Malibu rolls out its welcome mat for kids

Malibu rolls out its welcome mat for kids
What the Casa Malibu motel lacks in luxury, it makes up for in convenience and comfort: Steps away is the beach, where umbrellas and towels await guests. (Axel Koester / For The Times)
Many parents with small children will tell you that a weekend "vacation" with the family can sometimes leave you longing for the relative relaxation of the workweek.

First there's the packing. With all the clothes, diapers, baby food and toys we pack, I need a team of Sherpas to help carry the load from the house to the car. When we do reach our destination, the activities for my 6-year-old must be action-packed, fun-filled and nonstop.

With these realities in mind, my family of four set out for Malibu — its beaches, its seaside restaurants and its surprises, including the historic Adamson House. Our time at the coast had plenty of relaxation and fun for parent and child, and it made me wish we could stay a little longer — OK, a lot longer — than just a few days.

We left our home in Long Beach one Friday last month with the hope of reaching our oceanfront motel as close to the 1 p.m. check-in as possible. With only 48 miles to travel, my wife, Leslie, and I could honestly reply "yes" to our son Riley's "Are we almost there?" questions.

Casa Malibu Inn on the Beach was perfect in many ways: It was right on the sand, dining and other activities were within stroller distance and the room had a kitchenette, which helped us cut down on meal expenses.

Casa Malibu, built in 1949, was the secret getaway spot for actress Lana Turner. Motel folklore has it that she checked in for a day and stayed for a year.

The motel's 21 rooms and suites range from $99 to $349 in summer and $90 to $299 in the off-season, which begins in October. Rooms in the upper range are beachfront with private decks. Fireplaces, Jacuzzis and kitchens are in some units. The furnishings aren't lavish, but they're clean and comfortable.

Rooms that don't open up to the beach generally have views of the brick courtyard, which overlooks the ocean and is nicely landscaped with hibiscus, copa de oro and bougainvillea.

The beach, of course, is the focal point. Each morning the staff rakes the sand. Beach towels, umbrellas and chairs are provided for guests. Complimentary continental breakfasts feature pastries from Granita, a local Wolfgang Puck restaurant.

Leslie and I had spent a weekend in a beachfront room here two years ago and enjoyed ourselves. This time we brought Riley and our 11-month-old, Casey. Our room ($159 plus tax per night) was in the courtyard area. It's dubbed "the family room," probably because of the kitchen and the fact that it's far enough away that other guests can't hear the midnight wailings of babies. The room also had a video player, a plus for our two boys.

After we checked into our room, Riley — with his new Boogie Board in hand — and I headed straight to the beach. The stretch of sand in front of the motel is exclusively for the guests of Casa Malibu.

Leslie and Casey soon joined us. It was an eventful afternoon: Riley learned how to ride waves and how to wipeout. Casey learned that a mouthful of sand is not particularly tasty.

For the more adventuresome, sea kayaking, surfing and windsurfing equipment can be rented across the street. Also, Malibu Creek and the Santa Monica Mountains are nearby for those who want to stretch their legs (see Hiking, L11). For us, just taking the kids to the beach was enough of a workout.

We made our own lunch in the room that first day. For dinner, we drove up the coast to Malibu Seafood, a local fish stand that serves savory but somewhat pricey dishes that you can eat on a patio along Pacific Coast Highway. After dinner we continued north, checking out the coastline as the sun was setting.

Back at the motel, both boys were tired from all the frolicking on the beach and went to sleep quickly. Leslie plugged in the baby monitor, and we slipped outside and sat in the courtyard, sipping a glass of wine, watching the waves crash just a few yards away and listening to our sons sleeping.

The next morning we walked next door to PierView Café and Cantina, a casual oceanfront restaurant with sawdust on the floor, surfboards on the walls and a menu of typical breakfast fare. The over-21 crowd lines up along the outdoor railing throughout the day, drinking beers and soaking up the sun.

From there, we walked to the Adamson House for a tour of this historical landmark, which overlooks Surfrider Beach by the Malibu Pier and Malibu Lagoon.

The Spanish Colonial Revival house was designed by Stiles O. Clements, whose work in Los Angeles included the Mayan and El Capitan theaters.

The house was built in 1929 for Rhoda Rindge Adamson and her husband, Merritt Huntley Adamson. They were daughter and son-in-law of Frederick Hastings Rindge and May Knight Rindge, last owners of the Malibu land grant, one of 59 that Spain and, later, an independent Mexico, issued in Los Angeles County to early settlers.

The tour of the property is well worth the price ($3 for adults; children 17 and younger are free). Our docent, Beverly Gosnell, was particularly knowledgeable about the grounds and tolerant of Riley's probing questions about the Adamsons: Did they have any dogs? (Yes.) How many? (Twelve.) What were their names? (She didn't know.) Where did they sleep? (Mostly outside.)

Aside from the stunning view and landscaping, the main attraction of the house is the exquisite tiling throughout the property. Nearly every room contains artistic tile work produced by Malibu Potteries, which the family owned.

After our tour, we went back to the motel, made lunch and hung out at the beach for the rest of the day, playing in the water, building sandcastles and relaxing in the sun.

For dinner that evening, we walked across the street from the motel to Allegria, an Italian restaurant recommended by the motel's owners. It was the best meal of our trip: spinach gnocchi, seafood gnocchi and a kid's plate of spaghetti.

On our final day, we sampled the breakfast pastries as we packed our bags. We checked out and drove up the coast a few miles to Paradise Cove, a private beach, where I used to go with my parents when I was a kid. It costs $20 to park there on the weekend, but the first three hours are free if you eat at the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe, which we did.

The restaurant was extremely crowded and the seared ahi and crab-cake sandwiches not quite worth the wait. But the beach was clean and lined with families enjoying the surf and the nearby tide pools. By the time we left for home, we could understand why cars were lined up by the lot, waiting to get in.


Budget for four

Expenses for this trip:

Casa Malibu

Two nights, with tax $356.16


Malibu Seafood $45.66


PierView Cafe $33.50


Adamson House $6.00


Allegria $91.45


Paradise Cove Beach Cafe $42.78

Groceries $30.00

Gas $8.77

Final tab $614.32


Casa Malibu Inn on the Beach, 22752 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265; (310) 456-2219, fax (310) 456-5418.

Adamson House, 23200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265; (310) 456-8432,