Move over, celebrity homes and blissful beaches. These days, Malibu is angling to get wine drinkers and foodies into their parts of town. Just 40 minutes north of Los Angeles, it’s home to California’s newest and least-known wine region, already nabbing national awards and garnering the attention of wine critics with its exclusive pours. Even better, a wine weekend here is relatively affordable, meaning more budget to snap up some bottles that you won’t be able to find outside of the area — and to get a taste of the growing culinary scene.
1. Off-Radar Wineries & Tasting Rooms
It was only two summers ago that the Malibu Coast AVA (officially recognized American Viticultural Area) was born — meaning that the wine region is new to many wine enthusiasts who have been there and done that. Some of our favorites wine stops include Rosenthal Malibu Estate Wines, one of the country’s few tasting rooms that’s literally across the street from a beach. Try a flight of four at $13 or order by the glass or bottle to enjoy in the backyard, where live jazz plays and food trucks feed on weekends. Cornell Winery & Tasting Room offers pours from several Malibu wineries, including the highly rated Dolin Estate chardonnay, from $10 per glass.
If you only have time for one stop, let it be the tasting room of Malibu Family Wines. It’s by far the most diverse Malibu winery, in part because of the Saddlerock label that makes a range of wines — from a sparkling wine to a tawny Port — using Central Coast grapes. Here, opt for one of two flights ($12-$14) or an entire bottle ($29-$48) to enjoy al fresco on the lawn. Picnic foods are welcome, but you can always time your visit on a food truck night (the winery also hosts film and yoga-and-mimosa nights).
2. Exclusive Sips
Another reason to visit Malibu: You simply can’t find its wine outside of the L.A. region, unlike the Napa and Sonoma wines that are produced on a larger scale. You can pair the wines with food at several restaurants, including Shutters on the Beach (Santa Monica), Geoffrey’s (Malibu), Herringbone (Santa Monica), and The Malibu Beach Inn (Malibu). But, in some cases, the wines are only available at the tasting rooms.
3. Relative Affordability
Malibu sounds like an expensive destination, given its celeb residents, but spending a long weekend here can actually save you a few hundred dollars over staying in Los Angeles’ other star-studded beach neighborhood, Santa Monica. There, boutique properties by the beach — like the aforementioned Shutters at the Beach, Viceroy Santa Monica, and Casa del Mar — will set you back at least $400 per night. Even a November weekend at value chains like Travelodge and the Best Western, miles away from the shore, will cost $199 and $219 per night respectively.
Compare that to Malibu’s offerings: The most luxurious option, The Malibu Beach Inn, runs $348 per night in November and the first week of January. The former Surfrider Beach Club, which offered plenty of sub-$200 rates, is closed but will re-open in early 2015 as a boutique Surfrider Hotel that pledges also to be affordable. For the super-savers who just want a no-frills place to lay their heads, the 18-room M Motel touts $164 rates this fall, while the Malibu Riviera Motel starts from $167 in November.
4. A Growing Culinary Scene
As winemakers are working magic with their grapes, chefs are also looking to this coastal city to open new restaurants — introducing more options to a place that didn’t really have much to offer in previous years, outside of seafood shacks, latte stops, and a scant few establishments. For a great farm-to-fork experience, Malibu Farm opened a full-service restaurant adjacent to its counter-style café at the end of the Malibu Pier in the spring of 2014. It serves up plenty of fun dishes with fresh, local ingredients, like a cauliflower-crust “pizza” ($14), vegetable “paella” ($19), and salmon sandwich with red curry on brioche ($19).
Even newer to the scene is Tramonto, only open since this April. Lunch and dinner is largely Italian focused — think: calamari and arancini for starters; pappardelle bolognese ($15-$19), and tutto mare ($17) for entrees; and a fun gnocchi bar with eight different potato dumpling options ($16). We love that the restaurant also takes on a Malibu twist, with health-minded dishes like the organic mixed green salad the and Pollo Al Limone, a chicken dish featuring capers and lemon sauce ($19).
5. Beaches & Hiking Galore
We don’t need to mention twice that Malibu is all about its 21 miles of coastline. El Matador, Leo Carrillo, and La Piedra are just three tranquil state beaches that we’ve always had lots of love for. If you’re visiting the Rosenthal tasting room, it’s also a breeze to leave your car in its parking lot ($5) and head into Topanga State Park, which boasts tons of trails that introduce panoramic views of canyons and forests — perfect for hikers, mountain bikers, and even equestrians.