Malibu Hike, Canyon, Beach
Hike to the Beach in Leo Carrillo State Park
Get a highlight reel of the Malibu coastline on a 2.25-mile hike through Leo Carrillo State Park, featuring a canyon climb, Pacific panorama, and a beautiful beach. Named after the Hollywood actor who was famous not only for playing Pancho in The Cisco Kid, but also for his tireless conservation efforts, Leo Carrillo Beach has been used as a backdrop in many features, including Grease and Cast Away.
Rocky tidepools and sea caves accessible at low tide create a tranquil yet dramatic setting. Explore the tiny ecosystems and look for hermit crabs before heading east via a marine-mural underpass that leads you to the main lot, campground, and trailhead. To the right of the campground entrance, find the Camp 13 Trail, which heads into the canyon. You will soon reach a junction for the Nicholas Flat Trail and Willow Creek Trail.
Take the left path (Nicholas Flat) that borders the campground to begin your 600-foot ascent. Although the campground is lined with giant coast live oaks and sycamores, this leg-burning climb doesn’t offer shade. The views into the canyon are stellar, and the workout is worth it. After just under a mile, you reach a four-way junction. Head right, following signs for Ocean Vista to find—you guessed it—an incredible ocean vista. The views up and down the coast are phenomenal. A few giant rocks provide great seats to marvel at Malibu.
When you head back, this time go right (south), taking the gradually descending Willow Creek Trail, a narrow path that hugs the ridge and is shaded later in the day. The switchbacks pass prickly pear cactus and other chaparral favorites as you are rewarded with constant ocean views. It soon deposits you back at the first junction. Here, head back toward the lot.
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: In the episode “Post-election Outings” Weekend Sherpa co-founders and senior writer Matt Pawlik discuss their favorite meditative hikes and beaches in SoCal, including this one at Leo Carrillo.
To get to Leo Carrillo State Park, take the PCH (CA-1) north from Santa Monica for 27 miles. Alternatively, take the US 101 to the CA-23, which takes you all the way to the PCH. Here, turn right onto the CA-1; Leo Carrillo State Park lot and campground will be on your right after 2.4 miles. Park along the PCH (free) or in the day-use lot ($12) for Leo Carrillo State Beach and Campground. We recommend parking on the west side of the PCH and heading along the road to a dirt path that leads to the beach. No dogs.
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