Yes, Malibu has a reputation for being economically extra. But here's what most people don't realize: Beyond the displays of wealth—from billion-dollar beachfront homes to YouTube's targeted ads for spendy rehabs and private-gate installations—is a rustic chaparral and chill country life in the canyons. The beaches are so close, the hiking can start from your backyard and the stars and moon seem so much brighter out here. (Plus, there are world-class amenities like Mr. Chow and Nobu for when you're feeling fancy.) If you look, you can find a place to rent for not much more than what you'd pay in Los Angeles—a surprising discovery that brought me here three years ago.
Of course, living in the sticks means no late-night bar runs. And forget popping into the corner store for toilet paper—Malibu's switchback-loaded canyon roads and 27 miles of scenic beachfront mean the closest provisions may be a 15-minute (or more) drive away. Another bummer: The population lacks diversity. What's more, overhearing a legendary 55-year old musician talk about Tinder with two very young models outside Sunlife Organics or witnessing confused actors try to navigate the market without their assistants can be nauseating or funny, depending on the day. But for those who can hack small-town life and are charged by nature, Malibu is as gorgeous as it gets.
A Local's Guide to Malibu
Describe the neighborhood in three words: Polished seaside gem.
Median rents (one bedroom, two bedroom): $3,049 / $5,600, according to Trulia.
Median house price: $2,500,600, according to Zillow.
Walkability score: 13/100, according to WalkScore. Yup, you're really gonna need a car.
Average commute/traffic report: 96% commute by car, according to Trulia.
Best local bookstore: Malibu Public Library.
Best place to get coffee: Le Cafe de la Plage Malibu in Point Dume Village.
Best bar for when you want to be around people: The bar and patio at Nobu Malibu is always a scene.
Best bar for when you want to be alone: Carbon Beach Club is a scenic and serene place to hide out for happy hour on weekdays.
Best free cultural thing to take part of: Malibu Hindu Temple educational tour, which is technically just outside city limits in Calabasas. There's also The Malibu Cultural Arts Commission's Malibu Salon Series, in which leaders in the arts, like musician Mike Diamond and renowned installation and environmental artist, painter and sculptor Lita Albuquerque, share their creative processes.
Best avocado toast: Malibu Farm.
Best street for finding a birthday gift: Not exactly a street, but take a walk to the end of the Malibu Pier to The Ranch at the Malibu Pier, a luxe, but unfussy collection of housewares, surf, swim and beauty finds, curated by the One Gun Ranch folks—and one that perfectly nails the Malibu lifestyle.
Something only locals know: It never hurts to know someone with a Point Dume key or activated rights to La Costa Beach Club.
Hidden gem: Al fresco and chef-prepared Saddlerock Organic Gardens Farm Dinners.
Best spot for an Instagram: Malibu Cafe at Calamigos Ranch.
Overrated spot: Nobu Malibu.
Underrated spot: You completely forget you're in a strip mall once inside the airy Ollo Restaurant & Bar—and sitting near the likes of Laird Hamilton, Reggie Miller or Betsey Johnson.
Favorite outdoor lounge spot: With paddle boating and lawn games galore, Malibu Cafe at Calamigos Ranch is like a boozy summer camp for grownups.
Best date spot: Somehow, Malibu Farm made pier dining feel modern and intimate.
Best alone spot: Drive into a canyon and pick a trail—just mind the snakes and coyotes.
Best place for a workout: Pilates Plus by Lagree Fitness is both a challenge and filled with Gigi Hadids in the making.
Best place take an out-of-towner: Paramount Ranch is the perfect place for old Hollywood (and Westworld) buffs who also love to hike.
Best brunch: Geoffrey's Malibu.
Worst place to find parking and easiest place to find parking: Pacific Coast Highway near Nobu and the Pier is always tough (and with cars flying by, a little scary). The easiest parking is found near the Malibu Lumber Yard and Malibu Country Mart.