The quick drive from San Diego to Malibu was visually stunning. There is no doubt that the Pacific Coast highway and the cliff-framed shoreline it showcases will render you speechless at times and mouth agape at others. Once you hit Santa Monica, the space fills up a bit, with more traffic to contend with and both beach bungalows and ocean- view mansions to whiz by. There is a sense of both remoteness and having arrived “somewhere” that was a little disorienting for us. We drove up the steep entrance way of Malibu Beach RV resort and immediately wished we had sprung for the ocean side spots.
Instead, we were nestled into the cliff side and I had a vision of what we would be covered by if there happened to be an earthquake this week. The one cool thing about our campground was that there was a small, toddler-sized slide area on turf grass that Cella LOVED and we could sit and watch her play without fear of her getting injured AND, for mommy and daddy, a steep hill-side trail that made for an intense trail run. The exertion was welcomed to us both as we felt slightly under-challenged in recent weeks, and the view at the top? Amazing.
Beyond that, we were just a little surprised by what a highway this Pacific Coast Highway really is. It runs right along the beach, so should you want to go to said beach, you must cross said highway, with cars going 60 mph. It doesn’t make for a comfortable beach experience. Nevermind the giant crashing waves and temps in the high 60’s. Now, further up the road there are a few beaches which we visited that have their own parking lots, but I guess as an East Coast girl, I am fond of the “Beach Walk”. It’s part of the experience. If I’m not walking to the beach, and setting up shop for the day, it just doesn’t feel like I went to the beach. Sue me.
That doesn’t take away the grandeur of these cliff-side beaches. They are awesome, in the truest sense of the word. I simply couldn’t “relax” here. I feel the beaches are for photographing and admiring (and certainly, surfing or fishing if that’s your gig), but less for the “laying out” type of beaching to which I am accustomed. No matter! I enjoyed taking the MANY pictures that I did!
We were hard-pressed to find other things to do in the immediate area, so out time was mostly spent sight-seeing. Point Dume was only a few minutes a way, and apparently, is a very popular spot for modeling shoots and movie scenes. You can see, there was one going on while we were there! We also walked around a park with a bazillion squirrels and a rattle snake (Have I mentioned the squirrel problem out here yet? There’s a major squirrel problem!) directly across from the famed Pepperdine University. A few times we drove out to the North and explored the West Lake Village area (an amazing drive) where Matt mountain biked in Malibu Creek State Park and I took Cella to another Kid Zone (she wasn’t impressed). Another day we did the Beverly Hills thing, and went hunting for celeb houses and got out to feel Rodeo Drive. We were underwhelmed by both tourist-y favorites. Although there are likely a lot of gawk-worthy mansions in Beverly Hills, they are wisely concealed by large walls, trees and simple distance from the street to ever catch a glimpse of much. So….boring. Sorry.
Rodeo Drive? Nothing more than an outdoor, high-end mall with NO bathrooms. Anywhere. Not even the Catholic Church. (Which I went into on a Saturday afternoon, and donated $5 to light a candle I ultimately couldn’t light because they were real candles, and the bathroom door was locked). Thankfully, we drove around until we found a public park with a bathroom and I was surprised by how poorly tended to it was for Beverly Hills.
Then we thought we’d hit the Santa Monica pier, which seemed like a lot of fun and a bit more quirky than what the uber-rich folk had to offer. It was a lot more heavily-trodden an area than we expected. There is even a street closed off to traffic so pedestrians can shop and eat while they trample over each other like cattle…we wanted in on the fun! However, there was no place to park except for the giant parking lot by the pier, which was now officially full. So back toward the RV resort we headed.
On our way back we thought we’d stop for a nice lunch/early dinner. Rosenthal Winery came highly recommended so we slowed our 55 mph to a 15 mph crawl as we approached, sizing up the parking situation. It was very confusing as well as very packed for 3:30pm. There is no street parking on this stretch of PC Highway, so if there is a place to go while you’re on it, it better have a lot. This did, but everyone was double parked and a sign said: “Lot Full”. Cripeys.
So we slinked over to the next parking lot to a bait shop and a Thai Restaurant. It appeared you could legally park on one side of this lot and still be allowed to patronize the winery. So we walked on over, toddler in tow, taking in the live music, picnic bench seating, string lights and food carts, happy we made the parking work and excited to join the fun! We walked in to the bar area to be greeted by both an iPad check-in kiosk and a young, smiling bartender. He ever so tactfully explained that this hip, 30-something hangout we so desperately wanted to be customers at did not allow children of any age or variety. Womp WOOOMP. Defeated, we shuffled over to the Thai restaurant and accepted that we would not be having fun in this town no matter how hard we tried.
That was until Mother’s Day. I was very excited to have a pass to go off on my own to run on the beach and lay out on the sand at another recommended spot, El Matador Beach, and to later on, meet up with my friend Heather for a picnic at the Getty Museum about 45 minutes from Malibu. First, the beach was about 15 minutes from our campground, and since I got a later start than I intended, I was calculating how much time I had to run, lay out and return to shower and meet Heather by 3pm. It left me about 30 minutes to run and 25 minutes to “lay out”. Since I couldn’t see the beach from the parking lot since it was up high on the cliff and the beach was below, I walked down with only my running attire, expecting I could run back to the truck to change into my bathing suit afterward. The trek down to the shore line was about 5 full minutes down steep, sandy passes and about 3 or 4 flights of wooden stairs. About halfway down, I peeked over the side when I was able and was impressed by the turquoise water and large rock formations. I was also now aware that this was no running beach, unless I was going to trespass on Nicholas Cage’s back yard. So I headed back to the truck for my camera, since it was clear that was the only thing I could really do here, and the favored activity among the 30+ or so other folks that were traversing the rocky shoreline. At least a few families where there to make a day of it, but I decided I would take pictures and move on to Zima beach for the running portion of my day, which I had passed earlier. I didn’t really need to lay out anyway!
Here are my best shots of El Matador Beach:
I raced home to find Cella had not napped as I had left her doing (she woke up after I walked out the door) and quickly showered to meet my friend. It took us longer to get there than we expected, now that traffic had picked up, and once we arrived at the free museum, we drove around the garage a solid 25 minutes looking for parking. We were worried we were losing precious time with Heather, and daylight, and almost bagged it before finding a spot. We met Heather and her significant other Dave at a nice vine-covered picnic area so we could drink the wine we all brought that wasn’t allowed to be brought to the museum area.
This was by far the highlight of our week! We had so much fun chatting, catching up and eventually, spreading out a picnic blanket on the museum grounds and feeling very at ease, even with Marcella running around like a maniac. That’s the great thing about open, grassy spaces! You can let your toddler run, run, run and not worry a great deal. We weren’t yet out of fun before we realized it was almost closing time and were forced to pack it up, buy not without getting a few pics with Heather (thanks to her prompting!!) and of the skyline view of LA. It was pretty cool.
Aside from that high point, we felt the energy of Malibu urging us to move on. It wasn’t small and charming like I expected. It was large, sprawling, cold and disconnected. I guess I understand why celebrities would like to live here–you’ll never see anyone if you don’t want to! But for us average, people-liking, culture-loving folk, we’d probably never choose to come back here again. The gas was $3.80/gallon and the supermarket had 5 parking spots that nobody let you get out of it if they could accelerate fast enough to get passed you before you emerged from your spot. When the most likely category of person you will bump into in the super market is a 75 year old, made-up woman with skin pulled so taut her front teeth are permanently bared, and a Shitzu stuffed in her cardigan, well…you know it’s time to move on. Also with only one pizza place in town charging $22 for 16″ thin crust pizza (and that’s take out), I e no real future here for us!
Sorry Malibu. You weren’t for us. But you taught us to not have any expectations going forward. So that’s what we held in our hearts as we drove a short distance to the Santa Barbara area, to stay at the stunning and remote Rancho Oso. Relieving ourselves of expectation (sort of) or just setting them lower can really alter your impressions of a new place. I think we expected Santa Barbara to be a snotty-town, more like Malibu and less like San Diego. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Or more pleasantly surprised!