The Surfrider Malibu is a love letter to California’s beachy ‘hood, an iconic 1950s stay along the Pacific Coast Highway (whose IMDB credits include surf doc The Endless Summer) and former neighbour to Neil Young that’s been a kitschy cool motel, hotel and then something altogether more special. The young, globetrotting owners have made it feel like an authentic Malibu beach house: gutting the interiors to fill them with finds from their travels, big-deal artworks, and covetable wares from local makers; creating cool coastal rooms with teak four-posters, hammocks woven by Amazonian tribes and a palette that draws from sand and sea; hiring staff for their emotional intelligence and local know-how; and setting up a guests-only roof-deck restaurant that keeps celebs and local fans clamouring for a table. And, with Cali’s most iconic highway and famous surf beach right there, you really can’t find a hideaway that feels more true to the Golden State.
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A welcome cocktail for each guest, free wetsuit hire and 25 per cent off parking
11am. Earliest check-in, 3pm. Those waiting around can use the roof deck (a privilege only guests are afforded) or use the facilities.
Double rooms from £338.47 ($459), including tax at 15 per cent.
Rates don’t usually include breakfast, but with ‘brekky’ burritos, coconut-cream-drizzled banana buckwheat pancakes and superlative smoothies on the menu, you’ll happily shell out to start your day on the deck. Surfboard and Mini Cooper hire is free.
For pre-trip psyching or post-trip reminiscing, the hotel has curated a playlist to remind you of halcyon Malibu days; find the link on their site. While you're here, be sure to order a picnic; there are two options, a casual beachy affair and a romance-laden feast, but both baskets bulge with goodies, including fresh-to-order bottled cocktails.
At the hotel
Roof-deck restaurant and bar, library and living room, lobby boutique, free-to-borrow custom surfboards by iconic longboard shaper McTavish Surf and Mini Coopers, wetsuits to rent, surfboard and wetsuit storage, coffee station, heated outdoor shower and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: TV, minibar stashed full of local treats, bathrobes from Parachute Home, air-conditioning, free bottled water, umbrellas, beach towels, sunscreen and Grown Alchemist bath products.
Our favourite rooms
We have to doff our sun hats to the owners here: beautiful teak-wood flooring and bespoke beds, marble and stone made to age gracefully, hammocks woven by tribes in the Amazon, jute rugs and bougainvillea-draped balconies (for most rooms and suites) – plus some clever room reconfigurations that bestow ocean views and lots of light on all but the ground-floor rooms (which benefit from a terrace kept private by a barrier of native plants) – make each one a winner. So, you’ll feel at home wherever you stay, but maybe most at home in the Surfrider Suite, with its high ceilings; huge terrace; blue, blue views; and extra-mile accoutrements such as the cosy Parachute bathrobes, luxe Bellino linens and lush Grown Alchemist goodies in the bathroom. If you’re craving a Pacific panorama, then go for the room that namechecks it – from the bed in the Pacific Room all you can see is sky, water, surfers and Malibu Pier. And, note that the Ground Floor Back Room (aka the Surfer’s Hideout) isn’t sea-facing, but it’s ideal for those just looking to catch breaks and sip cocktails on the roof deck.
While there’s no spa, the hotel is committed to guests’ sense of wellness, so they’ve partnered up with a local masseuse to anoint you with oils infused with canyon-picked wildflowers and knead away any knots in the privacy of your room. And good vibrations come courtesy of bespoke sound baths and beach yoga sessions. And they’ve teamed up with a tried-and trusted local yoga instructor for classes.
The hotel’s a generous sort, so there’s no need to pack any surf gear, but maybe bring an extra suitcase for all the artisanal wares you’ll buy in the on-site boutique, such as Cali-scented candles, handmade ceramic to-go cups, hand-loomed beach towels, stress-relief tinctures, custom hammocks or rare-blend teas.
There’s one wheelchair-accessible room on the ground floor by the lobby, there’s an elevator and public spaces are easily navigated. There's braille signage too. Party people, do so by day: rowdy night owls could be fined.
While little ones can stay, this is a more adult space.
All food is locally sourced, seasonal and organic – and occasionally biodynamic – as attested by the laundry list of high-quality, small-batch and indie suppliers the hotel works with. It’s even been deemed an ocean-friendly restaurant by the Surfrider Foundation (unrelated to the hotel, but named after the same beach). Plus, due to more disposable-container use during Covid, they’ve been busy planting trees for each guest staying and single-use plastics have been eliminated.
Languid lunches are more the speed here so it’s best to get comfy on one of the sofas by the fire pit. There are three 'front row' seats with the best ocean views – you might even spy a whale or dolphin – if the centre one is free, take it.
Shoes are kind of an afterthought here, but from the ankle up floaty natural linens will help you look the part, maybe the odd kaftan.
The roof-deck restaurant is guests-only, which is probably for the best since you won’t want anyone else filling up seats for those views that’ll linger long in your imagination. Surfers ride the waves that crash into First Point, Surfrider Beach gleams golden in the sun, people bustle along Malibu Pier and the immensity of the Pacific stretches out to the horizon: sundowners are really quite spectacular. And the food is diverting too – you’re between the ocean and California’s greener fertile farmland to the north, the hotel is on excellent terms with small suppliers across the state (to the point where some grow to-order), from beekeepers to biodynamic farmers, and Executive Chef Jacob was trained by Thomas Keller of French Laundry. As such the menus make for poetic reading, with some name-dropping: say, the salad with Finley Farm lettuce, cara-cara oranges, pistachios, Malibu mint, sumac and Carota Ranch steak; or the hand-cut pasta with heirloom tomatoes from Tutti Frutti Farm and Lisbon lemons grown by Apricot Lane Farm. There’s a little south-of-the-border influence too, with a ceviche so popular that regulars demand it stays on the menu, and seared-tuna tacos, plus can’t-go-wrong Cali-style comfort foods: meaty deli sandwiches, parmigiano-topped meatballs in a cast-iron skillet and molten cookies with a glass of milk. Even the bread and butter is write-home worthy. The kitchen team truly rise and shine when it comes to breakfast too, an à la carte affair of bulging ancient-grain breakfast burritos, buckwheat pancakes drizzled with coastal-wildflower syrup, pollen-sprinkled acai bowls, and smoothies or Bloody Marys depending on which side of the bed you woke up on. It won't take you long to see why guests cancel reservations at even hard-to-book Nobu to work their way through the menu here.
The roof deck serves as both bar and restaurant, so curl up on a squishy sofa by the fire pit with a manuka honey- and chamomile-infused hot toddy or perch on a stool by the alfresco counter with a frosty marg. There are several iterations to choose from, but we like the spicy margarita, Endless Summer with coconut and the Harvest Moon with blood orange. Coolly curated playlists and live local musicians further uplift the ambience. Drinks are taken as seriously as the food here, with a ‘farm-to-glass’ philosophy. The team scoured coffee roasters and settled on renowned down-under brand Vittoria (after all, one of the owners hails from Australia) and Ayurvedic tea houses (the custom signature blend of lemon myrtle, sage, mint and eucalyptus is a mightily soothing sipper) alongside blitzing fruits and botanicals with micro-batch spirits (some very rare) to make cocktails with character. And, they’re champions of small independent wineries, with a select edit of natural wines to try and a hush-hush leatherbound book that holds the Owners’ Reserve Menu of one-of-a-kind bottles picked up on the owners’ travels – when guests polish one off they’re invited to eulogise with a note to advise future imbibers. And, if you’d rather get lightly buzzed while swaying in the hammock on your balcony, the barkeeps will bottle your preferred drink and send it up with garnishes.
Menus change for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but food is served from 7am to 10pm on the roof deck.
It’s hard to improve on the likes of Gjusta bread and butter with wildflowers and wattleseed or burrata with walnut salsa seca, citrus and fennel flower, but somehow they taste all the better when you’re swaddled in Bellino linens.
Surfrider Malibu sits along Cali’s famed Pacific Coast Highway, but while cars whizz past the front of this former motel, just across the road surfers take to the waves and sunbathers laze on the beach by Malibu Pier.
Los Angeles International is the most convenient place to land, where flights arrive direct from major cities worldwide; from there, the hotel is just a 30-minute drive. On request, transfers can be arranged for US$200. Alternatively, if you’re flying from within the US, Hollywood Burbank airport is a 40-minute drive from the hotel and transfers are US$250.
If you’re riding the rails across the US, pull up into Deco darling Union Station, then hire a car or catch a cab for the 30-minute drive to the hotel. Tickets can be booked via Amtrak (www.amtrak.com).
As a former motel, Surfrider makes a great road-trip stop. If you’re heading northbound from LA or Santa Monica, take the 10 Freeway west until you reach the Pacific Coast Highway then follow it for 12 miles to reach the hotel. If heading south from ‘Frisco or Santa Barbara, follow the 101 Freeway south and exit onto the PCH, then drive for 35 miles – the hotel will be on your left. There are electric car-charging stations onsite and parking (plus one accessible space) for US$20 each night.
Worth getting out of bed for
Take a flip through the Surfrider Rolodex to see where the day will take you. Maybe a headily scented massage on your terrace, a spell in the library admiring the Le Corbusier and Picasso doodles on the walls and flipping through the stylish selection of books, a delicate tea ceremony or a horse ride through the canyons with the Blonde Wrangler. If you’re still at a loss, the largely local staff are a wellspring of Malibu tips. Or you could while away some time selecting ethical homewares (some by artisans who resided in the hotel before its reinvention) and buy wellness-boosting candles, teas and balms from the boutique, but one of the best ways to pass the time is to sit and watch the waves from the roof deck with a glass of something special, say a pinot noir from Sonoma’s Scribe Winery. Fashion-forward owner, Emma Goodwin, is a fan of a statement hat and while her collection of vintage headgear is no longer on display, she can arrange for super-cool milliners Nick Fourquet and Teresa Foglia to design something super stylish to put on your head. When it comes to beyond-your-room pursuits, well, the clue’s in the name – Surfrider Beach (the one you’ll spend most of your time here ogling) is one of America’s most famed for wave-riding and was dubbed the first ever World Surfing Reserve. It has three main points where breaks swell – First Point is best for beginners and longboarders, Second Point takes things up a notch and Third Point has waves coming in from left and right. Whatever level you’re at, the hotel can hook you up with local Malibu legend Pete (so respected here that other surfers will make way for him on the waves when he's teaching – a rare happening in these parts) to teach you and they’ll lend you a custom-made longboard (shaped by McTavish Surf in stylish retro hues) for free; wetsuits can be acquired too if needed. If you’re not ready to get your feet wet, yoga sessions also take place on the sand. The beach is just over the road and while the hotel’s next to the PCH – California’s most iconic road-tripping trail – a real plus here is that you’re deep in the heart of Malibu (or as close as you can get to being in the town here), so you can merrily ditch the car and explore on foot. Malibu Pier is next door for the promenading; Malibu Village is a microcosm of the community with some fine indie shops to boot; the historic, Spanish-tiled Adamson House Museum is just down the road; and the green stretches of Malibu Bluffs and Corral Canyon Park lie close by (a scenic two-mile trail runs through the sage brush). Alongside Surfrider’s sands, this stretch of the Pacific coast is famed for its soft-underfoot beaches – Zuma is beloved for its watersports ops and Little Dume, backed by soaring cliffs, is a lesser-known favourite of locals. Carbon Beach (AKA Billionaire's Beach) is a ritzy alternative to Surfrider. Hop in one of the hotel’s free-to-borrow Mini Coopers to pootle along the coast to the Getty Villa, which is stuffed to its gilded rafters with Greek and Roman antiquities, and further along the coast lies Venice Beach for boardwalk people-spotting and to see skate kids' acrobatics; beyond, LA sprawls with all its Tinseltown enticements. Or hit Topanga Canyon to get a little woo-woo with the leftover hippie community. And, we recommend combining the hotel’s fabulous food with Malibu’s beatific scenery by requesting a picnic (a basket with farm-fresh goodies, a map and blanket) to accompany you on a hike.
The hotel’s food and drink offering is powerfully persuasive, and many guests cancel their other bookings once they’ve got stuck into the ceviche, warm-from-the-oven bread, seasonally seasoned burrata and what Pierce Brosnan has deemed to be the best guac in the world. But, the PCH has many tasty pit stops enroute, say Duke’s for taco Tuesday and a thick slice of Hula Pie (macadamia-nut ice-cream with a cookie crust) or the Real Coconut Kitchen, which makes plant-based eating all the more appealing with its lobster burritos, chia parfaits and comforting broths. Plus, Malibu’s outpost of world-famous fusion joint Nobu has an ocean-facing terrace, melt-in-the-mouth wagyu and an all-stars omakase menu. If you're a card-carrying Soho House member – or just happen to be close to one – swing by their Little Beach House to dine on upmarket wood-fired pizzas, steaks or poke bowls and a couple of Once Upon a Time in Malibu cocktails.
The hotel’s got a very well-stocked bar, but to get a taste for Malibu’s verdant terroir try Saddlerock and Semler wines, plus regional craft brews at Malibu Wines & Beer Garden.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this motel made good at the heart of Malibu and unpacked their wetsuits and candles scented like the Santa Monica mountains, a full account of their room and (surf)board will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside the Surfrider Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway…
The shabby 1950s motel hidden behind oleander bushes along the Pacific Coast Highway might have fallen further into disrepair, perhaps to remain a relic of bygone holidays and post-war optimism, if its present-day hotelier Matthew Goodwin hadn’t headed to California’s north shores from Ventura in search of bigger and better surf breaks. But, America’s founded on reinvention. Even after Goodwin moved to New York to make a name for himself as an architect and marry Australian design whizz Emma Crowther, this venue, steeped in Americana – it was the backdrop to The Endless Summer surf doc and hosted the likes of Neil Young (whose bar Crazy Horse was next door) and Fleetwood Mac – stayed in his mind. When it came up for sale, Goodwin, Crowther and race-car driver Alessandro Zampedri saw this as their chance to pump life back into it and create a hotel on their own terms – and thus Surfrider Malibu was born. They took the motel’s bare retro bones and dreamt up an intimate beach-house concept, knocking in an attic above the lobby to create a serene library space, resetting rooms to give guests private balconies and ocean views and elevating the style bar with high-quality Scandi-esque furnishings and fittings, plus statement pieces from Goodwin and Crowther’s extensive travels. But the hotel’s charm goes far beyond the cosmetic – the team have a sixth sense for satisfying guests, whether they’re supplying a road-tripping playlist, juicing you up for a day of surfing with MCT oil-laced coffee, or packing you a picnic for hikes in the flower-strewn canyons. You can kick off your shoes and jam in the library using the collector-quality Mcintosh amp and guitar, borrow a Mini Cooper to cruise up the coast, learn how to ‘hotdog’ like a pro using the hotel’s quiver of longboards, or simply watch the waves swell and break on the roof deck with a herbaceous cocktail or a rare wine from the owners’ travel-sourced reserve collection. After all, the deck is where everyone wants to be – the menu of ceviches, tacos, farm salads, flat-iron steaks and wild-caught fish, dressed up with imaginative ingredients sourced from the finest farms and makers all across the state (Tehachapi Grain Project, Tutti Frutti Farm, Santa Carota Ranch…), has made more waves than the Pacific. In a landscape of cult beaches and iconic highways, Surfrider Malibu is fast earning its own legendary status – if you’re California dreaming then here’s where you should wake up.