The Surfrider Malibu
Last summer, our weeklong road trip from D.C. to California ended with a a long-awaited glimpse of the Pacific as we wound our way through the Malibu hills and pulled onto Pacific Coast Highway, making our way to the last Airbnb of the trip. The coastal breeze and sight of salt water across the horizon were more than welcome after a long day of driving from Zion National Park, around Las Vegas, and through the Mojave Desert in 110 degree heat. As an east coast girl who grew up hours away from the nearest beach, I was still processing the fact that my commute to work would allow me to stare out at the ocean each day and, for the first time, I was grateful for the unexpected change of station that the Air Force thrust upon us. Spent from the trip, we didn’t explore much of Malibu beyond our Airbnb and didn’t make it back to stay again until a few weeks ago, when we seized an opportunity for a pit stop at The Surfrider Hotel on the way to Catalina Island.
If you haven’t already, you’ll probably notice a theme in our lodging choices. I love nothing more than exploring a remodeled property, picturing what it used to look like, contemplating the design choices, the use of space, the textures, the lighting, and the overall aesthetic, especially when there is a clear vision that was well executed. We’re also intentional with purchasing decisions and with what our money supports, ascribing to the “dollar voting” concept which contends that every dollar you spend is a “vote” for what you believe in and for the type of world you want to live in. So, if you’re doing something creative, fixing up a rundown property, emphasizing sustainability, and supporting local artists and craftsmen in the process, I’m definitely there for that. Hello, Surfrider!
The Surfrider is a boutique hotel located along PCH, directly across the street from the Malibu Pier and Surfrider Beach, the first World Surfing Reserve, a conservation effort that protects the world’s best wave breaks and the surrounding environments by helping communities manage their natural resources. Fittingly, you can rent a wetsuit and borrow a custom board shaped locally to complement the long, right-hand break that creates the “original perfect wave.” There’s a convenient outdoor shower and you can coordinate surfing lessons (the 1968 Land Rover pictured is still used for surfing safaris), day hikes, and picnics to add to the experience. Kind locals might tell you to head to Staircase or Latigo if you’re trying to avoid the LA weekenders flocking to Surfrider in the summer and others might prefer that you stay at Surfrider and let them enjoy the comparative solitude. Either way, watch where you park to avoid a costly ticket.
Quintessential California by design, the neutral color palette with accents of sage and indigo intentionally reflects the natural surroundings where the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu Creek infamously meet the sea. Warm white tones and reclaimed teak floors evoke the authentic beach house feel that was the heart of the design concept. Unpretentious and timeless, The Surfrider is an honest reflection of the California coastal community that it has been a part of for 70 years. Local artwork hangs on the walls, the minibar is stocked with local goodies, and the selection of linens, textiles, and products for sale represent a true “best of” world travels collection because the owners were unbound by the purchasing parameters of a chain hotel.
The Surfrider has 20 rooms (18 rooms and 2 suites), a 2nd floor library, and a gorgeous rooftop bar and restaurant that is only open to hotel guests (Each hotel guest can bring up to 3 people with them - the original building wasn’t zoned for a public restaurant and this is the closest they can get without violations.) The front-facing rooms feature ocean view balconies and hammocks so you can lazily watch the surfers and bustling pier. We stayed in an upstairs ocean view room (love me some vaulted ceilings), but if the Pacific Room had been open, that would have been my choice because it has the best view of First Point, the wave that inspired the movie The Endless Summer.
Head up to the Roof Deck at sunset for a cocktail by the fire pit (try the Apres Surf and know you’re in good hands because the lead bartender owned a Mezcal bar in Mexico and is argued to make the coast’s best margaritas.) No shoes are required and the low-key music (sometimes live) plus the sound of the surf should be all you need to decompress. The self-described restaurant concept is “anti-hotel food” and the menu is scaled-back classic California, locally sourced farm (and sea) to table. The beverage menu boasts a curated assortment of small scale natural and organic vineyards and distilleries, Ayurvedic tea houses, and local coffee roasteries. Rumor has it that Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young have watched the sunset from the Roof Deck. We also ordered breakfast room service, which was delicious and appreciated the fact that you can text food orders to the restaurant and have them delivered to you at the beach.
The staff are all locals, which is incredibly helpful in terms of getting quality travel advice and they’re also really great humans. The morning we were leaving, my SUV played a fun game called, “figure out what it means if I won’t start and every single emergency light comes on at the same time” (It means the battery is dead.) and while we called AAA, several people checked on us, brought us coffee and water, and offered assistance.
Originally built in the 1953, The Surfrider hadn’t seen a significant update until 2016 when renovations began on the former Malibu Shores Motel. When the doors reopened in late 2017, the 20 original rooms remained (2 now converted into suites), each with a higher ceiling, reclaimed teak floors, whitewashed walls, custom furniture, earthy textures, and an oceanview balcony where the motel walkway once existed. Attic space above the manager’s office was repurposed as an inviting library and seating area for guests. A rooftop restaurant and bar were added, serving only the hotel guests so as not to violate the original zoning which didn’t permit an actual restaurant. It didn’t take long for the popularity to skyrocket and the property has since won a few well-deserved TripAdvisor awards and been featured in Conde Nast and Vogue.
My only tip: book in advance! If you know you’re road-tripping, this likely wouldn’t be a place you could get by with a last-minute reservation, so some sacrifice of spontaneity might be required. With only 20 rooms and growing notoriety, it can be difficult to snag a reservation, especially during the summer months. They also rent the entire property out for special events, so blocks of time are devoted to these as well. Budget-minded travelers might consider staying in shoulder seasons where the room rates are more affordable but the views and experience are equally enjoyable. We stayed on a weeknight in March, which worked out really well for those reasons.