Not all of Malibu’s riches are multi-million-dollar mansions. Tucked among the gated seaside mega-homes, Escondido Canyon Park holds a liquid asset for everyone to cash in on: Escondido Falls, the highest waterfall in the Santa Monica Mountains. The 4.2-mile round-trip trek to this multi-tiered stunner begins on a paved residential road overlooking the Pacific; after about a mile, the road links with the Escondido Canyon Trail. This unpaved path quickly winds down into oak woodland bordering a bustling brook, where rabbits, deer and other hikers linger. Bear left at the fork after the first water crossing and traverse the stream four more times, passing through shade, sun and seasonal wildflowers. Oaks give way to fragrant coastal sage, and a teasing glimpse of the 150-foot rippling cataract lures you onward. Farther along, the lower tier of Escondido Falls (pictured) beckons: a misty, glistening, faintly sulphur-scented curtain shimmying down a mossy rock face. Relax by the small, cool pool and enjoy the oasis. Those seeking a more dramatic vantage can scramble up a steep and unmaintained route to reach the top of the falls. Either way, you’ll have found a diamond in the rough.
From Santa Monica, head northwest on Pacific Coast Highway (1) for about 18 miles. Turn right at Winding Way East, and park in the signed parking lot (27200 Winding Way). Here’s a map of Escondido Canyon Park. Follow the paved road on foot for approximately 1 mile to the Escondido Canyon trailhead on your left, and take it all the way to the waterfall. The trail is open sunrise to sunset; parking is limited, so get there early. Dog-friendly!