I call discovering El Matador State Beach our “happy mishap.”
Our adventure started out as a trip to the tide pools at Leo Carillo State Park. But when we arrived, we learned that it was high tide and the tide pools were actually under water. (Note to self: Always check the tide tables before heading off to the beach with little ones!) In a desperate attempt not to squander away such a beautiful winter day, we decided to check out one of the beaches we’d seen a sign for just before reaching Leo Carillo: El Matador State Beach.
And what a surprise we were in for.
El Matador is one of three “pocket” beaches that make up the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach area (the other two being El Pescador and La Piedra, both a little farther north). It’s located about 10 miles beyond Malibu along Pacific Coast Highway.
This beach is far and away one of the most beautiful in Malibu and features a cave and large rocks. Once you’ve seen it you’ll understand why it’s a favorite with photographers and beachgoers alike.
My advice? Go during the winter when it is truly a hidden gem that the summer beachgoers seem to have forgotten about.
WHY IT’S GREAT FOR NATURE LOVERS
This beach offers a great blend of water, bird and plant life. As you make your way down to the beach from the parking lot, you’ll see tons of beautiful flowers lining the trail – even cacti!
Perched on one of the large rock formations in the water was one very content California brown pelican (who stuck around for our entire visit):
On another rock formation we saw more birds (which I now know were double-crested cormorants), plus the ever popular shore birds we all know and love, California gulls and sandpipers.
The only downer of our visit to El Matador was the fact that we came during high tide, which meant the beach was inaccessible. Yet we still spent 2 hours there! Perched from our picnic spot along the trail, we salivated at all the possibilities for exploring – from digging in the sand to dipping our toes in the water and especially investigating the sea cave.
The kids were content to dig in the dirt on the trail, blow (and chase) some bubbles we’d brought with us, search for lizards and check out the breathtaking views. We will most definitely be back here again.
- Open daily 8 a.m. to sunset
- Self-pay parking for the day is $8; limited free parking is available on Pacific Coast Highway
- Portable restrooms (read: smelly port-a-potties) are located at the trailhead
- No food is available on site, but you can bring your own; a few picnic tables are located adjacent to the parking lot
- A short, steep trail leads to a set of stairs that take you down to the beach, making it inaccessible to strollers and wheelchairs
- No pets allowed
WHAT WE LIKED
- Intimate beach with no crowds
- Incredible views
- Perfect spot to enjoy a picnic
- Plenty of nature play opportunities abound on the beach, including the chance to explore a sea cave
- The area around the trail head is beautiful, too — we even discovered a “secret” path winding through flowers and shrubs, which was perfect for a game of follow the leader
GOOD TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Signs and parking turnout might be hard to spot, so keep your eyes peeled once you pass Zuma (if you reach Leo Carillo, you’ve gone too far)
- The steep path down to the beach is not for the faint of heart and requires serious caution with the little ones – there are no railings to prevent a fall
- If you go during high tide (which we did!), the beach will be completely inaccessible
- Can get crowded during summer weekends but is virtually empty during the off season
- I’ve read that there are sunbathers here during warmer weather, but we certainly didn’t encounter any in January
MY TIPS FOR A GREAT VISIT
- Check the tides before you go to make sure the beach will be accessible
- Leave the flip flops at home and wear tennis shoes instead – you and the kids will need them for the trek to and from the beach
- Bring a picnic & a few favorite beach toys like a pail and shovel, but keep it light — it’ll make your return trip up the steep trail a little easier
- It goes without saying that this is one place where it’s vital to keep an eye on the little ones at all times
- Don’t forget your camera!
El Matador State Beach is located at:
32215 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265
Directions to El Matador State Beach
Next week’s review: Temescal Gateway Park in Pacific Palisades, CA