The City and History of Malibu

Welcome to Malibu

A Short History of Malibu

Malibu has a unique history rooted in the times of the Native Americans, transformed by the takeover by the Spanish and modernized with the eventual opening of Malibu to the general public to become the vibrant beachside community it is today. You can still see the influence each of Malibu’s original owners had on the culture of the city and people. Take a short walk through Malibu’s history below, and if you crave more, check out the City of Malibu’s in-depth eight-part account on their website.


The history of Malibu begins with the Chumash Indians who lived along the coast from Malibu to San Luis Obispo, as well as the interior valleys. The Chumash were one of the most advanced Indian groups in California and are well known as craftsmen and artists particularly for their canoes, baskets and bowls. One of their settlements – the Humaliwo settlement named for the sandy strip of land where “the surf sounds loudly” – eventually became present day Malibu. Malibu takes its name from this settlement - the “hu” syllable not emphasized in pronunciation.

Spanish Conquest

A fundamental chapter of Malibu’s history begins with the Spanish explorations in the 1500s. On October 10th, 1542, Juan Cabrillo anchored in the small bay of the Malibu Lagoon and claimed the land for the King of Spain, and named it “Pueblo de las Canoas” (Town of the Canoes). It would several hundred years later before the Spanish claims on the California coast would be settled.

In 1804 José Bartolomé Tapia was given the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit a 13,316 acre land grant (also known as the Rancho) by then Spanish Governor Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga, thus becoming the first historical owner. In 1848 Jose’s widow sold the tract to her grandson in-law Leon Victor Prudhome.

In 1857, Prudhome sold the Rancho to an Irishman by the name of Matthew Keller (known as Don Mateo to his Spanish friends). The US Surveyor General surveyed the land and approved to “give and grant” the Rancho Topango Malibu Sequit to Keller in 1872. Since then, all deeds to Malibu real estate are traceable to “the land of Matthew Keller.” Matthew Keller died in 1881 and his son, Henry Keller succeeded as owner of the Rancho. Keller sold the property in 1892 to Frederick Hastings Rindge.

In 1892 Frederick Hastings Rindge and May K. Rindge became the fourth and last private owners of the entire Rancho. They expanded the 13,330-acre Spanish Land Grant to some 17,000 acres. When Frederick died in 1905, May Rindge took over the management and preservation of Malibu Ranch, earning the legendary title of “Queen of Malibu”. She also started Malibu Potteries that produced the highly coveted Malibu tile. The ranch was passed through the family to Rhoda Agatha Rindge who married Merrit Huntley Adamson. The Adamsons built a beach house in 1929 by the Malibu lagoon which is preserved today as the Historic Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum which is well worth a visit.

The Rindge family long fought to keep Malibu Ranch private. In the early 1900s It was the last strip of the coast without a public access road. After years of legal battles going all the way to the Supreme Court, a county road was allowed and the road through Malibu Ranch was opened to the public on November 3, 1921. In 1929, the new state "Roosevelt Highway" (now Pacific Coast Highway or PCH) was opened for traffic. This ended the isolation of Malibu. Today some old-time Malibu residents say when a road closure strikes that it is "Rindge's Revenge."

Contemporary Malibu

With a public highway now running through Malibu, development was imminent. It started with the sale of the La Costa area for $6,000,000 in 1928. Malibu Colony was leased to the movie stars and this exclusive beach soon became a hideaway for the famous actors and entertainment personalities of the time. From then to the present day the Malibu Movie Colony has been world famous as the playground of Hollywood and the business elite. May Rindge, who so desperately wished to lead a very private life, ended up selling her land to the very people whose presence and lifestyles were to make Malibu famous throughout the world. PCH also opened Rancho Malibu to the surfers. The original surfers had to crawl through a "friendly" hole in the fence at Malibu Potteries and paddle out to Malibu Point and surfed one of the three most notable surfing spots in the United States. Famed Hawaiian surfer, Duke Kahanamoku, taught the sport to early Malibu surfers in 1929. The Duke was a great friend of Malibu Colony resident and famous movie actor Ronald Colman.

The area continued to be developed over the decades into a mix of an exclusive getaway community and flourishing residential and suburban community. For many years, rural Malibu was ruled by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that encouraged development to such an extent that the community rebelled and, after a drawn out and contentious fight, formed Malibu into a city on March 28, 1991.

Today Malibu is a vibrant community with excellent restaurants, an abundance of shopping opportunities, fun things to See & Do & and fun local events. Need something to do? Check out the 12 of the Best Things to do in Malibu. Although many signs boast Malibu as having 27 miles of beaches and coastline, the actual number is closer to 21 miles - all of scenic beauty.

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