It's easy to forget that there's more to Malibu than the windswept curve of the PCH, the golden span of Zuma Beach, and Highway Patrol officers who can't wait to hear your theories on how the Jews started all the world wars. But let me put your mind at ease; Malibu contains multitudes.
First off: hidden up in the canyon, there's the Malibu Cafe, which wins my award for Most Magical Restaurant That Almost Nobody Knows About. Nestled in the glades of the Calamigos Ranch, the site resembles a hybrid of the Shire, a game room, and an aging gay cowboy's backyard. Let me explain...
The restaurant is on an open-air deck overlooking a lawn, where you can have your lunch hidden away in a cabana or do it picnic-style on your own little island in the nearby lake. 20-foot-tall steel rose stems bloom flames that act as heaters for the tables on the deck. Scattered around the grounds are an outdoor pool table and a shuffleboard set-up, poised under chandeliers hung from trees. Locally grown wines pour freely and plates of lobster cobb salads, devilled eggs and smoky pulled pork sandwiches glide past. You'll probably be seated by a long table of local ladies on a girls-day-out who pull off the remarkable feat of all looking and sounding like exactly the same person, but that won't matter. You'll spend the entire time with that tingly sensation of having discovered something special.
Onwards. Next stop is a hike at The Paramount Ranch, a fake western town built by the titular movie studio in 1927. It's played the OK Corral for Gary Cooper and ancient China for Cecil B. Demille. More recently, it was the set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and HBO's Carnivale. Most importantly, last year it housed the production of Insane Clown Posse's Big Money Rustlas (which, for those philistines unfamiliar with ICP's body of work, is the Old West "prequel" to their 2000 think-piece Big Money Hustlas. It stands as a deeper, more nuanced examination of the duo's pet themes: morality, class warfare, and being fat despite doing a bunch of meth.) Any self-respecting film buff must pay a pilgrimage to this hallowed ground.
It's spooky and silent, a favored hangout for coyotes and quail. Thin arteries of hiking trails snake up into the canyon, leading you to cinematically monikered places with names like Witches Wood and Marco Polo Hill. It's all easy hiking, but it's got its charms.
•WHAT: A dreamy lunch spot and a ghost-town hike in Malibu
•WHERE: The Malibu Cafe, Paramount Ranch
•WHEN: The Cafe = Thurs-Sun, 12-10 PM, the hike is all week dawn to dusk
•$$$: Cafe = $12 a plate, hike = free