstice Canyon, drive Corral Canyon Road to parking, and pick up maps near office. For more on trails and guided hikes in Santa Monica Mountains N.R.A., call (800) 533-7275 or (818) 880-0664. And to get to Charmlee Regional County Park s big views back to Point Dume and the Channel Islands, take Encinal Canyon Road for 4 miles, turn left into lot, and follow paths to ocean overlooks (about 1 1/2 miles).

SHOPPING: Malibu Country Mart (3835 Cross Creek Road) and adjacent Malibu Country Shops, and Malibu Colony Plaza (PCH and Webb Way) are full of stores and quick eats. These are not your usual shopping centers, what with the Mart's eclectic Gallery Milieu (456-7664) carrying works from $12 to $12,000, and Country Shops, Tops Malibu (456-8677) offering folk art, jewelry. Malibu Books & Co. (456-1375), in Country Shops, has local travel info and a second-floor area to happily occupy children.

MUSEUM-ING: A visit to The J. Paul Getty Museum takes planning because of limited parking; call 458-2003 for required reservations. Hours are 10 to 5 Tuesdays through Sundays; it's free. Pepperdine University's new gallery in the Center for the Arts opened last year with a Wayne Thiebaud show, and is considered an important new space. It's open noon to 4 Wednesdays through Sundays; call 456-4522.

For local history, visit the Adamson House and adjacent Malibu Lagoon Museum (456-8432; $2), open 11 to 3 Wednesdays through Saturdays. The peaceful grounds of Serra Retreat (456-6631) have examples of Malibu tile, views of canyon megahomes. It's the site of Rindge family house destroyed by fire.

EATING: The old knock on Malibu--few good restaurants--has become obsolete. The city can boast of Mediterranean food at Beaurivage (26025 PCH; 456-5733); the underwater stylings and equally arty desserts at Granita in Colony Plaza (23725 W. Malibu Road; 456-0488); and Southwestern-style food (and good midday appetizers and margaritas) at Malibu Adobe (23410 Civic Center Way; 456-2021). These complement two ocean-view standbys--Alice's Restaurant, offering California cuisine on the pier (456-6646), and romantic Geoffrey's/Malibu Restaurant (27400 PCH; 457-1519). For breakfast and casual beach town dining, insiders recommend Malibu Inn (22969 PCH; 456-6060) for delicious omelets, Coogie's in Colony Plaza (317-1444) for beach decor and turkey burgers to gobble about, the Mart's John's Garden (456-6895) for organic take-out, and the down-home Neptune's Net for cheap seafood (42505 PCH; 805/ 488-1302). The Reel Inn (18661 PCH; 456-8221) is a fave for seafood.

STAYING: Unlike other famous beach towns, Malibu has few places to stay. Besides an assortment of motels on PCH, it has only one luxury hotel, the 47-room Malibu Beach Inn (800/4625428), near the pier at 22878 PCH. All rooms ($125 to $225) have beachfront balconies. For other options, try the Malibu Chamber of Commerce (456-9025).
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Travel and Recreation; includes related article; California
Author:Jaffe, Matthew
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Sunset's travel guide.
Next Article:The Salinas River wetlands grow on you.

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