Malibu’s hidden history is lying in plain sight. Here’s how to find it

Bikers park in front of Neptune's Net in Malibu.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Malibu has long been associated with cars full of beachgoers and staggering cliffside mansions — but there’s much more to these “21 miles of scenic beauty.” Look a bit deeper, and you’ll find a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the Southern California of yesteryear.

Winter is a great time to hit Pacific Coast Highway, before the summer crowds arrive.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Up and down the coast, often hidden in plain view, are landmarks that tell the history of Malibu. The route to visit them involves some driving, but turn on your favorite surf-rock playlist and enjoy the ride. After all, cruising Pacific Coast Highway with the windows down is an experience almost as timeless as Malibu itself.


1 p.m. Just after passing Surfrider Beach on your way north, begin your historical tour of Malibu at the Adamson House at 23200 Pacific Coast Highway. In 1929, construction of the Spanish Colonial Revival home began, and now the Adamson House serves as a California Historical Landmark, California State Park and National Historic Site.

The Adamson House in Malibu
The Adamson House in Malibu is known for its tilework. But remarkable touches are everywhere. Here, concrete is painted to look like stenciled wood on the ceiling in the dining room.
(Christina House / For The Times)

Guided tours include a look at the decorative tiles that adorn the home. Visitors shouldn’t miss a spin around the Malibu Lagoon Museum, located in what was once the house’s five-car garage. On your way out, pause for a moment to take in the postcard-perfect views of Malibu Pier, with surfers jockeying for waves just steps from the house. It doesn’t get more Southern California than this.

2:30 p.m. Continue up PCH for 3.6 miles and hang a right on Corral Canyon Road. From there, look for a sign for Solstice Canyon on your left, located at the intersection of Corral Canyon Road and Solstice Canyon Road. After finding a spot in the park’s lot, follow signs for the lush TRW loop trail until you hit the creek — then cross the bridge and begin walking north along Solstice Canyon Road.

The Keller House in Solstice Canyon
Lorina Haro, 35, and her son Sebastian Serrano, 13, along with daughters Charlize Serrano, 9, and Kayla Serrano, 17, of San Fernando Valley visit the Keller House while hiking Solstice Canyon.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Less than a half-mile up the road, you’ll pass the ruins of the Keller House to the right. Constructed more than a century ago, the Keller House was once a wood cabin that burned in 1903 and was later rebuilt as a stone hunting lodge. In a testament to the power of fire in Malibu’s canyons, the house was again damaged by fire in 2007. Up the road another half-mile or so is “Tropical Terrace,” the remains of the Roberts Ranch House. The house was designed in 1952 by Paul Revere Williams, the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects. But in 1982, fire destroyed this home as well. Today, the ruins remain as yet another reminder of the ways in which fire has molded Malibu throughout history.

 Walking in Solstice Canyon
Hikers and their dog enjoy an afternoon walking Solstice Canyon.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

But hiking in Solstice Canyon isn’t all doom and destruction. Don’t miss the Solstice waterfall, tucked up next to the Roberts Ranch House, and keep your eyes peeled for red-tailed hawks and acorn woodpeckers on your way back to your car. Despite the canyon’s long history of fires, life goes on.

4 p.m. Drive 20 minutes north to our final slice of Malibu history: the time-tested Neptune’s Net at 42505 Pacific Coast Highway. Opened in 1956 by a NASA astronaut, the seaside favorite continues to welcome all sorts — damp-haired surfers, bikers clad in leather, celebrities and everyone in between. Visitors can choose between ordering from the “restaurant side,” with its menu of fried fish, clams, scallops and more, and the “seafood side,” with offerings like ceviche, lobster and crab legs.

The Neptune's Net sampler
The Neptune’s Net Sampler, featuring deep-fried large shrimp, white fish, scallops, clam strips, calamari, a grilled crab cake and french fries.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Don’t sweat if there’s a line. Just grab a drink from the restaurant’s impressively stocked fridge — I opted for Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company’s Hoppy Poppy IPA— and find yourself a table to watch the sunset after ordering from the counter. If it’s your first time at Neptune’s Net and you consider fried foods your guilty pleasure, get a little something of everything with the Neptune’s Net Sampler, which includes a variety of deep-fried seafood served on a bed of french fries. If you’re feeling particularly indulgent, order a pint of the New England clam chowder to share as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. As the surfers trudging across PCH to Neptune’s Net after a day spent in the waves can probably attest, there’s nothing quite like a warm meal with a cool sea breeze to end an afternoon in Malibu.

A Malibu sunset never gets old.
(Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)