Alone in Malibu

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words & images: Laura Hobbs

Growing up, I was a shy and introverted only child with an aversion to socializing so crippling I would avoid birthday parties, school events and team sports. Over the years, this aversion has weathered and softened into a more socially acceptable distant demeanor, and I now walk the delicate line between pleasant conversationalist and a dire urge to hide in the closet.

Hi, my name is Laura, and I’m a functioning introvert. 

One of the ways I satisfy my need for solitude is through solo travel. Traveling alone gives me the choice of being introverted or outgoing, and it invites in more of what I call the “magic moments”: those chance conversations with strangers, enchanting experiences in nature or long-awaited epiphanies that resonate deeply within your core, leaving you with a lingering feeling that you’ve experienced a cosmic alignment of space, time and destiny.

Each year, I treat myself to four days alone in the hills of Malibu. Featuring twenty-one miles of stunning coastline, this sleepy beach community lies northwest of L.A.’s tourist throng, and is stitched together with a patchwork of outdoor activity, grassroots businesses, ranch acreage, exclusive residents, artisan havens, and rich history.

With the gnarly Santa Monica Mountains spilling right into the Pacific, Malibu’s terrain beautifully illustrates why it’s a gamble living in this part of California. The landscape is rough and unforgiving, and is no place for permanent structures; houses are built on steep hillsides or in flood-prone canyons. The arid climate makes the scrubby flora look like it could ignite at any second. Even the dirt looks scorched: ashen, gray and powdery, like it’s the remnants of a long-ago fire. But these elements represent the beauty of the area, and lure off-the-beaten-path visitors, like yours truly, who are looking for a low-key California getaway.

So what does one do while traveling solo? A lot. Through my stays in Malibu, I’ve gathered a list of the top five things a solo traveler must do/see/eat when visiting this magical spot on California’s coastline. Socializing completely optional.

The Getty Villa

Perched on sixty-four well-manicured acres offering commanding views of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific, the Getty Villa houses impeccable gardens, elaborate water features and a Greco-Roman art collection so extensive it’ll make your head spin.

Wandering the galleries and the gardens is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, whether or not you’re a Grecophile. The museum makes an effort to keep the throngs to a minimum and the placid, detail-oriented beauty to a maximum.

Feeling snacky? The Mediterranean-inspired cafe serves up seasonal, locally sourced fare, and the coffee kiosk will give you the caffeine jolt you need to keep on wandering. The museum also offers complimentary umbrellas if you’re in need of some shade.

Free admission with required advance timed-entry ticket, $15 parking. 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, CA. Wednesday-Monday, 10 AM – 5 PM, closed Tuesdays. getty.edu/visit/villa

Point Dume

No trip to Malibu is complete without a day at the beach. Add to that a little hiking, a little history and a little celeb-spotting, and you’ve got yourself a grand ol’ time. Pack your umbrella and your camera for a day at Point Dume (pronounced by most residents as “doom,” and only a handful as “doo-MAY”), a state preserve that’s located on the tippy-tip of Malibu’s westernmost point.

With trails that wind through the sand dunes toward the crumbly bluffs and down to the rocky beaches, you’ll find yourself slack-jawed at the breathtaking scenery of California’s unforgiving coastline. Scramble down to one of the empty beaches for a day of solitude, or park your umbrella on Point Dume’s more popular beach for prime people watching. During December through March, you may catch a glimpse of migrating whales as they travel in and out of the bay.

Want more beaches? Neighboring Zuma Beach is great for a stroll or a sit. A few minutes north on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) takes you to Matador Beach, where giant rock arches jut out from the water. Take the heart-pounding steps down to the beach for the best views, and don’t forget your camera.

$8 parking fee. From the PCH, turn onto Westward Beach road and follow it south to the parking lot. nps.gov/samo/planyourvisit/pointdume.htm

Malibu Farm Restaurant on the Pier

You can’t get much more local than eating a meal at Malibu’s relatively new and pier-perched restaurant, Malibu Farm. Owned and operated by lifelong chef and local Helene Henderson, this low-key restaurant offers some of the freshest and least traveled food in LA County.

With a laid back, no-nonsense attitude, Helene’s menu is based on her dietary philosophy of “Eat the real thing, or don’t eat it at all.” Popular items include the hearty grilled salmon sandwich, the dainty Swedish pancakes and the gooey burrata salad. Order your fresh fare at the counter and grab a spot on the pier’s ledge or one of the two rooftop terraces. Enjoy the view and mind the seagulls—they’re not shy.

Monday & Tuesday 9:00 AM – 3:30 PM, Wednesday, Thursday & Sunday 9:00 AM – 8:30 PM, Friday & Saturday 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM. Dinner reservations recommended. malibu-farm.com

The Adamson House

There’s something fascinating about peeking into lives from decades past. Let your voyeuristic tendencies get their fill on a tour of the Adamson House, a well-preserved specimen of California’s Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, easily accessible from the southbound PCH.

The house was home to Merritt and Rhoda Adamson, a wealthy couple in the tile industry, along with their three children. Now a state historical landmark and museum, the house sits just west of the pier on the primest-of-prime real estate in coastal Malibu, and once served as a sample house for the tile available from Malibu Pottery.

Construction started in 1929 and the house was finished in 1930, with beautiful tile, woodwork and craftsmanship in every corner. The hour-long tours are led by tender and knowledgeable volunteers, and are well worth the modest admission price. After the tour, have a seat on the lawn under the canopy of sprawling trees and watch the wide array of birdlife in action.

$7 adults, $2 children. 23200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA. Wednesday-Saturday, 11 AM – 3 PM (last tour at 2pm). Closed Sunday-Tuesday. adamsonhouse.org

Solstice Canyon

Lace up your hiking shoes, fill your CamelBak™ and pack a snack for a beautiful and fascinating hike into this renowned canyon. Dusty, scrub-lined trails turn to shaded, lush paths as you wind your way down the canyon’s steep pitch. Once inside, you’ll discover farmstead ruins, gigantic eucalyptus trees and some of the only year-round waterfalls in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The real gem of this hike is the ruins of the Roberts house. Designed by renowned architect Paul Williams and built for Fred and Florence Roberts in 1952, the house was once featured in Architectural Digest for the design’s seamless integration with nature. The house succumbed to fire in the early 1980s, but its foundation and shell still stand. Poke around the charred remains and scramble along the boulders of its once majestic water features. Find the hidden altar? Bonus points for you. Don’t forget your camera.

Free parking. From the PCH, turn inland on Corral Canyon Road and drive 1/4 mile to park entrance on left. Open sunrise to sunset. nps.gov/samo/planyourvisit/solsticecanyon.htm


 

Malibu’s adventures certainly don’t end there. Take a dusty hike into Malibu Canyon State Park and visit what’s left of the M*A*S*H set, get lost around the twists and turns of placid Malibou Lake, or visit the metaphysically hip community of Topanga with a drive up the beautiful Topanga Canyon Road.

Looking for lodging? A great way to avoid Malibu’s sticker shock is to stay in a guesthouse or private rental. My cottage hideaway lies in the hills above Zuma Beach, tucked away among the bouganvillas and fruit trees. Owner and host Anndrea is a gentle and gracious spirit who makes guests feel right at home; take a dip in the rock-lined pool, pick a pear for breakfast or soak in the cascading hot tub. If you’re traveling solo or as a couple, I highly recommend it. airbnb.com/rooms/1138132

By removing the responsibilities of work, family, and life in general, solo travel is a great way to connect with aspects of myself that don’t shine through in everyday life. It’s as if these ephemeral glimpses at my other selves give me a view into another life. I’ve often referred to Malibu as being the home of my sister life. Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild and advice columnist for Dear Sugar, gave this advice to an inquirer once, and it stuck with me:

“I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

Malibu, I salute you.

Author note: Traveling Malibu solo was purely a personal choice. The trip would be equally as gratifying if traveling with fellow adventurers!

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