If you’re in the mood for a relatively easy hike in the Santa Monica Mountains that’s good for groups and good for dogs and gets you some million-dollar beach views rápidamente, you’ll want to dodge the crowds at Zuma Beach and instead head up to nearby Zuma Canyon.
Better known for its rough-and-tumble canyon hike (which is a boulder-hopping route that can quickly turn into a fun wading / poison oak dodging adventure), Zuma Ridge ditches the worry about itchy rashes and replaces it with a broad, sunny fire road and near-constant views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Mountains. It’s a different route, to be sure, but definitely a more approachable one.
The trailhead for both routes lies at the end of Busch Road, where a small dirt lot hosts hikers’ vehicles. Remember that this is a residential neighborhood, so be respectful of the people who live here — and try to car-pool if you can to avoid taking up the whole place.
The Zuma Ridge route starts behind this prominent locked gate.
Continue past, and maybe take a quick gawk or two at the fancy houses below you — and it’s literally a matter of minutes until you get ocean views like this:
The road makes a few quick switchbacks, and at 0.4 mile there’s a firebreak that makes a more direct climb up the coastal slope. That firebreak route will only cut off a short amount of distance and is definitely tougher than the road. Unless you’re looking for an extra challenge, you’ll likely want to stay on the fire road for the entirety of this route — and if you do decide to go firebreak exploring, make sure you have a map and know the area well — those trails can get pretty confusing and put you into places you weren’t necessarily trying to get to.
By the 0.7 mile mark, views of the ocean meet up with views of the interior Santa Monica Mountains as well.
At the mile mark, stay to the right where the firebreak trail meets up with the fire road again, and stay on the road heading north at 1.5 miles. That junction is a side trail that will take you all the way down to Sea Star Drive in Malibu.
The views will open up spectacularly in every direction, and on clear days you will have unparalleled views of the beauty of this coastal range.
The Zuma Ridge Trail continues along this route until it meets the Zuma-Edison Road at 2.6 miles, a perfect turnaround point.
It is possible to continue along the Zuma Ridge Trail all the way to Encinal Canyon Road, which would obviously require a car shuttle or a very long day. You can also complete a long loop around Zuma Canyon, taking the Zuma-Edison Road east to the Zuma Canyon Connector, which will eventually get you back down in the mouth of Zuma Canyon and to the trailhead for this route. However, that is another very long route that requires a full day of hiking (or maybe a set of wheels to speed up the journey).