Malibu is known for it’s beautiful surfers and for the mansions with expansive views that appear to sit upon the ocean. But the lesser known fact is that it has it’s own designated wine and grape-growing region (AVA). The rich and famous may live here, but if you make the effort to carve out some adventures it is much more than the most expensive beach in reality – it’s a community that welcomes visitors with a hello and a smile.
In preparation for our ocean-to-mountains adventure on this stunning cloudless Los Angeles day, we first make a stop in Santa Monica for breakfast at Milo + Olive. A local favorite on busy Wilshire Boulevard, the parking is a breeze. Sitting at the kitchen bar is where all the action is. You can see the chefs making pasta for the lunch crowd - most customers are glued to watching these masters instead of their iPhones. We devour an amazing farro dish with kale, radish and feta cheese topped with a poached egg. With a belly full of Californian goodness, we head off in the direction of the Pacific Coast Highway - PCH.
Most tourists head to the Santa Pier - which stretches over quarter of a mile - at some stage in their visit to Los Angeles. The view from the end of the pier provides a visual map of how we are going to approach today’s trip - out towards the tip of the peninsula where Malibu is located with the twinkling reflecting light on the Pacific Ocean and hills behind clearly showing the years of drought. Travelling along the PCH with the moon-roof open the sea air whips into the car making us turn our heads to watch the surfers getting into their wetsuits ready for a day of adventure on the waves. Our first stop is Rosenthal for a wine tasting from the Malibu AVA (American Viticultural Area). Pulling off the highway there is a giant yellow lifesavers deck chair next to their vineyard doors – a nice beachy touch. I considered climbing up to sit and pose for a great pic, but the bus load of tourists confirmed it would be like waiting for a ride at Disneyland. Walking into the tasting room we are greeted by a large group of people from behind and in front of the counter – happy smiles and a glass in hand. The tasting list delivers on a range of wines – from Viognier to Merlot all estate grown, in the vineyard that is just a few miles up the road. The staff are knowledgeable about the wine and the history of the estate – including the New Zealand tasting room manager.
With lunchtime upon us we said farewell to our new-found friends and the suggestion is made that we head back soon for some live music which starts in the afternoon. Pulling into the carpark at Duke’s Malibu, it's clear this is a locals spot – even with the attraction of the well known locale from it's Waikiki tourist beachfront situation. I have high expectations from visiting those other locations – and these are well met. The bar is the scene here – right on the ocean front with waves lapping at the windows and patio – with the occasional seal lion waving hello from the rocks or the dolphins showing off in front of the huge windows looking out to sea. The must-do dish here is the fish tacos, no matter the time of the day. The view is amazing here – it makes you wish it was your million dollar idea that landed you on the sand in a vacation home that is only used 4th of July weekend. A few hours and a few Mai Tai’s later, served in the traditional tiki glasses, it’s time to get the hybrid car from the valet (the only option for parking – but reasonable $4). Heading back North on the Pacifica Coast Highway, we head up towards the Santa Monica Mountains on Malibu Canyon Road. Driving through this rural landscape, who would think we are 35 minutes from Hollywood and the big high rises of Downtown. It’s all grapevines and horses up this way.
With the help of Google maps and Siri, we are pointed in the direction of the Cornell Tasting Room, once a producing winery in these parts – now a tasting room for a variety of Californian wines. Arriving at the tasting room is a step back in time – rustic charm. We head in and out of the sun to find on this rare occasion that we are the only people there and have the opportunity to try a range of local (within 5 miles) and the larger scale California vintages and hear the history of the area. The selection is vast to say the least – not what we expected. Some very rare vintages and grape varieties from a range of vineyards that are both large to small producers. The unspoken charm about Cornell was the random visit by a local wine maker coming to drop off wine while we sit there asking questions about the wine. The obvious response was “hey, ask the wine maker he just dropped of a few bottles now”. Everything in Malibu is local – including the advice. A suggestion was made that we head around the corner to another tasting room, Sip Malibu Grapes, that features local vintages from vineyards that do not have a tasting room for the public – including Malibu Rocky Oaks (which, if you are a movie buff of the Hangover series, you would recognize as Chang’s house from the high on a clifftop helicopter scenes). Sip is super-casual with a hip rural Malibu feel – right down to the Barbie display shelf. A flight of red and a flight of white leaves us with the distinct feeling that the Malibu AVA has been an underestimated area for some time. Consistency in the flavors of the wines and the undeniable fact that they are produced right here – makes them truly amazing estate wines. I can understand that some vineyards in the area don’t have the capital to open tasting rooms currently – but with their new-found fame of having an AVA to themselves I am sure that will change soon. Jumping into the car we head to our next destination - Malibu Wines which is the largest tasting room in Malibu. Well, can’t say it is a tasting room, more an outdoor area with green grass (what drought?) and tables. According to the security (yes this is Los Angeles and celebrities could arrive anytime) we have hit the jackpot of afternoons to visit – live music and food trucks. After a quick bag check we head to a booth for a wine tasting – which results in a bottle of Viognier being purchased. We find a spot and try the food trucks (even though we have dinner plans). The live music is great and gets the crowd going. Hitting the dance floor, we boogie to some 80’s sounds played by a local band that they get in most Friday’s. Still, it feels like we are in Napa Valley. With the soothing bird sounds and Lady Gaga’s house just a mile away – we are in fact just over the hill from Beverly Hills. It’s hard to believe. It’s getting late in the afternoon and we need to head back to the beach to complete our day out. Turning back onto Kanan Dume Road we pass numerous horse ranches and winding roads with amazing views to the ocean. Back on the Pacific Coast Highway we arrive at Nobu just before the sunset makes it’s descent into the ocean. Ocean breeze and a cocktail in hand, we grab a table on the deck. The beach below is empty, apart from the occasional bird looking for a bite. Nobu makes a highlight of serving exotic species of fish artfully accented with equally exotic South American peppers, tender Kobe beef, and a broth perfumed with matsutake mushrooms. Order the bento box chocolate soufflé and enjoy the ocean view from every seat in the house.