• Nov 16, 2008

Click above to view the map of this week's Sunday Drive

This week our guest writer/driving guide is none other than Jonny Lieberman of AutoFiends fame. Not only has the Loverman put together a route to test your testicular wherewithal, but he's set the bar for rhetorical prose -- all from behind the wheel of a Mazda5. Take it away Jonny!

When most Americans think of Malibu, they probably think of fires and landslides. And they're correct -- there's lots of those. They might also know about the fantastic roads that crisscross the seaside city and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area that separates the beach bum town of about 12,000 from the Valley. Like Mulholland Highway. But what most people fail to realize is how epically weird the area and its inhabitants are. Example: King Camp Gillette bought 588 acres right in the heart of today's drive just before the Great Depression. Not only did Gillette invent the razor you shaved with this morning, but he believed that all Americans should live in a single city called Metropolis with power provided by Niagra Falls. No, really. Moreover, every corporation would be headed up and run by a single government official. After Teddy Roosevelt declined Gillette's suggestion, King G moved to Malibu Canyon. When he died, Clarence Brown got the ranch, then Bob Hope took over the property and gave it over to the Catholic Church, which ran a seminary on the property for 25 years. This is before Elizabeth Claire Prophet got her hands on the land in 1978. Who? Her and her late husband founded one of the original crack-pot new age California religions, TSL. And this is just one plot of land. It gets better...

Want to contribute your own Sunday Drive? Send a Google Maps-formatted route and, if you wish, a story to autoblogsundaydrive – at – gmail – dawt – com.



After Guns'N'Roses drummer Steven Adler got booted from the band, he moved to a condo right where we begin today's drive. Not to quote Dennis Miller, but can you imagine the sort of behavior that would get you kicked out of Guns'N'Roses -- in 1990? He must have been raping turtles. Just before the end of the drive you'll zip by Mick Mars' old house. Sure, if you read Motley Crue's epic tell-all, The Dirt you'll know that Mr. Mars never tried to boink every hooker in Hong Kong over a weekend or snort lines of ants with Ozzy. Mick was the sane one who rambled on about alien abduction and out of body experiences. He no longer lives there -- but Ogre from Skinny Puppy does!

I used to live there, up in the Agoura Hills on the northern edge of Malibu Canyon. Our days consisted of popping pills, firing a rifle at a distant neighbor's statue and wandering around town holding a giant sack filled with gold Sacajaweea dollar coins. It would not be out of place for us to barge into a restaurant with an ice-filled rolling cooler, dump dozens upon dozens of coins on the counter and demand they provides us with mounds of bacon-wrapped shrimp. In Malibu Canyon that sort of thing passed for normal.

I grew up just outside of Malibu Canyon -- in Thousand Oaks -- where not mowing your lawn is considered grounds for lynching. We had none of the weirdness, but plenty of access to the fabulous roads. Point of fact, some of my earliest memories involve being strapped into the old man's Datsun 280Z and bombing said canyons. If those Sunday drives aren't the entire reason I love cars so much, they're a healthy 50%. So, blame the canyons. And now through the magic of Google mapping technology, I can now share some of my favorite roads.

We're going to start on El Camino Real (U.S. Route 101 to you non-native types) just west of Calabasis. Exit at Las Virgines and head south towards the beach. Depending on the time of day this can be a cop-free, fast road. The flipside of that coin is that you can easily get stuck behind a cement mixer hauling a Winnebago. Luckily, you won't be on Las Virgines long. After about three miles you'll be headed west on Mulholland Highway, the western most terminus of the infamous Mulholland Drive. You have about three miles of winding, lightly trafficked driving bliss before you come across the town of Malibu Lake. Slow down, look to your left at the Gatsby-ish yellow/gold mansion on top of the hill, laugh at the owner and floor it.

Within a mile you'll be in the boho hamlet of Cornell. Watch out for motorcycles. Why? Well, Cornell is home to the Rock Store, Ed & Vern's motorcycle pit-stop. As it's Sunday (the Rock Store's only open Fri - Sun) the place will be packed with bikes of all stripes. Have you ever wanted to watch Governor Schwarzenegger eat an omelet? The Rock Store's the place for you. Odds are that Leno will also show up with a jet-powered something or other. Best to keep driving.

The next stretch of Mulholland is where you really want to keep your eyes open for bikers, as the sweeping corners turn into blind sweeping corners. Two miles later and you come to Kanan Road. You can continue across Kanan on Mulholland Highway (this is a very fast, 55-mph section) but I suggest turning left on Kanan and heading out to the beach. Look, it's a pubic road and while I'm sure you're so awesome that Ken Block has you on speed dial, part of Sunday drives are relaxing and enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer. And since Ma' Nature basically lives in California, you'll be quite satisfied. Besides, I'm setting you up for the good stuff. Trust me.

It takes about five miles to get to Point Dume where Kanan Road terminates into the Pacific Coast Highway. We're turning right and heading towards Zuma Beach and Point Mugu. This is the more lightly populated section of Malibu, meaning less traffic and fewer cops. It's a straight but pretty drive with the Pacific Ocean on your left and looming mountains on your right. Stop, have some water, stretch. Cause Decker Canyon is up next.



I can't remember if it's one in twelve Americans that live in Southern California or one in fourteen (do the math), but you'd be surprised at how few of 'em know about Decker Canyon Road. This is the road that so blew my father's mind, convincing him we lived just north of Heaven. Long known to locals as the most deadly stretch of road in California, Decker, in a word, rules. It's nine miles of technical corners, decreasing radius sweepers, elevation changes and half mile straights. The climate changes from coastal scrub to light pine forests to chaparral all within the space of twenty minutes. Fifteen if you push it.

Back to my Malibu Canyon Weirdness Theorem, all you really need to know about Decker is that Iron Butterfly's bass player, Philip Taylor Kramer, committed suicide by driving his van off one of the cliffs. According to local legend, Anagodadavida was still playing on the eight-track when they found him two days later. Or was that Stairway to Heaven?

Point is, Decker Canyon is the type of road you'll never forget and here's a quick story to prove my point. Years ago I was assigned an article about a Birkin Se7en. I was tasked with meeting the driver in a parking lot in Calabasas and we were going to tear up the local roads. I kept bugging him about Decker. He'd never heard of it, but assured me I had no idea what I was talking about. Finally, I convinced him. After we got to the bottom and decided to run it again the other way he turned to me and in a crisp German accent said, "You know. That road's much better than I thought it would be." No kidding. At the end of Decker you can continue straight on Westlake Blvd. and head directly back to the 101. Or, you can turn left on Potrero and head out to Lake Sherwood, a fake lake built in the 1930s for Errol Flynn's Robin Hood. Rumor holds that Errol's appellation of "In Like Flynn" was solidified during this particular shoot. And I'm leaving you with that. Happy driving!


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  • 21 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      No kidding about Decker Canyon Road. Balance, low weight and tossability (yes, it's a word) rule here.
      • 6 Years Ago
      no word about the mazda5? ive always wondered how they drive
      • 6 Years Ago
      Love Decker Canyon. Rode it all the time on my motorcycle when I lived in Redondo Beach..touring not racing. Ventured up Decker Edison Road which is near the bottom of Decker Canyon road back in 1989...nice view and only saw concrete slabs where houses once stood..could not figure out what was going on. I assume now that fires took out all of the homes and nobody did or could rebuild. I see via google maps some homes have gone back up and bigger than what was there before. Awesome drive, nice post, good memories.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Surely you meant to write "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida".
      • 6 Years Ago
      funny. i run that same exact route almost every weekend with my car club. its awesome you'll run into a million car clubs running those canyons. along with a gang load of motorcycles, test cars/prototype cars and celebs like Jay Leno.

      I was just chilling on top of Stunt road one day during my break from work and saw the new Skyline. This was a while ago just right after the skyline was announced to run its first recorded time on the Nurb.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I live 2 miles from Potrero, about to take the afternoon ride to clear out the Monday aggravations. I love Decker but it can scare the wee out of you. A road made for a super motard if ever there was one.

      A few decent restaurants and bars at the west end of this route, final intersection before you hit the 101. Recharge before you shoot back to L.A.

      • 6 Years Ago
      cool to see a piece about where I grew up, the roads I learned to drive on and all the tires, rotors and brakepads I went through.

      Of all the valley to coast canyon roads Decker pretty much ranks up there on my list. Not many know about it, of those that do discover it many do not try it again. Motorcyclists tend to avoid it due to the road condition and debris. In all the years I’ve driven it, I saw a California Highway Patrol once and that was when they were filming a car commercial.

      Decker IMO is the type of road that favors small & nimble cars over raw power. FWD cars on this road are an interesting white knuckle experience but no match for a rwd or awd car.

      There are some hazards not mentioned in his article to look out for. It's a good idea to first drive the route slow, learn all the hazzards then run it at speed. New drivers should keep off this road and if you have FWD econo car, take extra caution.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I'd take a good handling FWD car over a poorly setup RWD or AWD (the understeer will kill you on Decker). Not so much about what wheels are driven these days, more about the engineering. My friend's completely stock GTI will destroy ANYTHING out there under $50k

        But yeah, totally have the same experience. My parents always wondered why I burned through brake pads on my Honda civic at such an alarming rate. Great detour when you're commuting back and forth out the 101 to CSUN.
      • 6 Years Ago
      When I think of Malibu I think of a much better looking car than a Mazda 5.
        • 6 Years Ago
        We had a G37 sport 6MT lined up, but the best laid plans of mice and men...
      • 6 Years Ago
      This is my first time every commenting at Autoblog, but I couldn't resist after reading this post. I have ridden this area on sportbikes for years (occassional drive) and I would recommend this route for those who are driving or riding north or west to Malibu:

      Recommended time: Before 10am on weekends:
      Take PCH to Topanga Canyon - Have fun, but don't go nuts due to the randomness this area provides. Occassional Law Enforcement can be found here.
      Make a left on to Mulholland Drive and another left on to Mulholland Hwy. Continue on Mulholland Hwy for a very long time (depending on your speed of course).

      When you end up on PCH head south towards LA and either branch off on Decker Canyon or continue slightly further and head up Encinal Canyon. The last two times I was out there I rode Decker one time and Encinal another. Encinal is not nearly as death defying as Decker, and if you are in the mood for more high speed fun than hard core cornering, it may make for a more entertaining ride (especially after just riding/driving the majority of Mulholland). To each his own.

      As you take Encinal through the hills you will likely want to make a right after Rattlesnake lane and continue on. You will eventually land on Mulholland again where you can experience it in the opposite direction (which is literally a 180 in feel when riding a motorcycle) or maybe chill out on Kanan on your way back to the beach (or North to the valley if desired).

      For the adventurous type: Take Topanga Canyon and about 1/2 way up make branch off on to Fernwood. I don't feel like posting a specific route after this as Fernwood is useful for those looking to just get lost for an hour or two. You will easily be able to find your way home after a bit of fun driving/riding (the one direction road farther up is amazing).

      Enjoy,

      Dan B.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I live in Santa Monica and work in Thousand Oaks. Take these roads pretty much daily. Lot of fun in an R32.
      Would love to do a group drive through the canyons.

      Near the top of decker
      http://images40.fotki.com/v1335/photos/5/51621/6577518/Canyons-vi.jpg

      On Cornell
      http://images40.fotki.com/v1303/photos/5/51621/6014641/IMG_1273-vi.jpg

      Off Mulholland
      http://images40.fotki.com/v1301/photos/5/51621/6014641/IMG_1290-vi.jpg

      Turns any bad day into a good day. How can you complain after driving through miles of twisties and then the serene view and smell of the ocean along PCH?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Hey Matt, I think I've seen your R32 before...

        I live on 16th and Broadway, and I saw a blue R32 once. And Seeing how that's not a very common car, I'm figuring it is yours.
        • 6 Years Ago
        HA! Fun-knee
        I take my R32 thru there every day on my way to work in Santa Monica.

        I kinda wish it did not get any publicity...but he did not even mention the really "good" roads, so I'm OK.

        FWIW: nothing but poseurs, mostly on Harleys up there on the weekend - strictly amateur hour.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Chris- could be me. I live on 5th and Ocean Park, but sometimes drive around where you're talking.
      comnetca
      • 10 Months Ago
      Hi Damon, I stumbled upon your blog while searching on google and I wanted to invite you to cover our car enthusiast group known as Eurotopia. We're a group of SoCal car enthusiasts who enjoy doing canyon drives almost everywhere in SoCal and we've got over 400 registered members. Please visit and register on www.eurotopian.com for more details. Please let me know if you need more information. Thanks, Amer
      • 6 Years Ago
      Also recommended: Left on Mulholland off Las Virgines, right on Stunt Road, another right where it ends at the top of the ridge at Schuren Road (and from where you can see from Rancho Palos Verdes to Pasadena to Santa Clarita to the Channel Islands), right again onto Piuma Road, which puts a driver -- sweaty and trembling -- right back at Malibu Canyon.

      Another good run: Take Kanan south from the 101. Pass Mulholland, but take the next left turn onto Latigo Canyon Road, which runs all the way to the beach and PCH.

      Finally, some recommendations. Avoid all Malibu roads on weekends, when they are clogged with bikers, motorcyclists, Sunday drivers and, in the summer, rental cars driven by clueless tourists. Instead, get to the office late on a Wednesday because of a "doctor appointment." Have fun. And in the winter, beware the blind, damp, shaded corners that don't see sunlight on the north sides of the mountains. They're slick.
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