Home Architectural Travel How To Enjoy Malibu, California: Without Spending a Fortune

How To Enjoy Malibu, California: Without Spending a Fortune

written by Penny Sadler
Million dollar homes line the priceless real estate and private beaches of Malibu, California. Most of us can only dream of such affluence and gawk from afar. Malibu is nothing if not the essence of the California dream.
If you, like me, are not one of the privileged few who can afford to live (or even summer) in a place like Malibu, don’t fret. There is a way to enjoy this little slice of heaven, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money.
Join me on a photo walk along California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway. We’ll stop for happy hour and watch the surfers ride the waves. Then we’ll continue down the highway to the Malibu Pier and the Malibu Lagoon. Along the way, we’ll discover the history of Malibu. Though Malibu has always been exclusive, it does have a very interesting history. 
malibu lagoon, the Pacific Ocean, California

Looking toward the Malibu Lagoon, where Malibu Creek meets the Pacific


What to Do In Malibu, California

First stop, happy hour!
21150 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265
(310) 317-0777
Duke's, what to do in Malibu

Aloha! Have your photo taken with Duke!

Duke’s is a kitschy restaurant on the Pacific Coast with views, a tiki bar, and a Hawaiian surf theme. Named after former Olympic gold medal surfer Duke Paoa Kahanamoku from Hawaii, it was originally called the Sea Lion.  You can sit by an open window in the Barefoot Bar and feel the spray from the ocean crashing on the rocks below.
The atmosphere in the bar is casual – the dining room is more upscale, but it’s the beach – you don’t have to dress up. Order a Mai Tai and some fish tacos – they are excellent! If you’re wondering what to do in Malibu, this is stop no. 1. Ok, to be honest, money is not optional if you’re going to stop at Duke’s. But happy hour is a great deal.
Mai Tai at Duke's Malibu restaurant and bar

Who can resist a Mai Tai served like this?

From Duke’s, drive a couple of miles west and look for a sign on the left that says Adamson House. If you miss it, look for the Malibu Pier, Adamson house is just a short few minutes walk. There’s a parking lot to the left of the entrance for the Adamson House. There’s also parking on the street. 
23200 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, California 90265
The Adamson House, malibu California

The Adamson House

Malibu was originally part of a Spanish land grant known as Rancho Malibu. In 1892, the 13,000 plus acres were purchased by Frederick Rindge and his wife May, with the dream of turning it into a private hacienda and beachfront playground. He did indeed build a ranch house, and raised cattle and grains. The house burned in a fire in 1903. In 1905, Frederick Rindge died, leaving the estate to his wife to manage.

Malibu. 22 miles of coastline and they owned all of it. Imagine that, if you can.

In 1915, their daughter Rhoda married Merrit Adamson, one of the ranch hands. In spite of her objections to the marriage, May gave the newlyweds thirteen acres of the Malibu Ranch estate as a gift. Here is where they built the original Malibu beach house, now a National Historic Site, California State Landmark, and California state park, located on Pacific Coast Highway. 
Spanish Revival and Malibu Tile details at Adamson House. From How To Enjoy Malibu: Money Optional

Spanish Revival and Malibu Tile details at Adamson House

Completed in 1930, the style is Spanish Colonial Revival. Art and architecture lovers will find plenty of inspiration here. Every room has a view of the sea, but the most unique feature of the house is the Malibu tile in every room. The tile company was owned by May Rindge, who always sought to monetize the land as much as possible. She used the house as a showcase for her tile company. She had hoped to find oil on the property, but instead found clay…talk about making lemons out of lemonade. 
Tile work at Adamson House, Malibu, California

Details of tile work

Gorgeous tiled fountain at Adamson House. From How To enjoy Malibu, California

This gorgeous tiled fountain was outside!

May Rindge worked hard to keep this stretch of California coast private and pristine. She spent her entire fortune fighting legal battles to stop development and encroachment on the land. But, as modern history shows, she lost the battle. Still, the story of the Rindge family  is fascinating. Read more about them and their contribution to Malibu
The Adamson House in Malibu, CA, tiled bath tub

There’s even a tiled bath tub for the animals.

Rose Garden at Adamson House.

Detail from the rose garden at the Adamson House


Entrance to the Malibu Beach House grounds is free.

You can do a self-guided tour and enjoy the unparalleled views, the rose gardens, and the architecture. I did not get to go inside, as it was closed. The grounds are open daily from 11:00 am to sunset. Follow the markers along the path for self-guided tours. Docent-led tours are Thursday through Sunday only, 12 – 3 pm, for only $7.00. It’s on my list of what to do in Malibu for next time. Visit the website and take a virtual tour.

Next walk down to the Malibu Pier, which you can see from the house.

How to enjoy Malibu pier, California

Malibu Pier

Malibu Pier was originally built in 1905 to service the Adamson’s beach house. It’s been the site of many surf movies, TV shows, and was a World War II lookout post. Later, it became a fishing pier, and we did see lots of people fishing there.

Malibu Pier stands in stark contrast to most piers in southern California.

It’s a nice place for a conversation and a stroll without all the crowds and noise and chaos of, say, Santa Monica Pier. You can walk to the end of the pier and gaze at an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. That’s not easy to find, and it costs nothing.

There’s a trendy restaurant called Malibu Farm, and a gift shop that markets the Malibu lifestyle. Everything there is great quality and very well done. And expensive. But you don’t need money to browse. Do not miss the black and white photograph of Malibu from the 1940s. 

malibu pier entrance, adamson's house

The entrance to the Malibu Pier. To the right is a tower and part of the original wall that was the Adamson’s property.

The beach here is public, not private, and free for all to enjoy.

The pier is right next to Surfrider Beach, famous the world over. We had a fantastic time watching the surfers here. It must have been quite the scene during the  Party film era. 

So there you have it – how to enjoy one of California’s most idyllic and glamorous beach towns –  money optional. Almost.

Al fresco dining on Malibu Pier.

Al fresco dining on the Malibu Pier

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How To Enjoy Malibu California

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Johnson February 15, 2018 at 3:04 am

Glad to know about these places. Pictures are so beautiful this place looks so calm. Thanks for sharing this post with us.

Paul Marsh January 22, 2018 at 8:00 am

Great tips Penny! I’ve never been to Malibun but Seems like a good place to explore!!

Penny Sadler January 22, 2018 at 9:52 pm

Thanks Paul. Have you been yet?

Vicky and Buddy August 8, 2017 at 9:16 pm

I’ve never been to Malibu, but it’s good to know there are options for those of us that aren’t rich! lol I’d love to visit the The Adamson House when I do get a chance to visit. The tile work really is amazing!

Penny Sadler August 8, 2017 at 9:18 pm

It is. And it’s just a great beach to walk and hang out and watch the surfers.

Claudia August 8, 2017 at 5:05 pm

Haha, I recognize that little Duke’s tiki Mai Tai! I enjoyed one on Kauai just a couple weeks ago. 😉 Malibu is a beautiful spot on the Cali coast. I do feel fearfully underdressed every time I pass through however. It’s a pretty exclusive community, but I like how you’ve highlighted some of the free and public things to do!

Penny Sadler August 8, 2017 at 9:19 pm

It is but it can still be enjoyed by all. Though the Rindge’s really wanted to keep it exclusively for themselves.

carla August 7, 2017 at 8:03 pm

You had me at happy hour! LOL! Looking forward to visit CA soon. Malibu is one of the places I hope to visit soon.

Paige W August 7, 2017 at 7:12 pm

SO beautiful! When I went to Malibu, I just went to Zuma beach, but there’s so much more to see! I had no idea that there was so much to do in the town itself! I went to a Duke’s in Kaua’i and their cocktails were great! I’d love to go to this one too!

Melody Pittman August 7, 2017 at 4:52 pm

What a cool post! I love visiting Malibu but you’re right, it is very exclusive. My favorite thing to do when I visit California is drive the PCH. I have never been to Duke’s but I am adding it to my “to do” list next time I am in the area! Thanks for sharing this post!

Candiss August 6, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Looks like a fun way to enjoy Malibu. I would love to go to the Adamson house it looks cool!

sherianne August 6, 2017 at 11:11 am

I love Malibu! My favorite is walking the Malibu Colony beach gathering beach glass and watching the dolphins. Haven’t tried Dukes

Penny Sadler August 6, 2017 at 11:15 am

that sounds fun! Malibu Colony was originally land the Rindge family had to allow for building. May was constantly fighting encroachment.

Danik August 6, 2017 at 5:21 am

Fantastic advice and I havent been to Malibu yet but want to for the beach. The place looks so nice and not too touristy.

Penny Sadler August 6, 2017 at 11:14 am

that’s the thing. You’d think it would be, but it isn’t. Except for Duke’s is but not in a terrible way.

Jessica August 5, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Great tips! We were in Malibu last year and went to Malibu farm, such a cute place and the views were amazing. Need to check out Duke’s next time!

Penny Sadler August 5, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Glad to hear you went to Malibu Farm. Was the food good? We had just had drinks and happy hour snacks at Duke’s so we didn’t stop at Malibu Farm. The menu looked good though.


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