You've heard of Moonshadows thanks to Mel Gibson and if you've ever driven down the iconic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), you've spotted the movie-themed, daily-changing chalkboard sign outside the Reel Inn. Malibu is known as both a surfer's hideaway and as home to cliffside celebrity mansions. The "strip mall" ), if you can really call it that, at Cross Creek Road (also known as the Malibu Country Mart) sits just across PCH from the ocean and boasts a Nobu, Cafe Habana, Taverna Tony's (a local favorite), and a fantastic wine shop. This surfer's paradise is also a luxurious day trip from L.A. or a getaway all its own and, despite long adopting a "locals only" vibe, can make an outsider feel like an insider in no time.
Brunch: Sitting outside on the terrace of Geoffrey's Malibu for Sunday brunch will make you wish you lived there. The sun drenches the terrace and your face as you sit and wait for your challah French toast, lobster quiche, or freshly made omelette, and worries melt as you sip a mimosa. Spend an hour dining on some of the area's best food with the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and a warm breeze sweeping through your hair and then say you're not in love with L.A. Just try. (That's what we thought.)
Lunch: Line up with the locals at the classic Howdy's Taqueria for big and hearty tacos filled with everything from the basics (chicken, carnitas, steak, fish) to the California (tofu, veggies). This taco stand, which has just a few high-top tables in front, has been the go-to lunch spot in Malibu for ages. You'll line up behind hungry surfers, lucky high school kids on their lunch break from nearby schools, and Angelenos willing to jaunt up the PCH just for lunch.
Dinner: One reason you'll want more than one suggestion for dinners in Malibu is that tables fill up so quickly, you could be facing an hour-long wait at half the restaurants on a Monday night. The mainstays are Nobu, Tra di Noi, and Taverna Tony's — all original Cross Creek eateries. Cafe Habana was imported from New York to help fill out the newly developed side of the Country Mart. If you're going to call ahead, go to Nobu or Taverna Tony's for a classic Malibu experience (read: a delicious dinner with a hefty side of celebrity spotting). If you want to play it by ear, head just slightly south on PCH and pull into the rustic and quirky Reel Inn for freshly caught seafood in a cool dive-y space. And if you're hankering for wildly delicious Mexican corn, there's nowhere to go than Café Habana where the Cuban sandwiches, fish tacos, and of course, the corn, are irresistible.
Drinks: The only beach in Southern California where you can drink alcohol, Paradise Cove is a private beach and a truly hidden gem. (And by hidden we mean literally — you enter via a lush driveway covered with trees.) You can bring everything on your own or order from the restaurant on-site. We suggest going just before sundown and enjoying a couple of cocktails on the sand. The cocktails on offer are classic warm-weather drinks like mojitos, piña coladas, and daiquiris that come in all colors and flavors. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Colbyworld)
Food Adventure: Malibu's big draw may be the expanse of ocean and sand, but there is also (surprisingly) fantastic wine tasting to be done there, whether on a gray afternoon or for an adventurous date. Hit SIP Malibu for a taste of wines from around the region, from bubbly whites to deep reds. Cornell Winery is an incredibly cool, rustic spot for wine tasting up in the Malibu hills and is a perfect afternoon jaunt. It sits next to The Old Place where a hearty and huge dinner of pale ale chicken or the famous Old Place beef stew awaits.