Set between the ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains, a drive along 20-plus miles of Pacific Coast Highway affords views of one of the most beautiful coastlines in all of Southern California. Look closer and you will find 36 singular beaches brimming with white sands, tidepools, and sought-after surf breaks, each with their own personality and charm.

With so many amazing shorelines in one destination, the hardest part of your beach day may be choosing your beach. Here are our top recommendations to suit your interests – from family-friendly to Hollywood iconic – all just a quick walk or drive from Malibu Beach Inn.

Family Beach Day: Zuma Beach

Family beach day at Zuma Beach, Malibu.

Surrounded by California hills, Zuma Beach is one of the most family-friendly shorelines in Malibu. While its gentler waves and 12 lifeguard towers provide a safe setting for amateurs to try their hand at body surfing or body boarding, the beach’s broad sweep of soft sand is ideal for sunbathing or searching for Pacific bottlenose dolphins and seals playing just beyond the surf.

Because it offers an array of amenities like bathrooms, outdoor showers, food stands, volleyball nets, and plenty of parking ($15 for a day in the lot or free along the PCH), Zuma is considered a top choice for spending a day by the sea with loved ones.

The Perfect Wave: Surfrider Beach

Surfer at Surfrider Beach in Malibu, California

After exploring the 123-year-old Malibu Pier (open daily from 6:30 am to sunset), bring a board along to ride California’s most quintessential waves. Right across the street from Malibu Beach Inn, Surfrider is the birthplace of the Golden State’s surfing scene — and for good reason. Attracting wave chasers from all over the world, the area’s consistent swell and long breaks are cherished by surfers of all abilities from novice to pro.

Visitors don’t have to be surfers to appreciate this iconic beach though. As a focal point for the sport since the 1950s, the surf culture abounds in local fashion, music, art, and dialect.

Instagram Moments: El Matador State Beach

Sunset at El Matador State Beach, Malibu.

Complete with craggy, sea-carved rock formations, an abundance of caves, and sunsets that make the sand glow with golden light, almost every angle of El Matador provides ample opportunity to add to an Instagrammer’s collection of photography.

With no shortage of dramatic scenery and picturesque lighting, amateur and professional photographers alike flock to the beach’s geological arches to get that perfectly framed shot as the waves roll in across their bare feet.

Discerning Tastes: Carbon Beach

Malibu Pier in the background of Carbon Beach in Malibu, California

To check out some of the region’s most expensive and architecturally impressive homes, step right out of Malibu Beach Inn and onto the sandy crescent of Carbon Beach, otherwise known as “Billionaire’s Beach.” The epitome of waterfront luxury, the 70 properties on this exclusive strip are owned by Hollywood’s elite as well as various moguls of business and law.

Even during high tide, Carbon Beach provides a wide expanse of sand suitable for various recreational pursuits or relaxing under the sun within view of the waves.

Kayak Exploration: Escondido Beach

Those yearning to engage in a little coastal reconnaissance (in addition to a good workout) will want to discover the sweeping shore of Escondido Beach, just east of Point Dume, whose sands provide an ideal ramp to launch a kayak or paddleboard into the Pacific. From here, ply up the coast to explore Little Dume Beach or Paradise Cove (stop for lunch at Bob Morris’s Paradise Cove Beach Cafe).

Marine Life: Leo Carrillo State Park

Exploring Leo Carrillo State Park, Malibu.Just off the PCH, and hemming a grove of giant sycamore trees below the Santa Monica Mountains, lies the 1.5-mile stretch of Leo Carrillo defined by coastal caves, towering bluffs, and a sprawling reef just off the shore. While the waters here are ideal for swimming, surfing, windsurfing, and paddleboarding, the shore itself affords prime beach-combing and an up-close glimpse of regional marine life. As the tide recedes from the pocked landscape, it leaves behind a scattering of small pools filled with temporarily displaced critters like anemones, fish, sea slugs, and crabs.

Not only is Leo Carrillo a spectacular, protected state park – named after its late celebrity advocate and preservationist – its north side is also one of the only dog-friendly beaches in the LA-area. (Just make sure your pup watches his step on the rocks.)

Movie Nostalgia: Point Dume State Beach

A sunset at Point Dume in Malibu, California

While Point Dume’s arresting seaside cliffs are among the best places in Southern California to view a coastal sunset, movie buffs should descend the staircase to visit the beach below — which has been used as a filming location for many iconic American movies, including The Big Lebowski, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Pearl Harbor, Iron Man, and the original Planet of the Apes.

Upon first stepping onto the sand, it’s easy to see why directors choose this coastal front for their cinematic endeavors. Not far from Hollywood and nicknamed the “Malibu Riviera,” its climactic cliffs and panoramic ocean vistas set a striking scene for many types of storytelling.

A Quiet Escape: Lechuza Beach

For a little tranquility, head off the beaten path (and bring a picnic) to Lechuza Beach. Relatively hard to find compared to other Malibu mainstays, this secluded yet public beach affords perhaps the greatest opportunity to enjoy the ‘Bu’s beauty in relative privacy.

The massive rock formations jutting from the sands of Lechuza may not be conducive to watersports, but the beach’s protected location makes for gentle waves which are ideal for swimming or standing waist-deep in the ocean while basking in the sweeping beauty of the Pacific.