When you Google "Malibu," you get results about paparazzi swarming starlets, $30 million oceanfront estates, and David Geffen's nouveau-riche Malibu Beach Inn: a mid-rise building with tiny, chaise-less balconies perched high above the shore. What you miss is the understated charm and unusually restorative qualities of what we consider a superior lodging choice: the far-more beachy Casa Malibu Inn, a low-lying and eminently personal hideaway with large private decks and roomy loungers on the sand just south of the famous Surfrider beach. It's a gem of a place that doesn't even have a website.
Built in 1949, and run for 22 years by the warm local couple Joan and Richard Page, the affordable 21-room inn looks like a standard motel from the coast highway, sitting as it does just across from a local surf shop and a minute down from the renovated Malibu pier. In reality, though, each of the Inn's eight beachfront rooms with white-wood vaulted ceilings feel more like private beach houses (especially the sprawling Malibu Suite, which has a fully renovated kitchen, a fireplace, a Jacuzzi tub, and an all-white, Hamptons-style living room). From every room, you can hear the nighttime waves crash outside, lulling you to sleep.
That's why the regulars – and you will meet guests who spend a few weekends a year here – quietly celebrate the place. The lush garden patio, should you want to recline among neighbors, is a serene spot where you're likely to meet an actor on hiatus, a semi-pro surfer, or a Hollywood scribe seeking solitude. Continental breakfasts – French pastries and legit Kona coffee – are worth grabbing en route to the surf. For active guests, Richard is the guy to hit up for tips on where to shred, kayak, and hike. We recommend starting your day with a warm-up hike at the top of nearby Point Dume State Preserve, below which hides Malibu's best secret wave break: Little Dume, a surf spot beloved by locals like Laird Hamilton and Matthew McConaughey.
Of course, you shouldn't worry about getting in Laird's way like some celebrity surfers, and, perhaps, their agents. But do look out for dolphins, seals, and friendly leopard sharks (small and uninterested in your flesh) as you await that perfect barrel, brewed from the giant underwater canyon right off the coast. There are plenty of exceptional places in this town to eat, but we recommend a simple take-in dinner, perhaps some perfectly grilled local catch from nearby Malibu Seafood, a dish always best eaten outside your room with a sunset view of devoted longboarders lined up beyond the pier, catching endless summer waves.
More information: Beachfront rooms start at $389 in high season (summer through winter) and $249 in low season (winter and spring). [Casa Malibu Inn, 22752 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265; (310) 456-2219, (800) 831-0858, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org]