Malibu’s New ‘Party Central’

Garbage is strewn on the ground at El Matador State Beach.

Thanks to social media, there’s no longer any corner of Malibu that could still claim to be “hidden” or a “best-kept secret.” The caves at the top of Corral Canyon were recently closed to the public by California State Parks because of illegal campfires, extensive graffiti and vandalism. The Rindge Dam in Malibu Canyon was closed to visitors two years ago for the same reasons, plus numerous expensive rescues.

But the very latest hip place to go in Malibu — ranked the No. 2 thing to do in Malibu on travel website Trip Advisor — is El Matador State Beach. It is one of three so-called “pocket beaches” just north of Broad Beach that make up the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach. All three beaches, including El Pescador and La Piedra, are small strips of sand with rock formations and coves that get even smaller during high tide.

Craig Sap, superintendent of the California State Parks Angeles District, acknowledges it’s been hard to keep up with the crowds. 

“We’ve gone from three to six chemical toilets and from a few trashcans to a large dumpster that’s emptied every single day,” he said. In addition, the state parks’ “graffiti abatement team” is scheduled to come in shortly.

For some reason, El Matador is the only one of the three beaches that has become a “hit” on social media, even though the other two pocket beaches are similar. Its recent popularity means that its small 45-space parking lot is usually full by about 11:00 a.m., even on weekdays, with spillover parking up and down both sides of PCH. 

The PCH parking is actually illegal, with numerous “no parking” signs clearly visible. The shoulders in that section of highway are too narrow for parked cars, as noted in the official PCH Safety Study released May 2015 (available on the city’s website).

Some of the “No Parking” signs are spaced far apart while others are actually missing — only the top few inches of post are sticking up out of the ground. Whether the signs were hit by cars or vandalized is unknown.  Other signs are unreadable or have no arrows.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told resident Annie Ellis that they requested new “No Parking” signs from Caltrans over a year ago, and are apparently reluctant to issue citations until the signage improves.  

Ellis feels strongly that new signs need to be “like the ones Zuma got — with the picture of the tow truck and the car.”

The entrance to El Matador is at the top of a hill, and anyone parking on the land side of PCH has to run across a four-lane highway with a 55 miles per hour speed limit. At least 10 accidents have occurred in the vicinity since 2012, including a pedestrian fatality last week.

The 45-space parking lot was designed to accommodate the number of people who could fit on El Matador Beach. When visitors start parking on PCH, it means the little beach is overcrowded, and beachgoers are spilling onto non-State Park lands and private property. Ellis reported that partiers sometimes go between the pilings under residents’ beach houses and frequently leave burning campfires and piles of trash on the beach.

State Parks has stationed two lifeguards for all three pocket beaches, and two rangers to patrol five or six state beaches. Alcohol and glass are not allowed at the beach and rangers have the authority to issue citations, although Ellis said partying gets out of hand due to a lack of personnel for enforcement, and questions of jurisdictions between state parks and the sheriff’s department. 

There’s disagreement between Sap and Ellis over how late the gates to the park stay open. While Sap maintained the gates are “closed promptly at sunset,” Ellis claimed the rangers are supposed to wait until the last car has left, which is often as late as 10 p.m. or midnight, and that the beach isn’t cleared of partying people before the gates close.

Lastly, El Matador and its sister beaches have been part of a State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) since 2010, and no fishing or taking of other living things like starfish or mussels is allowed. However, six years later, there are no posted signs saying “No Fishing” or taking.