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...
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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!