A Day Exploring Malibu

Hi, I’m Carl Finer. I’m an educator, writer, and runner here in Los Angeles.

I have to run. Without it, I go crazy. It’s my escape, the part of each day to myself where my jumbled mind finds clarity, whether running that trail that starts behind the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or just around the perimeter of the cemetery in my neighborhood. It’s how I play, creating a route on a summer evening connecting all the free concerts around downtown and running a lap around Dodgers Stadium during a playoff game (I still owe thanks to the scalper who gave me a ticket he couldn’t sell, to watch the game in my running shorts). And it’s community, feeling home in a big, confusing city with groups like Students Run LA, Track Club LA, and now the Boyle Heights Bridge Runners.

I’ll be running the Malibu Half Marathon on November 6, and am excited to share with you stories, perspective, and inspiration on the journey to the start line.

A Getaway in Malibu:

Instead of just running the race, why not escape for a whole day or even the entire weekend and make it a getaway?

To test out the possibilities for myself, I escaped with my girlfriend to Malibu on Labor Day. A tough assignment, spending a holiday in such a beautiful setting, but somebody had to do it.

  1. Sleep in and get coffee

I slept in and got a late start on the day. I just got a kitten, and it’s hard to get out of the house when he’s chasing a tiny soccer ball or attacking his Rally Monkey.

While originally planning on a leisurely morning reading a book with a pastry and coffee, instead I got my caffeine and a ham and cheese croissant at the Jack n the Box drive-thru on PCH. Nothing wrong with that, but you can do better.

Malibu has a Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, but if it’s not too early for a treat with your latte, try the selection of vegan cookies or a vegan cinnamon roll at Cafecito Organico.

2. Hike to an ocean view

While my girlfriend prefers the beach, my ideal escape is into the mountains. Malibu is great because neither of us had to compromise.

A short hike with a view seemed the ideal way to stretch our legs. Coffee in hand, I drove to the Zuma Canyon trailhead off Bonsall Drive, with plans to make a loop of the Zuma Canyon Ocean View and Canyon View trails. At three miles roundtrip, the hike is short enough not to deplete legs immediately before or after a race, but with a challenging enough climb to make the views at the top feel earned.

Almost as soon as starting out on the sandy trail, another pair of hikers warned us to keep an eye out for a rattlesnake sunning itself around a bend. We didn’t see the snake (and I’m ok with that), but did cross paths with a pack of happy kids on horseback.

Making right hand turns to follow the circuit counterclockwise, we ascended up the Canyon View trail, at lower elevation listening to the comforting sound of leaves rattling through the trees and our feet padding through the dust. As we climbed, we breathed in the mountain incense of horse manure mixed,lingering dust, mesquite end-of-summer chaparral, and salty ocean breeze.

Near the peak of the trail was a parked Caterpillar shovel, and since I’m 35 going on five years old I stopped to play on it, making noises and pretending I was Bob the Builder or a Transformer.

The deceptively steep trail rewarded us with panoramic ocean and canyon views throughout.

Reaching the apex in the trail, we looped back on our descent on the Ocean View trail. This trail is mostly deep, loose sand, cushioning each step of our plunge like long-jumping in a childhood sandbox.

Even though it doesn’t seem far, give yourself two hours for this hike and bring water, as the majority of the trail is unshaded.

Besides Zuma, another good option for a short hike is the 2.5 mile Corral Canyon Loop, which meanders through a completely undeveloped canyon. Or if you’d prefer being active on the water, the Malibu Surf Shack rents surfboards, bodyboards, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards by the hour, and also offers two-hour guided kayak and SUP tours.

3. Drink beer and eat seafood (with surprise guest friends!)

After a hike, it was time to reward ourselves with lunch.

I drove north and parked my dusty, unwashed Kia on the shoulder of PCH just beyond the row of gleaming motorcycles at Neptune’s Net.

It was my first time here. I wish I had come sooner . . . and often.

Set on ordering the gigantic fried seafood platter (raved about on yelp), I joined the throng of bikers and tank-top wearers in line on the other side of the netting on the “restaurant side.” The wait wasn’t so bad, as the line ran parallel to a room-length beer cooler. Making a selection kept me entertained (I settled on the Coronado Brewing orange wit).

While waiting for our order to come up, I ducked into the parking lot to find the bathroom (there is a bank of well-kept port-o-potties at the rear) and, as I returned to find a seat on the patio, heard my name shouted out: “Finer!”

Even here, all the way up the coast in Malibu, I’d stumbled upon a friend.

Brian Pfeffer is my running buddy. We both coached with Students Run LA (Brian teaches high school English) and competed in races against each other (morning text taunting always spurred me on). A few years ago, he drafted me onto his Arizona Ragnar Relay ultra-marathon team.

With his wife Katie, he was here celebrating. He had just completed a 62 mile hike of the newly-linked Backbone Trail, starting on Friday from Will Rodgers Park.

And I thought I’d earned my beer after only three miles!

Brian and Katie justifiably ordered a pitcher, and we caught up on life as we shared from our food. Our sampler platter included fried fish, shrimp, scallops, clam strips, and calamari, along with a crab cake and fries. Nothing was left uneaten.

Besides fried seafood, on the inside of the restaurant you can order tacos burgers, and patty melts. Outside is an entrance to the “seafood side” to order raw or steamed seafood, as well as an entrance to the frozen yogurt counter.

If you would prefer full-service seafood, try Geoffrey’s Malibu or Moonshadows. Or, for carbo-loading before the race, Italian restaurants Gravina Malibu or Tra Di Noi.

4. Let the food settle at the beach

Not ready to drive home and call it a day, we moved on to El Matador State Beach to explore and let our stomachs settle.

Parking across the street on PCH and carefully playing “frogger” across traffic, we made our way down the steep dirt incline and staircases to the narrow beach at the base of the bluff.

Having never been here before, it reminded me more of beaches I’d encountered on the Washington or Oregon coast than the wide stretches of sand in Southern California postcards.

Rock formations. Caves. Sea stacks. Thin bands of water, surf, rock, and beach, the lines constantly shifting and being redrawn.

Beautiful.

Indentations at the base of the bluff sheltered a full array of beach activities in progress: picnicking, reading, making out under blankets.

After clamboring with the crowds along the rocks the edge of the beach, we found our patch of sand just to sit and watch the waves . . . and people watch. There were lots of tattoos to decipher!

Other popular beaches include Zuma Beach for its wide stretch of sand, Leo Carrillo State Beach, for tide pools, Surfrider Beach, or more secluded County Line Beach.

Driving home, I felt happy and refreshed. Ocean and mountains. Beer and and fried seafood. Rustling leaves and revving motorcycles. Inspiring, unexpected friends. And now a few days later, I’m already thinking of going back.