Spread across 21 miles of dazzling shoreline and the rugged Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu’s natural beauty attracts travelers from every part of the globe. It’s not just about the ‘Bu’s well-loved white beaches, coastal ridges, and tidal lagoons; there are a few lesser-known gems that also await exploration — if you know where to find them.

From impeccable stretches of sand to elevated landmarks, here are four secret spots just a short drive from Malibu Beach Inn. 

Tucked between the seaside bluffs separating Zuma and Point Dume is Pirate’s Cove, an isolated inlet that’s treasured for its calming scenery and natural seclusion.

Although the only recorded pirate activity in California’s history occurred 300 miles north of Malibu in Monterey in 1818, this sequestered bay feels like the type of storybook hideaway where buccaneers may have once roamed. Devoid of crowds and million-dollar homes, Pirate Cove’s sheltered strip was formerly a nude beach, but now offers a family-friendly pocket of bliss that’s primed for lounging, swimming, or catching a stunning Pacific sunset.

Movie buffs may also be pleased to discover that the captivating beach once served as a backdrop for the concluding scene of the original Planet of the Apes movie, where Charleton Heston delivers his iconic line before a dystopian Statue of Liberty, buried in sand up to her armpits.

Those seeking Pirate’s Cove can access it in a few ways, each requiring a bit of rock scrambling.

From the Point Dume side, park in the beach lot (which costs only $3 after 4pm) and head down to the sand to assess the tide. If it’s low, follow the stone wall hugging the boulder-dotted coast until you emerge into the cove. If the surf is high, traverse the meandering rocky path up the side of the bluff until the beach appears below on Point Dume’s western side (follow the stairs down from there until you reach the sand).

To get there from Zuma, which provides the smoothest entry, park in the lot and follow the coastline south, navigating an easy rock field on the way.

The sand seems to end abruptly at the southern tip of Big Dume Beach, but just around the bend of the jutting point waits a little slice of paradise.

Because entry to the public portion of Little Dume Beach is impeded by the fluctuating tide of Santa Monica Bay, those who are able to find the pristine stretch won’t run into many others (with the exception of a few surfers, perhaps). During low tide, round the rocky corner (and get your feet wet) to be rewarded with an exclusive shoreline that ranks among the most picturesque beaches in LA County. And pet owners can feel free to bring their pups: Little Dume also includes a section that allows dogs.

After you’ve had your fill of sand and sun, head south to Paradise Cove Beach for cocktails and seafood at its popular coastal café, or head back to Carbon Beach Club to take in the sunset with an Aperitivo Platter and a glass from the world-class wine list.

The Malibu area is threaded with miles upon miles of Southern California’s finest trails, but there’s one in particular that remains relatively obscure to the masses while offering breathtaking inland views of the surrounding landscape.

Clocking in at two miles roundtrip and featuring just 160 feet of elevation gain, the Topanga Lookout Trail hike is suitable for all ages and abilities. As its name suggests, the trail culminates in a mountainous lookout over Red Rock Canyon Park that provides sweeping panoramas of the Santa Monica and Santa Susana mountain ranges, as well as the city of Calabasas.

To find the trailhead from Malibu Beach Inn, travel eastward down the PCH until you reach Las Flores Canyon. Turn left to drive up the canyon’s winding road, and when it forks, hang a right onto Rambla Pacifico Street. After half-a-mile, take another right onto Schueren Road and stay on it for an additional two miles until the Backbone Trail/Saddle Peak junction appears ahead.

Park and enter the gated trailhead before heading up the paved road called Topanga Tower Motorway. When you reach the crossroad, take the dirt path left and follow it along the ridge until you reach a large, graffiti-covered platform (the former foundation of a fire tower). Step out onto the cement lookout to soak in a spectacular vantage that, on clear days, stretches as far as the eye can see.

Despite its close proximity to the popular Broad Beach, Lechuza Beach is separated by Trancas Point into a tranquil stretch of its own. Though it’s accessed from the same road as Broad Beach, Lechuza has retained its hidden gem status because its public entrance is relatively hard to find.

At the intersection of Broad Beach Road and Bunnie Lane, park and search for the small gated walkway along the coastal side of the street, which bears a brown sign confirming “Lechuza Beach Access.” (There may also be a sign implying that visitors need permission to pass, but this is just an attempt by locals to maintain the beach’s secrecy, so it can be ignored.)

From there, head down the wooden staircase through the lush tunnel path to reach the shore. Because it’s a little rocky, Lechuza is more suited for private relaxation rather than swimming and surfing, but for those seeking a few hours of peaceful lounging near the sea, it’s the perfect escape. Naturally protected from nearly every angle, Lechuza is one of Malibu’s few beaches that remains sheltered from crowds and wind alike.

Featured Photo: tmastro via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY