El Matador, California

Beachgoers in the know seek solidarity by heading up the winding Pacific Coast Highway to the most spectacular shoreline along the coast: El Matador Beach.

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Far from the wheeling and dealing of the Hollywood hills and the hustle and bustle of its boulevards, beachgoers in the know seek solidarity by heading up the winding Pacific Coast Highway to the most spectacular shoreline along the coast - El Matador Beach, just north of Malibu. This rugged strip of sand is one of many small beaches that comprise the Robert H. Meyer Memorial Beach, though its long stretches of white sands, towering cliffs, and craggy rock formations and sea stacks make it an obvious favorite. In fact, El Matador is considered prime real estate by photographers, who tend to hold photo shoots amid the jutting rocks and crashing waves. Don't be surprised to rub elbows with them and their models, and be even less taken aback to come across the clusters of surfers and body boarders who ride this south-facing beach's swells.

It's easy to miss the small, brown sign pointing toward the tiny parking lot at the trailhead leading to El Matador, so keep your eyes wide open between Broad Beach and Decker Canyon roads. Perhaps this semi-hidden locale has kept away hordes of tourists, though most locals are aware of El Matador's splendid existence and the beach tends to get crowded on summer weekends. Once you do come across the tiny parking lot, be prepared to hike down a 150-foot bluff; although a staircase guides the way down, this isn't the most child- or handicapped-friendly shore, made even less so by a lack of weekday lifeguards.

Getting There
El Matador beach is located just off the Pacific Coast Highway (CA 1), 10 miles west of Malibu. Should you arrive in California by plane, the most convenient airport is Los Angeles International, or LAX. The airport oversees some 57 million passengers each year; finding a flight in or out is rarely a problem, as most major and minor airlines service this hub. The airport is a short (10-minute to 20-minute) drive from both the beaches and the city center.

Airport Transportation
As most Los Angelinos will tell you, this is not a town known for public transportation. You will most likely want to rent a car to reach your destination from LAX, and can easily do so at the airport. Car rental agencies are located in proximity to the airport and offer complimentary shuttles from the terminals to their offices. If you're driving from the airport to El Matador or nearby Malibu, exit the airport onto Sepulveda Boulevard north, then look for signs leading to the Pacific Coast Highway (CA 1) north.

Many hotels in the Los Angeles city center offer shuttles to and from the airport; inquire when you make your reservation. You can also book a ride through SuperShuttle, which will schedule minivans to take passengers from LAX to locations in the city.

If you prefer to take a taxi, stands can be found outside each terminal.

The average annual temperature in and around Los Angeles hovers around a comfortable 66 F with summer highs generally in the 80s F; summer ocean temperatures can reach anywhere from 65 F to 70 F, though the Pacific is notorious for its often chilly temps. Los Angeles and its environs, namely El Matador, typically receive little more than 35 days of rain each year, which mostly occur from February through April. Tourists descend on the Los Angeles area during the summer, though El Matador is tucked far enough away that it only grows relatively crowded. Still, it is best to book any summer travel in advance, as hotels tend to be booked.

Countless accommodations are available in and around the sprawling Los Angeles region; the question travelers seeking out the shores of El Matador will need to ask themselves is how much driving they're willing to do to get there. The most convenient place to stay is in the Malibu area, though anyone who's ever peeked at a celebrity tabloid knows that this is the home of the rich and famous, as well as, not surprisingly, some pricey hotels. If your budget isn't in the same league as say, Jennifer Aniston's, you'd be smart to look into the moderately priced 21-room Casa Malibu, which enjoys a beachfront location. If money isn't an object, and you're not opposed to a quick jaunt up the PCH, some of the area's most luxurious rooms and finest amenities can be found at super-chic Casa del Mar or the ultra-exclusive Shutters on the Beach. For more information and hotel listings, visit the Los Angeles Convention and Visitor's Bureau website.

As one of the world's major cities, Los Angeles has restaurants to represent every major culinary flavor; in particular, diners will find a rich variety of Mexican and Asian cuisine, often with an experimental flair. Don't be surprised to find yourself shoulder-to-shoulder with a celebrity or two; they eat just like we do! Of course, celebs tend to hang at the trendier establishments like the infamous Ivy or Palm restaurants, where it's always good for the common folk to make a reservation six to eight weeks in advance. If you'd like to focus your meals around the Malibu area, check out the local Italian favorite, Tra di Noi, which serves up delicious pasta and veal dishes. Meat lovers should head to the hills above Malibu for a uniquely carnivorous experience at the Saddle Peak Lodge, which specializes in a multitude of unusual meat dishes, like Nilgai antelope tenderloin with candied pumpkin. For a complete listing of restaurants, visit www.losangelesrestaurants.com.

Travel Tips
El Matador has no entrance fee, but there is a fee to park in the 80-space parking lot. From the lot be prepared to maneuver a narrow staircase down a 150-foot bluff to reach the beach. Portable toilets can be found at the trailhead leading down to the beach, but be sure to pack your own snacks and drinks, as there are no concession stands or restaurants nearby. Lifeguards are on duty only on summer weekends, and it is important that visitors check tide times if they plan to explore, as some smaller coves may get cut off during the high tide. Occasionally nude sunbathers can be found along the shore, though the act is illegal.

While You Are Here
If you've truly come to El Matador to savor the beach rather than get sucked into the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, then you're in luck - there's blissfully little else to do here other than bask on the Malibu coast's most glorious stretch of beach. The best way to enjoy your time is to check the tide schedule, pack a picnic lunch or sunset dinner, grab a blanket, and trek down to one of El Matador's hidden nooks and coves to enjoy the incredibly romantic atmosphere.

To Fake That You've Been Here
Flex your calf muscles and claim they've been cramping up ever since you started making those twice-daily hikes up and down the 150-foot staircase leading to El Matador.

Linking for a Better Vacation
For information, visit the official Malibu website. Check out the Los Angeles Tourism website to learn more about cool spots and attractions to visit when you're in town.

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