Some would argue that there's no competition between the two beautiful destinations. Being an hour and a half away from one another, there's theoretically no reason why a traveler couldn't visit both in the span of one vacation - but no one wants to spend three hours on the road, especially with the infamous Los Angeles traffic that tends to plague the area. So, a decision must be made: What does one California coast destination have that the other doesn't?
There are many similarities between the two but there are many more differences, all of which should be considered when planning the perfect West Coast getaway. If the sun, sand, and luxury are your vibes this summer, then we're about to figure out which California destination is calling your name.
Malibu: The Quieter, Beach-Oriented, High-End Destination
Most people who have been to Malibu comment on how quiet it is compared to Laguna Beach. That's not to say it's without its crowds, especially during the summer months. It is to say that it's quiet in the sense that tourists aren't necessarily flocking to it as they would to Laguna, with a little more space to breathe. Malibu errs more on the residential side and caters to the rich and famous, with the occasional celebrity sighting. So, if Malibu is so quiet, what is a trip there actually good for?
For starters, you've got stunning beaches in Malibu - 21 miles of them, to be exact. This natural beauty is something that people do visit the area for, especially if they're seeking out an Airbnb rental or a hotel that offers great beachside access. While mansions do hide some of the beaches, the space between the waterline and the hide tide line is public land - so this can be crossed to get to certain beaches, just be sure not to overlook any 'private' signs. These beaches are also home to some of the best surfing in California so if this is a draw for you, then Malibu is definitely one to consider over the busy beaches of Laguna. Malibu also has a wide selection of beach types, from super sandy to somewhat remote, lagoon-enclosed beaches, to the rockier, cliffside landscapes.
In terms of shopping and being 'in town,' Laguna Beach does have the edge. Malibu is home to many high-end stores so if that is up your alley, then it's a pro. However, Malibu also happens to be fairly close to Santa Monica which could soothe the urge to shop 'till you drop. Additionally, Malibu is a homerun for nature lovers; Malibu Creek State Park, Point Magu State Park, Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, Solstice Canyon, Tuna Canyon Park, Topanga State Park, Paramount Ranch (as in the movies), Malibu Springs, and Leo Carillo State Park all give way to gorgeous hikes and those classic West Coast views you see in all the pictures.
It would probably take more than a week to explore every wilderness area surrounding Malibu, but it's worth it to try! Malibu also offers accommodations that feel more like charming country inns as well those that offer beachside vibes, so you'll get the best of both worlds.
Laguna Beach: A Haven For Shopping, Buzzing With People
On the other hand, if you could care less about the type of hikes around you, then Laguna Beach is most definitely the place to be. It's better suited for those who enjoy being around people and there won't be any shortage of that while shopping or visiting one of its many beaches. Additionally, Laguna is arguably more romantic for couples, and while Malibu has many options in regard to beaches, Laguna has the most beautiful stretches of land in the entire state. With sandy havens carved out along the shoreline, there's nothing better than relaxing while watching the sunset or catching the last few waves of the day, since Laguna is also a perfect place for surfers.
Nothern Laguna is also better for marine life if that's something you're interested in seeing, as well, with beaches that are a bit more secluded than those such as Main Beach. Whereas Malibu will provide the high-end dining options one person might be looking for, Laguna offers a wide range of takeout and dine-in options, with at least one food establishment on almost every block near the beach.
Visitors will have no trouble finding places to shop and eat along the boardwalk on Main Beach, which is convenient if you happen to rent an Airbnb nearby. Up north, there are several coves that make the normally crowded Laguna seem a bit more secluded, and the hotels and inns that line Highway 1 provide easy walking access to them.