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Quiet Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu, Southern California
Flickr/Mark Muller

Southern California has no shortage of umbrella-studded white sand beaches and bustling boardwalks. But if you’re looking for something a little more rugged and secluded, these beaches strung along Pacific Coast Highway make great picnic spots — and you could argue that the oceanside drive along the California Highway 1 is worth the trip alone. Here, three beaches near Malibu will that give the more popular Venice and Santa Monica hotspots a run for their money:

El Matador State Beach
Perhaps the most picturesque of the three sites and easily accessible by staircase — read: no tricky trails involved — El Matador is nestled against light stone bluffs, and its grottos and jutting boulders make it feel more Oregon than O.C., especially on a foggy Malibu morning. But when the sun comes out later in the afternoon, it’s a great spot for an al fresco meal or snack. Just pick any of the tables by the parking lot right off the highway (where portable restrooms are available, too). For those who don’t want to pay for parking, you can look for a roadside spot.


Leo Carrillo State Beach
Caves and tide pools abound here, offering chances to spot starfish, sea anemones, and crabs, if you’re lucky. Probably the most family-friendly of all the beaches, it’s perfect for an all-day outing with the grandchildren. There’s an adjoining campground and an on-leash dog beach, to boot. Parking is $15 for non-pass holders — and get here early, as the lot tends to fill up quickly. Amenities include restrooms, showers, and a basic convenience store.


La Piedra State Beach
This intimate beach offers a flat stretch of sand that’s perfect for a sunset walk. On weekdays and off-hours, this can feel like a lovely private beach (so private, in fact, that nude sunbathers occasionally frequent the spot). The somewhat steep trail from the parking lot to the beach can be a bit tricky to navigate for older visitors, but the coastline below is worth it. Portable restrooms and picnic tables are located by the pay parking lot, and parking along Pacific Coast Highway is an option as well.

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