Lagoon Swoon

Hike Less Traveled Malibu Lagoon in Malibu Lagoon State Beach

We all love an underdog story, especially in the shadow of the greats. Enter a truly SoCal coastal version: Malibu Lagoon State Beach. Though situated next to Surfrider Beach, a famous surf spot that attracts swell-seekers from around the world for its point break, Malibu Lagoon deserves a visit from locals and visitors alike for its beautiful estuarine environment, neighboring historic home, and those legendary beach views. See it all on a gentle 2-mile loop (tide permitting).

Park at the western lot ($3 per hour, $12 per day) and first check out the very short trail to the left to catch your first vista point (a wide overview), with benches and artistic shade structures. Then head right onto the main path, which is full of interpretive signage describing the flora and fauna habitats and recent restoration. There is plenty of seating throughout, perfect for bird-watching—amateurs and enthusiasts alike could spend hours here searching for waterfowl. You’ll see cormorants, snowy egrets, great blue herons, coots, and ducks primarily—the egrets are most striking as they hunt amongst the dark lagoon waters.

The trail eventually wraps left after crossing a small bridge and straddles the lagoon to your left. This is an especially pleasing view at golden hour, with the hills of the Santa Monica Mountains catching the last bit of sun overhead. At a junction near the beach, take the left path to find a hidden viewing area—perhaps the best in the park to catch the protected California least terns and snowy plovers that call these waters home. Head back to the main path and to the beach, marked by a lifeguard tower, a perfect spot to picnic. To your left is the Malibu Pier, and here you will inevitably spot a large pack of surfers waiting for the perfect waves at Surfrider Beach. In the drier months, a sandbar provides a crossing point over the creek towards the pier, but in winter you may have to head back.

If there’s dry land (or if you prefer to wade through the waters), head south along the beach towards the Malibu pier, a 1905 iconic boardwalk with a few restaurants and fishermen. Afterward, take the pedestrian path along the PCH, heading back towards the lagoon. Along the way, stop at the historic Adamson House (grounds open sunrise to sunset, museum open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), a 1930s Spanish Colonial Revival with serene accompanying gardens. It’s an incredibly peaceful walk, with great views, colorful plants, and great examples of Malibu tile (our favorite of which are the three fountains). After enjoying, head back on the PCH to get back to the parking lot.

To get to the Malibu Lagoon State Beach parking lot and trailhead, take the CA-1 (PCH) 12 miles northwest from its beginnings in Santa Monica. Turn left at signs for Malibu Lagoon State Beach. No dogs!

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