Yes, there is a way to rise above the beach crowds at Malibu’s Leo Carrillo State Park
. Nicholas Flat Trail might sound mellow, but don’t let the name fool you. This 8-mile (round-trip) hike climbs 1,600 feet to Nicholas Pond, a rare natural oasis set in a meadow. Starting right from the park, get the blood pumping while ascending a sage-covered ridge as views expand up and down the coast. Slow-blooming monkeyflower, giant phacelia, and Indian paintbrush bring dabs of extra color, and two turnoffs lead to vista points for a lingering look at the Pacific (and an excuse to catch your breath). Top out and cross a grassy meadow where you’ll find the cattail-lined pond, home to lively ducks and red-winged blackbirds serenading from surrounding trees. Soak in some solitude beneath a pair of oaks before starting the return journey the way you came. Now the coastal views are Flat out in front of you.
Nicholas Flat Trail begins from Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu, 27 miles west of Santa Monica. Parking is $12. Walk to the trailhead kiosk at the bottom of the ridge east of the entrance. Hike 1 mile up Nicholas Flat Trail to a 4-way junction. Turn right up a spur trail to an ocean vista and then left to continue. After another 1.5 miles, turn left at a T and then an immediate right to stay on Nicholas Flat Trail. Hike 1/8 of a mile and turn right, descending past a final ocean view to reach the meadow. Stay to the right at a junction with Meadows Trail, and make a right at the following split, continuing another third of a mile to Nicholas Pond. Return the way you came or loop around Nicholas Flat on Meadows Trail. Use this trail map. No dogs.