California

9 Stunning Hikes Near Malibu, California

by Emily Pennington
Updated August 09, 2022

Photo: Andy Konieczny

Malibu, California. The name alone conjures sandy beaches, azure waves, and sightings of celebrities in their natural habitat.

It’s also home to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a 157,700-acre tract of rolling hills, sandstone peaks, and hiking trails bordered by riparian canyons and coastal scrub. If you’re looking for trails with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean or just want to escape the valley when temperatures soar above 100 degrees, you’ve come to the right place.

Very little camping is available in the area (though Leo Carrillo and Malibu Creek State Park both offer options for a quick getaway), but there are an abundance of day hikes, if you know where to look. We’ve rounded up a selection of our favorite Malibu trails to help you narrow down the options, from chill beachside strolls to craggy peakbagging epics, this list has got you covered. Just make sure to check for parking information and dog restrictions before heading out in the hills.

Related Read: High Seas & Summit Breeze: 10 Best Hikes in Big Sur, California

1. Mishe Mokwa Loop to Sandstone Peak

malibu hikes - sandstone peak
Photo: Steven Guo

Why you should go: Often touted as the best hike in Los Angeles, this scenic trail winds through breathtaking sandstone canyons, across chaparral-lined hillsides, and to the top of a view-filled summit.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 5.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,312 feet

This is one of those classic Santa Monica Mountains hikes that keeps locals and tourists alike coming back season after season, year after year. Even Casey Shreiner, author of Day Hiking Los Angeles, consistently lists it as one of his favorite trails in the area.

Though much of the hike itself is in a relatively recent burn zone, it’s still well worth your time and effort–the pioneer plants that have since sprouted offer epic wildflower displays in spring and the views at the end of the Pacific Ocean and the towering bluffs of rust-red sandstone are spectacular.

When parking, just be sure to drive a mile east of the “Sandstone Peak” parking area and veer your car into the lot for the Mishe Mokwa Trail. Then, at the end of the hike, loop down and to the left to get back to the correct lot, or else you’ll find yourself a mile down the road and have to hitch.

2. Malibu Lagoon

malibu hikes - malibu lagoon
Photo: Alia Ollikainen

Why you should go: This short but sweet beachside stroll passes avian-filled wetlands and the Adamson House, ending up at a historic surfing beach.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 45 feet

If you’re a serious hiker, it can be easy to overlook the little hidden gems like this short jaunt around Malibu Lagoon State Beach. But what this hike lacks in length, it more than makes up for in attractions. Stroll past the lagoon overlook (bring your binoculars for optimal bird watching), meander past a protected estuary, and perhaps even throw down a towel to watch the surfers at historic Surfrider Beach, known for being one of the first homes of Cali surfing culture, brah.

From there, hikers can continue onto the Malibu Pier or circle back toward the gorgeous Adamson House, which offers free late morning and afternoon tours Wednesday through Saturday. No matter which way you slice it, this is a quintessentially Pacific Coast hike.

Related Read: The 11 Best Hikes Near Big Bear Lake, California

3. Solstice Canyon

malibu hikes - solstice canyon
Photo: Joy Stanford

Why you should go: Wind through a shady, wooded canyon to the ruins of an architecturally significant homestead.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 669 feet

One of the more popular hikes in the area, the trail through Solstice Canyon offers a stunning display of enormous California live oaks and just enough of a workout to feel like you’ve earned a beer at Neptune’s Net afterwards.

The excursion first ascends a series of stairs and a wide, well-maintained trail through grassy slopes littered with scrub and the occasional oak. Towards the middle of the journey, hikers will come across the remains of the Tropical Terrace House, built by renowned African American architect Paul Revere Williams.

Plan for a little extra time here to explore what’s left of the foundation (and dunk your head in the nearby stream if it’s hot), then loop back along a shady fire road that’s intermittently paved and dirt until you reach your vehicle.

Related Read: 5 Serene Hot Springs Near Mammoth Lakes, California

4. Castro Crest via the Backbone Trail

malibu hikes - backbone trail
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Some of the coolest caves and rock formations in all of Malibu line this day-long trek.

  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance: 10.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,526 feet

Yes, it’s an out-and-back, and yes, the mileage is longer than most hikes on this list, but Castro Crest is one of those “I need a great workout with some epic views at the end” hikes that’s sure to put a smile on your face.

Starting at a small paid parking area off Malibu Canyon Road, head up the steep trail going north towards the Santa Monica Mountains. The path will eventually level off so you can enjoy sweeping Pacific Ocean views and wind in and out of chaparral-strewn hillsides with ease. The best part, however, comes after crossing Corral Canyon Road. Castro Crest is home to some excellent scrambling opportunities along huge sandstone boulders, a rock spiral, and small caves ripe for exploration.

Related Read: 11 Stunning Hikes Near Santa Cruz, California

5. Upper Big Sycamore Canyon

 

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Why you should go: Incredible big mountain views and a recovering burn zone turn this moderate trek into a fascinating ecological wonder.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 4.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 640 feet

Starting on Potrero Road, this well-maintained dirt trail offers a unique opportunity for hikers to witness a resilient landscape in recovery, while still enjoying some of the best views in the Santa Monica Mountains. Half a mile in, trekkers will pass the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center, which is open from 9am to 4pm on weekends. It’s a great place to refill your water and learn about the rich Tribal heritage of the lands you’re passing through.

From there, stroll through grassy meadows, enjoy striking views of Boney Mountain, descend into Big Sycamore Canyon, and get ready for a shadeless slog uphill and back to the car. Go in spring for the best wildflower displays, and don’t forget the sunscreen.

6. Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock

 

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Why you should go: Enjoy popular and easily accessible Temescal Canyon, then veer off towards a series of scramble-friendly rock formations.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,141 feet

Sure, this hike is technically in the Topanga State Park, but it’s so darn close to Malibu that we just had to include it. Plus, once you feast your eyes on the oaky canyons, craggy boulders, and cerulean Pacific vistas, you’ll understand why.

The trail begins at a $10 per day parking area for the state park (or free if you don’t mind walking a bit further and skimming the streets), then winds up and around popular Temescal Canyon, which features a small waterfall if you hike it earlier in the year. When you arrive at a noticeable use trail leading towards a series of pockmarked sandstone boulders, veer off the main trail, scramble up the side of one, and stop for a well-deserved snack break before returning to your car along the original loop.

Related Read: 12 Best Hikes Near San Diego, California

7. Point Dume Cove

malibu hikes - Point Dume Cove
Photo: Andy Konieczny

Why you should go: Known for its rocky coastal views and plentiful wildlife viewing opportunities, this is one short hike not to skip.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 347 feet

Be patient while snagging parking on Cliffside Drive, then enjoy a mellow meander along a wide trail up to the top of Point Dume, where epic views of the cliff-lined Malibu coastline drop dramatically into the churning waves below.

This is a notable spot for whale watching in winter months, though more populous wildlife, like dolphins and sea lions, can often be spotted playing in the waves or sunning themselves on nearby rocks, so be sure to set aside extra time on this adventure to kick back and scan the scenery to see who’s out and about.

Embrace your intrepid side a bit and veer towards an old, rusty fence abutting a staircase that leads down to the beach itself before you go. Descend and enjoy a crowd-free rocky beach as the chilly Pacific waves crash at your feet.

8. Escondido Falls

Why you should go: Go waterfall chasing to the tallest cascade in the Santa Monica Mountains along this shady, tree-lined path.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 3.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 534 feet

It’s rare that you’ll find such a tree-filled stroll in the Malibu mountains, especially with the recent uptick in wildfires, but this popular trek out to 150-foot Escondido Falls cruises beneath towering oaks and shady sycamores for nearly its entirety.

Park in the designated area just off the Pacific Coast Highway, then descend to a stunning riparian canyon that follows a small creek. This shade-filled, dog-friendly hike is sure to be a winner on hot summer days. Feeling adventurous? There’s also a short scramble to Upper Escondido Falls at the turnaround point for this hike, just go slowly and wear traction-heavy footwear.

Related Read: 7 Stellar Campervan Rental Companies in Southern California

9. Los Liones Trail to Parker Mesa

malibu hikes - parker mesa
Photo: David Diaz

Why you should go: With a wide path, decent elevation gain, and commanding views of Malibu and the Pacific Ocean, this Topanga State Park hike is breathtaking any time of year.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 7.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,643 feet

The Los Liones Trail begins by climbing through a lush, riparian canyon before opening up into some of the best ocean views in town. Eventually, it meets up with the East Topanga Fire Road, about 1.5 miles in, where you’ll find a bench and an overlook. Turn around here if you’re looking for a shorter day out, or press on for longer affair.

From here, the route travels north up the gently ascending fire road, gleaning some incredible views of the coastline and the great blue ocean beyond it. Just over three miles in, you’ll come to the turnoff for Parker Mesa proper. After a brief wander along a dirt path, you’ll arrive at one of the most striking viewpoints in the entire area, with a 180-degree panorama of beachy mansions, the Santa Monica Pier, and, if you’re blessed with good visibility, a smattering of nearby islands.

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