Malibu is a beach city in the Santa Monica Mountains region of Los Angeles County, California, about 30 miles (48 km) west of Downtown Los Angeles. It is known for its Mediterranean climate, its strip of beaches stretching 21 miles (34 km) along the Pacific Ocean coast, and for its longtime status as the home of numerous affluent Hollywood celebrities and executives. Although a high proportion of its residents are entertainment industry figures with million-dollar mansions, Malibu also features several middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods. The Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1) traverses the city and has led most residents to settle anywhere from half a mile (0.8 km) to within a few hundred yards of it, with some residents living up to one mile (1.6 km) away from the beach in areas featuring narrow canyons. As of the 2020 census, the city’s population was 10,654.
Nicknamed “The ‘Bu” by surfers and locals, Malibu is noted for its beaches. The many parks within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area lie along the ridges above the city along with local parks including Las Flores Creek Park, Legacy Park, Malibu Bluffs Park, and Trancas Canyon Park.
The city is bounded by the Santa Monica Mountains to the north, Topanga to the east, Solromar to the west, and the ocean to the south. Signs around the city boast of its “21 miles of scenic beauty” in reference to the incorporated city limits. In 2017, the signs were updated from the historical 27-mile (43 km) length of the Malibu coast spanning from Tuna Canyon on the southeast to Point Mugu in Ventura County on the northwest. Many residents of the unincorporated canyon areas are included in the Malibu ZIP code, as the city has their closest commercial centers.
- October 26, 1929 – Malibu Colony, 13 homes burned.
- 1930 – “Potrero,” Decker Canyon Road Corridor, 15,000 acres (61 km2), accidental blaze caused by walnut pickers in Thousand Oaks area.
- October 23, 1935 – “Malibu” or “Latigo/Sherwood,” Kanan/Decker Corridor, 30,000 acres (120 km2).
- November 23, 1938 – “Topanga,” Topanga Canyon, 14,500 acres (59 km2).
- October 20, 1943 – “Las Flores,” Malibu Canyon, 5,800 acres (23 km2).
- November 6, 1943 – “Woodland Hills (Las Virgenes),” Kanan/Decker Corridor, 15,000 acres (61 km2).
- December 26, 1956 – “Newton,” Kanan/Decker Corridor, 26,000 acres (110 km2), 100 homes, one death, Frank Dickover.
- December 2, 1958 – “Liberty,” Malibu Canyon, 18,000 acres (73 km2), eight firefighters injured, 74 homes destroyed (17 in Corral Canyon).
- November 6, 1961 – “Topanga,” Topanga Canyon, 8,000 acres (32 km2).
- September 25, 1970 – “Wright,” Malibu Canyon, 28,000 acres (110 km2), 10 deaths, 403 homes destroyed.
- October 30, 1973 – “Topanga,” Topanga Canyon, 2,800 acres (11 km2).
- October 23, 1978 – “Kanan,” Kanan/Decker Corridor, 25,000 acres (100 km2), 2 deaths, 230 homes.
- October 9, 1982 – “Dayton,” Malibu Canyon Corridor, 44,000 acres (180 km2), 15 homes in Paradise Cove destroyed.
- October 14, 1985 – “Piuma,” Las Flores area, Topanga Canyon, 4,700 acres (19 km2).
- October 14, 1985 – “Decker,” Kanan/Decker Corridor, 6,600 acres (27 km2). Both arson-caused; six homes destroyed; $1 million damage.
- November 2, 1993 – “Old Topanga/North Malibu.” One of the largest fires in Malibu history, which burned more than 16,516 acres (67 km2) from November 2 to November 11.
- The 1993 firestorm was composed of two separate fires, one ravaging most of central Malibu/Old Topanga, and another, larger fire affecting areas north of Encinal Canyon. Three lives were lost and 739 homes destroyed in the central Malibu/Old Topanga blaze. 18,949 acres (77 km2) were torched in the north Malibu fire, with no deaths and few homes destroyed in the less densely-populated region. Los Angeles County Fire Department officials announced suspicions that the fire was started by arson.The fire and widespread damage to properties and infrastructure resulted in the City of Malibu adopting the strictest fire codes in the country.
One of the most problematic side effects of the fires that periodically rage through Malibu is the destruction of vegetation, which normally provides some degree of topographical stability to the loosely packed shale and sandstone hills during periods of heavy precipitation. Rainstorms following large wildfires can thus cause mudslides, in which water-saturated earth and rock moves quickly down mountainsides, or entire slices of mountainside abruptly detach and fall downward.
After the 1993 wildfire stripped the surrounding mountains of their earth-hugging chaparral, torrential rainstorms in early 1994 caused a massive mudslide near Las Flores Canyon that closed down the Pacific Coast Highway for months. Thousands of tons of mud, rocks, and water rained down on the highway. The destruction to property and infrastructure was exacerbated by the road’s narrowness at that point, with beachside houses abutting the highway with little or no frontage land as a buffer to the mudslide. Another large mudslide occurred on Malibu Canyon Road, between the Pepperdine University campus and HRL Laboratories LLC, closing down Malibu Canyon for two months. Yet another behemoth slide occurred on Kanan-Dume Road, about one mile (1.6 km) up the canyon from the Pacific Coast Highway. This closure lasted many months, with Kanan finally fixed by the California Department of Transportation (Cal-Trans) over a year after the road collapsed.
Mudslides can occur at any time in Malibu, whether a recent fire or rainstorm has occurred or not. Pacific Coast Highway, Kanan-Dume Road, and Malibu Canyon road (as well as many other local roads) have all been prone to many subsequent mudslide-related closures. During any period of prolonged or intense rain, Caltrans snowplows patrol most canyon roads in the area, clearing mud, rocks, and other debris from the roads. Such efforts keep most roads passable, but it is nevertheless typical for one or more of the major roads leading into and out of Malibu to be temporarily closed during the rainy season.
Malibu is periodically subject to intense coastal storms. Occasionally, these unearth remnants of the Rindge railroad that was built through Malibu in the early 20th century.
On January 25, 2008, during an unusually large storm for Southern California, a tornado came ashore and struck a naval base’s hangar, ripping off the roof. It was the first tornado to strike Malibu’s shoreline in recorded history.
Malibu is within 50 miles (80 km) of the San Andreas Fault, a fault over 800 miles (1,300 km) long that can produce an earthquake over magnitude 8. Several faults are in the region, making the area prone to earthquakes.
The 1994 Northridge earthquake and the 1971 Sylmar earthquake (magnitudes 6.7 and 6.6, respectively) shook the area. Smaller earthquakes happen more often.
Arts and culture
Getty Villa, an art museum that is part of the J. Paul Getty Museum, is just outside the city limits in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles. It is owned and operated by the J. Paul Getty Trust, which also oversees the Getty Center in West Los Angeles. The Museum at the Getty Villa houses Getty’s collections of antiquities, sculptures, art pieces and cultural artifacts of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria.
Adamson House, the historic house and gardens of the 19th-century original owners of Malibu, the Rindge Family, is a state museum.
The Malibu Art Association, a nonprofit organization to foster the arts in Malibu, produces shows, demonstrations and workshops for its members, and offers art for public display throughout the community.
The Malibu Garden Club holds an annual garden tour of private, residential gardens.
Malibu High School offers musicals every spring and instrumental and vocal musical concerts every winter and spring.
Smothers Theatre of Pepperdine University’s Theatrical Drama Department offers concerts, plays, musicals, opera, and dance.
Parks and Recreation
California State Parkland in the hills behind Malibu provides extensive horseback-riding, hiking, running, and mountain-biking options, affording many different views of the Santa Monica Mountains, the curve of the Santa Monica Bay, Santa Catalina Island, and the San Fernando Valley. There are many points of access to the Backbone Trail System throughout the local canyons, as well as a variety of smaller, local trailheads.
Pacific Coast Highway is popular with road cycling enthusiasts for its vistas. The route also has a reputation for being quite dangerous for cyclists, which inspired the creation of the Dolphin Run, an annual community event commemorating local victims of reckless driving. The Dolphin Run was held each Autumn from 1990 to 2004.
In late June 2008, the Malibu Pier reopened after $10 million in renovations.
There are several shopping centers in the Malibu Civic Center area including the Malibu Country Mart. The Malibu Civic Center is known for being frequented by paparazzi and tourists looking to catch a glimpse of local celebrities.