Sun, surf, movie beachfront homes, and communities surrounded by gilded gates have helped create the mystique of Malibu, where the mountains meet the sea and reality and illusion sometimes clash discordantly. Everything you’ve heard about its laid-back hedonism is true. But the celebrated beaches, frequented by bikini-clad sunbathers and die-hard surfers, are largely walled off from public view. Million-dollar estates along the Pacific Coast Highway reveal their usually scruffy backsides or hide behind anonymous gates, and Malibu’s scattershot commercial strip is as ordinary and undistinguished as any beach town’s,leaving tourists to wonder where Malibu actually is. The place of legend must be stalked. Rural, coastal, hilly, and isolated from the city, it is about the same size as the rancho it replaced.
Chumash Indians settled the area first; then, in 1887, wealthy easterner Frederick Rindge bought the Topanga-Malibu-Sequit rancho, an expanse that included more than 22 miles of pristine Pacific oceanfront. Rindge built a private railroad and pier, planted alfalfa, and spent the rest of his life trying to shut out newcomers, even taking his argument to the Supreme Court. The government eventually prevailed, however, and in 1929, the Pacific Coast Highway (then the Roosevelt highway) officially opened, paving the way for more development. The first film star to settle in Malibu Beach was Anna Q. Nilsson. who built a house on a deserted beach just north of Malibu Creek in 1928. Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson, Ronald Coleman, and Frank Capra soon followed, and by 1930 the area had been dubbed “Malibu Motion Picture Colony” Now simply “The Colony”.
Hikers find respite here in the chaparral-covered Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountain ranges, which form an arc around the northern and eastern reaches of LA. Affluent homeowners who have carved a place of their Own in the hills and canyons, enjoy some of the best views anywhere. For a 360 degree panorama of ocean, mountains, and the San Fernando Valley, drive up into the hills to the end of Corral Canyon Road, beyond Malibu Canyon, and climb to the boulders on the crest of the hill. And while the canyon-marked hills trap the smog in the flatlands of the city they define, they also give urban dwellers a rim of rural wilderness. Paradise is not without its problems, however. Mudslides, caused by infrequent and heavy rains in an otherwise arid area, have been known to reduce palatial homes to pieces of plywood, and the ever-present threat of brush fires keeps residents’ hoses at the ready. But for every blow Mother Nature deals them, Malibu dwellers
just shrug philosophically and rebuild. Once you see this magical place, you’ll understand why!