Guide to Malibu's hidden beaches

Broad BeachLast weekend, I drove out to Broad Beach in western Malibu--one of my favorite L.A. County beaches--and was met by a private security guard who had been hired to stand at the public entrance gate to enforce the laws on dogs and alcohol. The weekend before, I went to Escondido Beach to kayak, and was met with signs that prohibit the public from doing things that are actually completely legal. And the week before that, I met some friends at Lechuza Beach--only they couldn't find it, because the "private property" sign on the access road convinced them that that couldn't be the access road.

So the summer goes on the Malibu beaches--well, at least the 20 miles of beaches (out of 27) lined by private development. Of course, every single one of these beaches is fully public below the mean high tide line (working definition: the wet sand), and all of them have plenty of public easements on the dry sand.

They're gorgeous beaches, and the public owns big pieces of them, and it'd be nice if you didn't feel like you have to bring property maps, a lawyer, and a copy of the California constitution, and to put the Coastal Commission on speed-dial, to use them.

The Coastal Commission has been winning key battles for public access. But while we own these beaches, they really still do require an owner's manual. So for my first post on Native Intelligence, I'd like to offer a few tips on how to operate a Malibu beach. And I'll start with the three beaches I just visited in western Malibu--with an eye to adding other beaches to this owner's manual in the future.

From west to east:

LECHUZA BEACH — An interesting thing about Lechuza, at the west end of Broad Beach Rd., is that much of it is a state beach--public wet and dry. Its three entrances also make it the developed Malibu beach that has the best access. Another interesting thing about Lechuza is that no one seems to know that it includes a state beach--or even that it's there at all. Also, it's very beautiful.

How to Operate: Ignore the illegal "private property" signs at the public access entrances. These are public access routes on private roads. Ignore the quite wrong sign that says the public's right to pass is "subject to control by owner."

"Private parking" signs on Broad Beach Road are illegal, as are any orange cones that block public parking (look for the bright shiny ones that look like they're fresh off the shelf from Home Depot). Any problems? Report them to the Coastal Commission. They're very serious about following up on access troubles: 805-585-1800.

Access on Broad Beach Rd. at East Sea Level Dr., Bunnie Ln., and West Sea Level Dr. Push hard on the gates--they feel locked but they're not. And West Sea Level Dr. is a road, not a driveway, and you can walk on it. Really. Trust me. Park on Broad Beach Rd.

BROAD BEACH — This is a mile-long beach just west of Zuma. There are two access gates, and public easements on the dry sand on almost half the properties. It's a very accessible beach. And it's beautiful.

It's also the mother of all beaches for tussles over public access. The problem isn't that you can't get to it. The problem is that the homeowners here have engaged in the most systematic efforts to keep people away. For a brief shining moment last August, when the Coastal Commission finally got rid of the mean and illegal signs and the big sullen summer-weekend guards, the public beach felt magically and wonderfully like a real public beach.

It's still far better than before--the signs say please and the guards are nicer--and they're on foot, not on ATVs. But the private guards tell people what they can do on public land. Does that sound legal to you? And the guards are still misinformed about where the public beach is, and the homeowners are still building berms in front of their properties, and so on and so on.

How to Operate: Download the terrific public-easement maps off the Coastal Commission site. They'll show you exactly where you can sit on the dry sand. And note that this beach is a lot easier to operate on weekdays and from Labor Day to Memorial Day.

Don't hesitate to go on summer weekends, though. Ignore any sizable beefy person stationed on an easement. Ignore guards who tell you that you can't hang out on the wet sand below the properties that don't have easements. Well, don't ignore them, these guys are big, but they also seem civil and pleasant, so do just explain to them that you are on public land. There's likely little to be gained by pointing out to the guards at the entrances that they have no authority to be there, but feel free. Also feel free to call the Coastal Commission to report any problems: 805-585-1800.

Access gates are next to 31138 and 31340 Broad Beach Rd. Park on the road. Or walk west from Zuma and you'll be on Broad Beach.

ESCONDIDO BEACH — This is a short and narrow beach that runs from Escondido Beach Rd. on the PCH west to Geoffrey's restaurant. It's a popular put-in point for kayakers. You can kayak to Paradise Cove Cafe for lunch and come back. And also, it's beautiful.

How to Operate: Ignore the sign that says you're only allowed to use the beach to walk to the next accessway. You can use the public beach to do whatever you reasonably want to do.

Ignore the sign that says the beach is closed dusk to dawn: the beach is open 24 hours. The access gates aren't, but hey, you can swim in if you want--or visit by boat! Ignore the sign that prohibits horses, but I admit to not wanting to share the beach with a horse that has just eaten.

The sign that says "private beach to the mean high tide line" is likewise inaccurate and illegal. Several of the properties do have public easements--the Coastal Commission's easement maps for beaches other than Broad Beach are hard to read, but you can call them at 805-585-1800 and just ask where the easements are. Anyway, this beach is so narrow that the high tide just about comes up to most of the houses.

Access at the gates at either end of the beach - just west of Geoffrey's, and between Escondido Beach Rd. and Malibu Cove Colony Dr. Park on the PCH.

Troubleshooting: Not always passable at high tide. And I wouldn't go in the water after a rain, since this isn't the world's cleanest beach--Escondido Creek pours a lot of urban runoff into the bay here.

Are these beaches worth the effort? I think so. They're not nearly as hard as to operate as they sound. And did I mention they're beautiful? There's still 3 weeks to Labor Day. Enjoy your beaches.

For more on Malibu, bookmark Veronique de Turenne's blog Here in Malibu

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