Where to Sip, Eat and Stay in Malibu Wine Country

By Lesley Balla  |  February 4, 2014
Credit: Malibu Family Wines

California is home to some of the best wine regions in the world, but one emerging area is closer to home than you think. Malibu has more than 50 independent vineyards and several tasting rooms throughout the Santa Monica Mountains and along the coast, where fog laces through in the mornings and sun warms the vines in the afternoons. Some are small, backyard plots, and others are thousand-acre estates.

Although the 30 or so small producers aren't zoned to make wine in the region, they’re taking their grapes up the coast a bit to blend and bottle before bringing them back to Malibu soil. With this industry on the rise, several tasting rooms have popped up where you can sample these special whites and reds, including chardonnay, viognier, muscat, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and grenache. It makes for a lovely afternoon in the hills, or even a few days if you take your time. Here’s how to tour through the growing Malibu wine country.

  • Malibu Family Wines

    Anchoring the area on Mulholland Highway, this tasting room and picnic area is home to the Semler and Saddlerock wine labels, made with estate-grown grapes from the Saddlerock Ranch across the street and Central Coast fruit. It’s a fantastic all-outdoors picnic area filled with olive trees and dozens of umbrella-shaded tables. You can sip flights of sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, pinot gris, cab franc and more, or buy whole bottles for the table. Ask about tours of the neighboring ranch: there are zebras, camels and horses, oh my!

  • Cornell Winery & Tasting Room

    The name is sort of a misnomer as this isn’t a winery at all, but it is a great spot to sample a lot of the wines made from grapes grown in the local mountains. That’s the mission: to get more people to drink local wines, so most of the boutique wines are from the Malibu AVAs and aren't really available anywhere else. The big barnlike building is filled with art, and peacocks run around outside while you sit in big chairs outside on the lawn.

  • SIP Malibu

    Nestled in the hills, this fun beer and wine bar is one of the first stopping points for anyone heading in from the 101. Get flights of Cielo Vineyards wines, including the Woodstock Collection, which goes hand-in-hand with the laid-back Malibu vibe.

  • Rosenthal Tasting Room

    Out of the hills and onto the coast, you can’t miss this tasting room along the PCH: there’s a giant 8-ft.-tall deck chair out front, which makes for great photo ops. Surfboards line the patio out back, and you can watch the waves in front while sipping Surfrider chardonnay and Rosenthal Estate cabernet sauvignon.

  • Other Wine Finds

    Some other wines to look for from the region include Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards, which produces some lovely chardonnay, Hoyt Family Vineyards, Church Estate, Malibu Solstice and Casa Dumetz, which is owned by actor Emilio Estevez and his winemaker wife.

  • Where to Eat in the Mountains

    One of the most hidden and bucolic settings is the Malibu Cafe at Calimigos Ranch, which pretty much has everything: a pond where you can pedal boat for free; umbrella-topped tables; and room for dogs, swings, trees, “nouveau barbecue” and bottomless mimosas at brunch.

    Right next to Cornell Winery, The Old Place is a historic old storefront known for steaks, clams, baked potatoes and stew on Sundays. To go along with the booming wine industry, there are now wine-friendly appetizers from 4-6 PM for touring tasters.

    Formerly a Pony Express stop, among other things from its colorful past, Saddle Peak Lodge is big on game dishes, seasonal fare and big brunches. Inside, rooms are rustic, filled with hunting artifacts, books, mounted animals - you name it. Outside, mountains, trees and flowers surround the patios. 

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Where to Eat Along the PCH

    You can’t beat the ease of lunch at Malibu Seafood: order fish 'n' chips, chowder, shrimp and more. Grab a picnic table on the hillside, and wait for your number to be called. Dig in while watching the waves crashing across the road.

    Paradise Cove is worth the high-priced parking fee (more than $20 if you don’t get your ticket validated in the restaurant), especially for drinks in big Adirondack chairs nestled in the sand out front.

    The Malibu Country Mart and Lumber Yard are filled with great places to eat, including Malibu Kitchen, Cafe Habana, Taverna Tony and Mr. Chow.

    Wowing in its new digs, Nobu Malibu has one of the most stunning patios from which to dig into classic dishes like yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño and black cod with miso.

  • Credit: Malibu Wines

    Take a Tour

    Let someone else do the driving and hop on a shuttle with Hidden Malibu Wine Country Tours, which customizes trips for two to two hundred. The Malibu Discovery Wine Trail Tour includes stops at all of the wineries plus lunch at Kristy’s Wine Bar, the Sunset Restaurant or Duke’s Malibu. Tours last about six hours.

  • Credit: Malibu Beach Inn

    Where to Stay

    For locals who want to make it feel like a true getaway, stay along the waves at the Malibu Beach Inn or pamper yourself at the Four Seasons Westlake Village. Of course, Santa Monica is just a few waves away with the Oceana, Loews, Shutters on the BeachCasa del Mar and The Georgian hotels.