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Malibu vs Venice Beach – Which One Should You Visit?

I recently spent a bit of time exploring Los Angeles and I got to visit both Malibu and Venice Beach!

I know a lot of people have trouble picking between these two so I though I’d put together a guide on all the differences I noticed. 

I’ll be covering things like hotels, activities, atmosphere, nightlife, beaches and more to help you decide.

Summary – Malibu vs Venice Beach

MalibuVenice Beach
Upscale & relaxedEdgy & artsy
Luxury 5-star hotelsClean & comfortable
hotels (less luxury)
Quiet, sandy
beaches
Busy, crowded
beaches
Little nightlifeVibrant nightlife
More expensiveLess expensive
Great for families
& people looking
to relax
Great for young
people
Surfing, hiking,
museums
Surfing, street
performers, music
Malibu

Malibu is a relaxed, affluent beach town not far from Los Angeles, whereas Venice Beach is an edgy, artsy beach town located right in Los Angeles itself. 

Malibu is well known for its celebrity homes and stunning, white sandy beaches. It’s a popular spot for surfing and long walks on the beach. 

You can also head out on a hike through the nearby mountains. 

Venice Beach is a buzzing beach town known for its funky shops, street performers and colorful murals. It’s a foodie hotspot and also has tons of stylish boutiques. 

I generally found that Malibu was much quieter than Venice Beach. I often found quiet, long stretches of beach in Malibu and few crowds at all. Venice Beach was much more busy and always has lots going on.

I also thought that Malibu had a more upscale vibe compared to Venice Beach. It’s home to a variety of wealthy residents including Hollywood stars and top athletes. You’ll find a range of top 5-star hotels and high-end restaurants in Malibu.

Venice Beach also has a range of good hotels but they’re not quite as luxurious as the ones in Malibu. Venice Beach also had a more edgy, street vibe – you’ll find skateboarders, rappers, street food vendors and much more in this area. 

Another thing to consider is that Venice Beach has better access to Los Angeles so you can easily spend a day seeing the top LA sights. Malibu is about an hour out of the city.  

It’s difficult to pick a favorite between these two as I loved them both for different reasons.

I’ve never felt more relaxed and at home than I did in Malibu but I also loved how busy and bustling Venice Beach was.

Which Is Bigger?

By area, Malibu is bigger than Venice Beach as it covers 51.5km2 whereas Venice Beach has an area of just 8km2

As I said, I noticed that Venice Beach was a lot more crowded and busy which is mainly due to its higher population of 40,000 people. Malibu, however, has just 12,600 residents. 

Which Has Better Activities?

Venice Beach

I found that there were a lot more activities available in the Venice Beach area compared with Malibu.

There was still plenty to do in Malibu though but a lot less choice than in Venice Beach.

Activities In Malibu

Malibu is largely a residential area with lots of wealthy residents who own large homes there.

This was definitely pretty evident when wandering around as it felt more like a residential area than anything else.

Having said that, it is still a major tourist spot and there’s lots of things to do. I really loved spending a couple of days there as it was so calm and relaxing.

Top activities in Malibu:

  • El Matador Beach
  • Mountain biking
  • Adamson House
  • Malibu Pier 
  • Malibu Lagoon Museum
  • Whale watching
  • Malibu Creek State Park

The top activities in Malibu are all beach related – sunbathing, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding etc. Paragliding over the hills of Malibu was an experience I’ll definitely never forgot!

Malibu is a super popular surfing spot and I got to watch so many surfers catching some waves on its many beaches. If you’ve never surfed before then get yourself a surfing lesson and learn! You could also try tandem paragliding if you prefer.

I heard from a local that in winter you can often spot migrating whales from Point Dume at Malibu’s north end.

Another activity I loved was heading along one of the trails that weaves through the canyons, waterfalls and grasslands of the Santa Monica Mountains. End your hike with a glass of wine

Activities In Venice Beach

Venice Beach

Venice Beach is a very arty and trendy area with a wide range of activities to keep you occupied. 

Top activities in Venice Beach:

  • Oceanfront boardwalk
  • Shopping on Abbot Kinney Boulevard
  • Venice Beach Skatepark
  • Venice Canals
  • Mosaic Tile House

I adored walking along the mile-long Abbot Kinney Boulevard as it was jam-packed with tons of high-end restaurants, galleries, stylish boutiques and more. This area is a hotspot for foodies!

I thought that the beach itself was a vibrant mix. You can head to Muscle Beach to see all the bodybuilders working out on the sand or head over to the skatepark to see some epic tricks. 

Venice Beach is also a popular surfing spot. If you’ve not surfed before, get yourself a surfing lesson and learn from the best. 

My favorite thing to do in Venice Beach was to simply watch all of the street performers and artists who line the oceanfront boardwalk which runs parallel to the beach itself. 

You can also join an electric bike tour like I did and cycle through these famous streets seeing all of Venice’s best sights including the boardwalk, the skatepark, the canals and the beach itself. 

I loved that Venice Beach was so close to central Los Angeles so it was really easy to enjoy the wide range of activities there including visiting the famous Hollywood sign, Beverly Hills and more. 

You can actually book onto a Los Angeles tour so you can see all of LA’s top sights in one day. 

Malibu is much further out from LA. It takes about an hour (depending on traffic) to get to central LA from Malibu which is a bit of a trek.

Which Has Better Accommodation?

Malibu view

There’s tons of amazing hotels in both Malibu and Venice Beach.

In Malibu, I stayed at the Malibu Beach Inn which I can’t recommend enough! I had oceanfront views as well as a comfortable and cozy room. It genuinely felt like a home away from home.

In Venice Beach, I stayed at Hotel Erwin which was another favorite. I could also see the ocean and beach from my balcony.

Accommodation In Malibu

Malibu tends to have more upscale hotels that come with a bigger price tag. You’ll find a range of luxury, 5-star hotels here. 

Best Hotels In Malibu:

In Malibu, you’ll find many of the hotels are directly on the beach itself. These are great places to stay as you’ll get scenic views of the Pacific Ocean right from your balcony.

Accommodation In Venice Beach

Venice Beach also has a good range of hotels. They weren’t quite as luxurious as the ones in Malibu but they were much cheaper and were still modern, clean and comfortable.

Best Hotels In Venice Beach:

Which Has Better Beaches?

Beach

I noticed that the beaches in Malibu tended to be much quieter than the ones in Venice Beach.

This is mainly due to Malibu being slightly outside of Los Angeles so less people bother to come out here.

Venice Beach is a very busy area with lots going on from rappers performing on the boardwalk to skateboarders skating around on the Skate Park so the beach always tends to be busy. 

There is much more beach area available in Malibu with 21 miles of coastline (compared with Venice Beach’s 3 miles). You’ll have more privacy on Malibu’s long stretch of beaches.

Beaches In Malibu

Malibu is home to some of the most scenic beaches in the Los Angeles area. I’ve genuinely never seen such beautiful beaches!!

Zuma Beach was by far my favorite place to hang out. This beach has excellent waves so is a favorite of surfers and body boarders. It attracts locals and families year round.

Another popular surfing beach is Surfrider Beach, located just off of Malibu Pier.

I also adored visiting Carbon Beach as it was one of the quietest and secluded beaches I found in Malibu. When I went, there were only a few other people there so it’s a great spot for a quiet walk.

I did find that the beaches in Malibu were really clean and had lots of wide open space, perfect for families. Many people stay until evening for unforgettable sunset views.

I did find that some of the beaches were blocked by homes as Malibu is an area of wealthy residents. Many of the large homes in the area block the views and limit beach access.

Beaches In Venice Beach

Venice Beach is home to 3 miles of sandy coastline. The beaches are popular with swimmers, surfers and sunbathers. 

I also love that the entire area has an oceanfront boardwalk where you’ll often find street performers, artists and vendors. 

The street performers were really good and I found that there was a good a mix of different performances from mimes and juggling to musicians. 

I spent most of my time in Venice Beach, enjoying a day on the beach, taking a stroll down the boardwalk or even joining a workout session on Muscle Beach.

Which Is Better for Nightlife?

Malibu sunset

I noticed that Venice Beach had a much more exciting and vibrant nightlife than Malibu.

Nightlife In Malibu

Although nightlife options are more limited in Malibu compared to Venice Beach, there are some great bars where you can enjoy a sunset drink along the Pacific Ocean.

If you’re after a relaxing glass of wine in the evening or a hand-crafted cocktail, then Malibu is the spot for you, however, if you’re looking to party all night long then look elsewhere.

Nightlife In Venice Beach

Venice Beach has a vibrant nightlife scene. I found that there was a good selection of bars along Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Main Street. 

Many of the bars do awesome happy hour deals so you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time. 

My favorite nighttime spot was the High Rooftop Lounge as they have an incredible bird’s eye view of the area and tasty cocktails.

Which Is More Affordable?

Anywhere you visit in or around Los Angeles is going to be pricey. 

I generally found that Malibu was more expensive than Venice Beach. This is mainly due to the fact that it is an affluent, luxurious area away from the hustle and bustle of LA. 

You pay extra for the privacy, secluded beaches and relaxed feel. It’s literally the home of Hollywood stars so you’ll pay more to vacation in this exclusive area.

Venice Beach was much cheaper which is mainly due to the fact that it has a much younger, edgier feel. It’s not an area for the super rich like Malibu. 

In particular, I found that Venice Beach had much more affordable hotels and the restaurants/bars tended to be a bit cheaper too. 


And that’s it!

I hope this article was helpful in highlighting the main differences of Malibu and Venice Beach.

If you’re still struggling to decide then you may like these guides:

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Megan

Megan Jones is a travel expert and founder of Traveller's Elixir, who has been travelling the world full time since 2021. Megan's travel tips been featured in numerous media outlets including Metro, Timeout, Thrillist and more.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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