(Australian Associated Press)
For a good 10 minutes I sat on the edge of the playground sandpit at the Malibu Country Mart chatting to the nice American lady in sunglasses, cap and a great love of Australia.
Our four-year-old daughters were playing in the sand at our feet as she raved about her Australian visits.
Well, actually my daughter was being a bit of a bully – stealing the other girl Willow’s sandpit toys.
It wasn’t until the nice lady took off her sunglasses I realised my new Aussie-loving pal was Alecia Moore, better known worldwide as the pop rock star Pink.
This is Malibu.
Visitors to Los Angeles often go to Hollywood, pay $US60 ($A84) to squeeze into a bus or refitted van and spend a couple of hours looking at the driveways and front fences of stars’ mansions in Beverly Hills and Bel Air.
In Malibu you see celebrities in their natural environment, particularly the Malibu Country Mart with its mix of great restaurants, high-end boutiques and California cool, chilled-out atmosphere.
Malibu local, Pierce Brosnan, is a regular at the Country Mart’s Greek restaurant Taverna Tony.
A short walk away in the adjacent Malibu Lumber Yard retail area is the rustic, relaxed Rande Gerber-owned Mexican restaurant Cafe Habana where George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin celebrated their engagement with friends including U2 rockers Bono and The Edge, Gerber and his supermodel wife Cindy Crawford.
The mahi mahi tacos are the best in LA.
There’s an attempt made to let celebs eat and shop at peace in the Lumber Yard, with “Paparazzi Free Zone” signs posted.
My wife has bumped into Kate Hudson at their beloved Intermix fashion store.
One of the first things I do with my Australian visitors is take them to Malibu and when I’m asked for a hotel recommendation I say the Malibu Beach Inn.
In fact, I suggest jet-lagged Aussies who touchdown in LA after the 14-hour flight across the Pacific spend the first three or four nights at the Malibu Beach Inn.
Built on Carbon Beach (nicknamed Billionaire’s Beach because of the LA uber wealthy who have compounds along the sand), every room has a balcony and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and Malibu Pier.
You are so close to the crashing waves ear plugs are in each room just in case the breakers are too loud.
The hotel’s Carbon Beach Club restaurant is also perched over the ocean and offers spectacular views for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.
For dinner I had the refreshing Hamachi Poke ($US20) as an entree and for the main the Wild King Salmon ($US32).
The hotel staff are great.
When my kids said they wanted to play on the beach below I asked if they had beach toys and within two minutes we had buckets, shovels, footballs and other things delivered to our door.
If you’re OK with driving in the US I’d recommend getting a rental car from the airport and driving directly to the hotel ($US82 a day for a hatchback or $US100 a day for a sedan).
There’s a Hertz rental car across from the hotel, so it’s easy to drop off.
I’d keep the car because it’s a great drive up and down the Pacific Coast Highway and cool places to stop and eat like Paradise Cove and Geoffrey’s (pronounced Joffrey’s), but if you’re not keen on driving Malibu is easily doable if you stay at the hotel.
There’s a free and handy trolley courtesy of the Country Mart that stops outside the hotel and takes you to the Country Mart and other local spots, including the Ralph’s supermarket and Pacific Coast Greens where you can pick up wine and other nibblies to watch the sunset on your hotel balcony.
If you don’t rent a car, I’d suggest booking one of LA’s many limousine companies to pick you up at LAX in a town car or SUV and take you to the Malibu Beach Inn (from $US120).
A cab will cost you about $US80 (I’m not a fan of LA cabs) and there’s moves under way to allow taxi alternatives Uber and Lyft to pick up passengers from LAX, so check that option out
If the weather is good, it’s a 20 minute beach walk from the hotel to the Country Mart.
Also from the hotel it’s only a five minute walk to one of my favourite places to eat in LA, the Malibu Farm restaurant and cafe on Malibu Pier.
Yes Aussies, you can get “good coffee” here as well as the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon ($US15) and Falkland Island Sea Bass ($US28).
From the hotel it’s also just a short beach walk south to Malibu’s iconic and sensational Nobu restaurant which is a gastronomical must for lunch or dinner, and also worth a visit for the tapas happy hour.
You’re likely to see celebrities at both.
Just two months after Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced their “conscious uncoupling” the former power couple, to the glee of the paparazzi that hunt around Malibu, chose Malibu Farm to catch up.
After your three or four night stay in Malibu the jet lag will be gone, you would have spotted a few celebs, proved there is great, healthy food and “good coffee” in the US and be ready to continue on your American holiday.
* Accommodation was provided by Malibu Beach Inn. Room rates start around $US348 per night excluding taxes and fees.