Start your excursion on the Pacific Coast Highway - PCH to locals - where Interstate 10 (Santa Monica Freeway) meets State Route 1 (PCH). You'll head north at first before the highway swings westward along the magical coastline of Malibu that includes rugged mountains, breathtaking sea views, surfing beaches, wineries, a world-class museum, an upscale mall, restaurants from fish shack to fancy and homes of the rich and famous. The Malibu stretch of the highway, ending at Oxnard, is 49 miles long and takes about three hours roundtrip, depending on traffic and how you choose to dawdle along the way.
Time your departure to arrive at The Getty Villa when it opens at 10 am. The Villa, full of 7,000 years of ancient masterpieces collected by the late John Paul Getty, is the recreation of a Roman country house with gardens filled with sculpture, fountains and lush landscaping. Admission is free, parking $15 (but you can park twice in the same day if you want to stop by on your way back). Closed Tuesdays.
Whatever your interests, you could spend the day around the Malibu Lagoon State Beach where Malibu Creek meets the Pacific. On the west side is a 42-acre (17 ha) saltwater marsh where birdwatchers may spot some 200 species. To the east is the fabled Surfrider Beach, the first World Surfing Reserve, and Malibu Pier where you can drop a line (no fishing license required) or nosh at the Malibu Farm Pier Cafe. Nearby is the Zonker Harris beach access to Carbon Beach - the long contested Billionaires' Beach. Collect sea glass as you gaze up at the homes of the very rich, very famous and very private. On the bluff above the pier is The Adamson House, a 1929 Spanish Colonial Revival "beach cottage" on the National Register of Historic Places. The spectacular tiles inside and out were made locally.
Get back on the road to see where the locals get their bare luxurious necessities and to lunch if you haven't already on the pier. A block and a half inland on Cross Creek Road is the Malibu Country Mart. The open-air mall has designer boutiques, a wide assortment of restaurants and an impressive children's playground.
M*A*S*H buffs will want to make a detour on Malibu Canyon Road to Malibu Creek State Park, the set for the opening and outdoor scenes of the comedy series. Nearby is the Malibu Hindu Temple, built in 1981 in traditional South Indian Style. Open daily, it offers educational tours and on weekends a kitchen run by volunteers.
Farther up the coastal highway is the upscale Geoffrey's Malibu where you can lunch, brunch or dine high on a cliff while whales play in the sea below. In Hollywood's glory days, the likes of Frank Sinatra, Shirley McLaine, Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe and a Massachusetts senator named Kennedy used to escape to Malibu to stay at what then was the Holiday House, designed by Richard Neutra. You might want to time your drive to end up here around sunset.
Beach lovers may want to skip some options to allow for an afternoon idyll at Zuma Beach, one of the largest and most inviting stretches of sand around Los Angeles. It offers a slew of activities. Even if you don't go near the water, don't miss the Duma Point cliff where the last scene of "Planet of the Apes" was filmed. The beach also appeared regularly on "Bay Watch." On the way back, drop in the Rosenthal Wine Garden or Reel Inn, a funky fish shack across from Topango Beach. You'll still be back in LA in time for a night on the town.