Budget travel guide to Zuma Beach, California
Zuma beach in Malibu is one of my best-kept secrets, and I’m sharing it with you!
Zuma is tucked into the coastline near Malibu. Many people head straight for Malibu, where you can expect crowds and astronomical parking fees — if you can even find a parking spot. But Zuma is quieter, more secluded. And parking is definitely more affordable. With fewer crowds, you’ll also enjoy cleaner beaches and more space to stretch out.
Zuma Beach parking fees are typically around $8 a day. I’ve spent nearly $20 in the off-season at Malibu, for comparison.
Interested in other West Coast adventures? Check out this post on the best beaches in the western U.S.
What to do in Zuma Beach
There are a few must-see things when you are in the area. First and foremost, Zuma Beach is in an area popular for whale watching. Head to nearby Point Dume for the best chance at spotting whales for free, although you can also book boat tours for a closer look. The whales migrate from the north to Mexico for the winter (and back again in the spring), so you are most likely to see them from December to May.
You also must — and I really mean MUST — get up early enough to catch what may just be the best sunrise of your life. Everyone raves about West Coast sunsets, but from my experience, the winter sunrises are some of the most incredible performances of the sky you’ll ever witness. Each day is different, one day might display the brightest golden hour, while other days burst in pinks and deep purples.
In non-pandemic times, I also recommend the Malibu Wine Safaris. This is more of a splurge, but you’ll get to do a wine tasting, tour the vineyards and see many animals. During the pandemic, you can still book smaller parties and tours.
When it is open, Malibu Wines is a fun (and delicious) tour to consider. Photo: Paige Bennett
Affordable restaurants in Zuma Beach
I have two must-stop places for dining near Zuma Beach. The first is Neptune’s Net, a popular spot for motorcyclists and Adam Sandler — yes, the actor. Neptune’s Net offers incredibly fresh seafood and a few options for plant-based diners. During COVID-19, Neptune’s Net is only open via drive-thru, but it is located directly across from the beach. The restaurant’s clam chowder also rivals anything you’d find on the East Coast. Prices are reasonable, to boot.
Don’t miss the clam chowder at this Malibu staple. Photo: Elizabeth Albert
Another popular spot in this area is Malibu Farm. There are two Malibu Farm locations, one is a full-service restaurant at the start of the Malibu Beach pier, and the other is a cafe at the end of the pier. Locals eat this up, and this is also said to be a popular spot for celebrity sightings. (If you do see a celeb on your trip, play it cool like the locals do!) At $16 for a bowl of yogurt, fruit and granola, this isn’t exactly a budget pick, but if you want to rub elbows with L.A.’s elite, this is the spot for you.
Budget hotels in Malibu
Malibu is notoriously expensive to visit, especially when it comes to hotels. Here is one option that won’t break the bank (meaning rooms around $200). Please keep in mind that this area is definitely hard to get around without a car, so the best budget hotels are a short drive from the beach.
Motel rooms feature simple style, mini-fridges and boxed water. Photo: Booking.com
Just a few steps from the beach, this is one of the few cheap-ish options in the area. We love the free parking and you can stroll to the Malibu Pier in about 10 minutes. Rooms are simple but decorated with cheery splashes of color, and the small outdoor pool is a nice bonus. Some rooms even feature partial ocean views!