Long before David Geffen and Larry Ellison began expanding their holdings on “Billionaire’s Beach,” Malibu was the 13,330-acre Rancho Malibu, last owned by Frederick Hastings Rindge who dubbed his personal paradise: “A farm near the ocean, under the lee of the mountains.” Sure, Orange County has its own fabulous coastline, but Malibu’s craggy hills still are dotted with farms and ranches—not housing developments. Mudslides and wildfires be damned, Malibu flaunts its rusticity and passionate tryst with Mother Nature. Here, the flavor wheel rolls from opulence to simplicity to decadence to innocence, at times overlapping them all. Just picture the vegan movie star in flip-flops buying Cristal and kale chips for a private beach picnic.
You won’t travel far off Pacific Coast Highway for a true taste of Malibu. You’ll likely encounter aggravating traffic backups as well as Ferraris passing at reckless speed, all on the drive to Kristy’s Malibu. Perched on a hillside overlooking Zuma Beach, this low-key spot offers an appealing menu backed by surprisingly polished service. A salad of prosciutto and matchstick Fuji apples paired with a commendable margherita pizza makes a great lunch. Go midafternoon and you may have the patio all to yourself. Nicer wines by the glass are tempting, but potent sunshine makes a cold beer enticing, too. Stay for Kristy’s legendary coconut cake, or head south for world-class gelato at Grom. Shoehorned into the fabled Malibu Village center, this piccolo gelateria serves some mind-blowing scoops. Savor the robust Venezuelan chocolate or Cassata Siciliano made with sheep’s milk ricotta, as you watch the parade of locals dip in and out of designer boutiques. 6506 Westward Beach Road, kristysmalibu.com; 3888 Cross Creek Road, grom.it
Skip the over-touristy spots such as Gladstone’s and Duke’s, and drop in for a tasting at Rosenthal Wine Bar & Patio. Vineyards for the estate wines are several miles inland, but the tasting room offers Rosenthal wines and more. The roomy backyard becomes a party on weekends, when live music and food trucks hold sway.
Choice options for dinner include Nobu and Carbon Beach Club, both boasting exceptional surf’s-edge sites. The secret of high-buzz Nobu, famed for stratospheric pricing and exquisite Japanese haute cuisine, is its sushi bar. The entire menu is available, but the traditional sushi is a relative deal and the mood is refreshingly calm. 18741 Pacific Coast Highway, rosenthalestatewines.com; 22706 Pacific Coast Highway, noburestaurants.com
If time allows, start with sunset drinks next door at the architecturally stunning Nikita Malibu. Craft cocktails at the bar easily outshine the uneven Mediterranean cuisine. Slightly north at Carbon Beach Club, at Malibu Beach Inn, patio seating juts over the crashing surf, and the California fare stresses local, seasonal ingredients. Midweek nightly specials such as Tuesday “flatbread & brews” lure the locals. 22716 Pacific Coast Highway, nikitamalibu.com; 22878 Pacific Coast Highway, malibubeachinn.com
For the tastiest breakfast in town, stroll the boardwalk to Malibu Farm Pier Cafe. Order at the counter and take your just-squeezed carrot-beet-orange juice and claim a table bench draped in Icelandic sheepskins. Chef-owner Helene Henderson transformed this old Ruby’s site into a sunlit aerie offering local, organic eats such as multigrain pancakes with bacon, and fried-egg sandwiches on country wheat toast. Come back at lunch for a grass-fed beef burger with Havarti cheese and pepperoncini aioli on brioche. 23000 Pacific Coast Highway, malibu-farm.com
Q & A With Helene Henderson, chef-owner, Malibu Farm Pier Cafe
“Eat the real thing, or don’t eat it at all,” declares Helene Henderson, the Swedish-American dynamo behind Malibu Farm Pier Cafe where the motto is: “Fresh. Organic. Local.”
What are your favorite autumn ingredients and how do you use them?
Persimmons, figs, pomegranates—which we grow on our farm—and cranberries. We combine persimmons and pomegranates with burrata in a salad, and add the figs to our cheese-and prosciutto-platter. Though I don’t grow the cranberries, I make a superdelicious apple-cranberry cake.
Anything special planned for fall?
We love to celebrate holidays. Last year we did pumpkin carving, and had a jazz band play. We’ll have more fun events this year, too.
Please spill the beans on your new cookbook.
“The Malibu Farm Cookbook” [$30] will be released any day. It’s loaded with gorgeous images of Malibu’s farms, by lifestyle photographer Martin Lof, plus recipes from the cafe. It’s available on Amazon.com and here at the cafe.
Tell us about your new dinner service.
We started dinner last June and our small space fills up quickly. Folks can reserve online. On warm nights, everyone wants to be outside, and on windy nights, everyone wants inside.
DETAILS >> WHILE YOU’RE HERE
SEA, BE SEEN
A fish shack and market, with picnic tables perched over the ocean, MALIBU SEAFOOD, is beloved for fresh fare and fair prices that keep the patio seats packed. 25653 Pacific Coast Highway, malibuseafood.com
Don’t be surprised if you spy a celebrity rooting through tomatoes at Sunday MALIBU FARMERS MARKET, right.It’s a small, but choice affair. But definitely an underachiever compared to the celebrated Santa Monica market. 23555 Civic Center Way, malibufarmersmarket.net
The Surfrider Beach view alone will take your breath away, but the ADAMSON HOUSEis a jewel box of stunning tile work from its early days as a showcase for the original owner’s Malibu Potteries. 23200 Pacific Coast Highway, adamsonhouse.org
Malibu is lean on coastal lodging—a great excuse to book an ocean-view room at MALIBU BEACH INN. David Geffen’s retool makes the most of the killer view. Gracious service. 22878 Pacific Coast Highway, malibubeachinn.com
The GETTY VILLA is a dazzling sight to behold, but we fell hard for the docent-led tour of the herb garden, above,and its lessons about how the ancient Romans and Greeks valued the same herbs we grow today. Admission is free, but must be reserved. 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, getty.edu