Malibu with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day
Start your vacation with a photograph for the cover of your scrapbook. Head west up the coast on Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu's main artery. Just past the light at Topanga Canyon Boulevard, stop at the base of Tuna Canyon for a family photo in front of the blue-and-green 'Malibu: 27 Miles of Scenic Beauty' sign. Angle the camera just right, and you'll capture a wedge of ocean in the background.
Ruby's Shake Shack perches at the end of the historic Malibu Pier, built in 1905. The shiny, red-and-white, 1940s-style diner is very affordable. The kids' Get Up 'n Go Breakfast, served until 11:30AM, offers pigs in a blanket, silver dollar pancakes, French toast, or eggs for $3.99. Sink your teeth into the cinnamon-roll French toast for $6.59. On a sunny morning, enjoy a 270-degree view of kayakers, sailboats, and surfers on the upstairs eating deck. Arrive early on summer weekends to avoid the crowds.
Ruby's Shake Shack, 23000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265; 310-456-3443.
Hours vary according to season; note the diner may close during the winter months.
Afterwards, watch the fisherman cast rods off both sides of the pier to pull in halibut, mackerel, and even an occasional thresher shark. Malibu Coast Cruises offer 90-minute ocean excursions two to four times a day on summer weekends. The 46-passenger fiberglass boat travels between the Malibu Pier and Point Dume, where you will spy dolphins, California sea lions, and Big Kelp Reef. Prices are $25 for adults and $10 for kids under 12.
Malibu Coast Cruises, 23000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265; 888-310-7437.
Take the yellow stairs next to The Beachcomber Cafe, and walk underneath the pier to the adjacent Surfrider Beach, officially known as Malibu Lagoon State Beach. Be prepared to get your ankles wet at high tide! What trip to Malibu with tweens would be complete without a little surfing?
This is the country's first World Surfing Reserve, and one of Malibu's most popular surf spots, where a rare three-point surf break creates rides of 300 yards or more. Starting at sunrise, watch surfers bobbing on the surface like slick black corks. Malibu Lagoon State Beach offers a perfect stretch of sand for walking, where cormorants swoop overhead and brown pelicans dive-bomb the water to catch their lunch.
Malibu Lagoon State Beach Office, 23200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265; 818-880-0363. Hours: 8AM-sunset, daily.
Up the coast, in the more commercial zone of town, local business Surfmonk sells incredibly soft beach cover-ups and knit hats, some of them one-of-a-kind. Buy postcards at Malibu Divers, four doors down, and mail them home from the tiny post office next door, where there are never lines for stamps.
Surfmonk, 21219 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265; 310-382-1558. Hours: Tue-Fri 10AM-5PM, Sat 11AM-4PM.
If you're a family of hikers, your Malibu family vacation with tweens simply must include Solstice Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. The creek side Solstice Canyon Trail takes hikers under sycamores and alder trees to a beautiful waterfall. Look out for deer, quail, hawks, and even a bobcat. At the end of the trail, kids can poke around the ruins of the 1952 Roberts Ranch House, destroyed by fire in 1982, and marvel at how a family could have lived so deep inside a canyon for so long. It takes about an hour and a half to get to the ruins and back.
Solstice Canyon, Solstice Canyon Road, Malibu, CA 90265. National Park Service Visitor Center: 805-370-2301. Hours: 9AM-5PM, daily.
Heading west, make a pit stop at the funky Malibu Beach Shack for last-minute beach gear. It's located in the back of the parking lot next to Hows Market. Prices are a few dollars less than elsewhere in town, with kites for $7 and boogie boards renting for $14 for a half-day.
Malibu Beach Shack, 6444 Trancas Canyon Road, Malibu, CA 90265; 310-457-8776. Hours: 9AM-5PM, daily.
Your list of things to do in Malibu includes the beaches, I'm sure. Here are a few to check out. Zuma Beach is the Holy Grail of Malibu beaches, but I prefer Westward Beach right next door. It's more secluded and less crowded (almost empty during the week), and the tweens will enjoy watching rock-climbers scale the dramatic volcanic cliffs. Take the paved trail to the top of Point Dume from November to May to catch a glimpse of gray whales migrating between Mexico and Alaska. If you're up for more walking, take the trail down the other side to the secluded Dume Cove.
Even further up the coast are the three small 'pocket beaches' that make up Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beaches: El Pescador, La Piedra, and El Matador. I like El Pescador because it's just the right mix of rocks and sand, and the tide pools trap all kinds of sea critters my tweens like to seek out and observe. Signs for all three beaches are clearly visible from Pacific Coast Highway, but parking is limited, so during the summer, come first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Great Malibu family vacations must end with great dinners! Just over the Ventura County line is Neptune's Net Seafood Restaurant, easily recognized by the row of motorcycles out front. At 'The Net,' you'll find an even mix of tourists, locals, and the most laid-back bikers in southern California. Seafood baskets start at $9.75, or enjoy the New England clam chowder in a sourdough bowl for $7.50. Take in a gorgeous California sunset from the enclosed front porch with an ocean view.
Neptune's Net Seafood Restaurant, 42505 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265; 310-457-3095. Hours: summer: Mon-Thu 10:30AM-8PM, Fri-Sun 10AM-8:30PM; winter: Mon-Fri 10:30AM-7PM, Sat-Sun 10AM-7PM.
Make sure you leave time and room to head back to the Malibu Country Mart for cupcakes at Crumbs Bake Shop, open weekends until 10PM. Kids can choose from two dozen flavors, including Caramel Apple, Mint Chocolate Chip, and Peanut Butter and Jelly, most for $2.95. For adults, I recommend Coffee Toffee. Buy two. You won't want to share.
Crumbs Bake Shop, 3939 Cross Creek Road, Malibu, CA 90265; 310-456-3700. Hours: Sun 10AM-9PM, Mon-Thu 9AM-9PM, Fri-Sat 9AM-10PM.
Of course, you can't plan a trip to Malibu with tweens without hoping to spot somebody famous! You probably think celebrities only stick to private beaches and their ocean-view estates, right? In Malibu, that's a myth. You're just as likely to see a face you recognize from TV in a Starbucks or at a children's playground.
Local protocol is to be discreet. Acknowledge you're a fan with a smile and a nod, but try to refrain from exuberant requests for autographs or photos. (Would you want to be bombarded by strangers when you're buying zucchini?) As for predictable hot spots recently, I've seen Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell in the produce section at Hows Market, and I've seen Jeremy Piven twice at the Malibu Country Mart. But don't tell anyone I said so. If you do spot a celeb, it will turn your trip to Malibu with tweens into the best family vacation ever.
Hope Edelman is the author of five non-fiction books, including the New York Times bestseller Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers and the memoir The Possibility of Everything. Read her blog on Red Room.