There’s more to Malibu than its beautiful beaches. The eastern border of the California city extends into the Santa Monica Mountains, where visitors can hike through canyons and wander through nature preserves. There are also a few carved out spaces along the coastline that are ideal for picnics and recreation. Although the ocean is always in the background, hitting up a park in Malibu doesn’t have to mean spending the day at the beach. 

Malibu Creek State Park

The 14-mile Malibu Creek winds its way through the Santa Monica Mountains eventually ending at Malibu Lagoon at the beach near the pier. But there’s plenty to do in this state park besides rock skipping – from a range of hiking trails (including one that goes through where the TV show M*A*S*H was filmed) to mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding and even kayaking in a small lake. There are also plenty of open spaces to simply take in the beautiful oak woodlands and the craggy mountain canyons. The city of Los Angeles feels a world away, instead of just 25 minutes. Overnight camping is also allowed here, but reservations are required. Not quite sure how to tackle the park on your own? Sign up for a hike guided by a park docent who will explain the area’s flora and fauna as well as its cinematic history.

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Trancas Canyon Park

Trancas Canyon Park in north Malibu is a couple of miles inland from Zuma Beach, and it’s one of the best parks for families. There’s a spacious playground area with sweeping views of the mountains and the ocean as well as a fenced dog park. The park’s giant grassy field is an idyllic spot for a picnic, but there are covered tables when you need a little shade. Restrooms and water fountains are available, and parking is plentiful. Nearby is the Trancas Market where you can pick up picnic provisions like pressed paninis, salads and pizza. 

A green soccer field at Malibu Bluffs Park
The soccer field at Malibu Bluffs Park can double as a grassy spot for a picnic © divanov / Shutterstock

Malibu Bluffs Park

Malibu Bluffs Park, just north of the Malibu Pier and past Pepperdine University, is the ultimate recreation spot for families. The six-acre park has two baseball fields, a soccer field that doubles as a grassy vista for a picnic, a play structure, a skatepark, picnic tables, restrooms and a jogging path that winds around the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Michael Landon Community Center, named for the Little House on the Prairie actor, often hosts community classes and parties. Since the park is home field for local recreational sports, the weekends are often crowded and the parking lot fills up fast. But if you can time it for a mid-morning visit during the week, you’ll find it to be a blissful spot to take in the ocean views. 

Las Flores Creek Park 

Las Flores Creek Park is a few miles inland from the famous Duke’s Restaurant that overlooks the ocean on the Pacific Coast Highway. The offerings are relatively simple: a modern playground for children, picnic tables, restrooms and easy walking trails. This is an ideal spot to learn about Malibu’s native plants because the park has detailed information about its wildlife and history. Once you’re done exploring, you can head down to Duke’s for lunch or dinner.  

Malibu Country Mart 

Malibu Country Mart is a ritzy retail center with trendy boutiques and restaurants that are often frequented by celebrities (and paparazzi). But for families with children, there are two playgrounds to try in between shopping and eating. The original playground is in the center of the mart near John’s Garden café and just past the Toy Crazy toy store. The structure, which includes a pair of swing sets, is built into sand, so be prepared to go barefoot and do some cleaning up afterward. A second playground was built recently near the new Whole Foods Market and offers modern interactive play features, along with the usual slides and climbing structures. Since the Country Mart is so close to the pier, it’s easy to go from one to the other during your visit. 

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