Getting Around Malibu: Zuma Canyon

March 2003 satellite image of Zuma Canyon with the ocean and Zuma Beach at lower left.  PCH curves upward to the right.  Busch Drive runs up the center of the image with smaller Bonsall Road at an angle to the east of BuschCopyright
March 2003 satellite image of Zuma Canyon with the ocean and Zuma Beach at lower left. PCH curves upward to the right. Busch Drive runs up the center of the image with smaller Bonsall Road at an angle to the east of Busch.

Zuma Canyon Neighborhood

Leaving Pacific Coast Highway and its profusion of fast, noisy cars and crowds of beach goers behind and entering Zuma Canyon, one can only marvel at the uncommon beauty and tranquility. Everywhere there are tress and flowers. The near-perfect silence is interrupted only by birds singing, crickets chirping, and the occasional hum of a distant mower.

What is almost unbelievable is traveling just a few hundred feet and being in such a pastoral setting, free of congestion, noise and visual disharmony. From the start, the visitor senses that Zuma Canyon is a rare and special place. There is immediately a feeling of having discovered a place unspoiled and undisturbed by civilization. Only upon a closer look does one become fully aware of the homes tucked behind a camouflage of thickset bougainvilla hedges colorfully lining the street.

Zuma Canyon property was originally settled with a population density of about one homestead per every five acres of land. Today, there are approximately fifty single-family building sites, each occupying an average of about three acres. Most have been developed in secluded estate-like settings.

From the vantage point of a western rim, one can observe a patchwork of small orchards, truck farms, stables and corrals stretching over the gently rolling terrain. There are groves of oranges and avocados, apple orchards, and greenhouses where rare varieties of orchids and nursery stock are grown. The unusual climatic conditions of Zuma Canyon are favorable to producing a wide variety of plants, fruits and vegetables. Agriculture represents the only commercial enterprise permitted by RA-1 zoning in the Canyon, and it is an important source of livelihood and interest to more than a few of the canyon's property owners.

Zuma Canyon is located on the eastern side of Pacific Coast Highway along the stretch of Malibu between Kanan Dume Road to the south and Trancas Canyon to the north. The main road in Zuma Canyon is Bonsall Road. Busch Drive, in Malibu Park, lies at the western side of the canyon. At the beach end of the Canyon lies the Zuma wetlands and beach; at the other end is land currently designated as a National Park. There is no access to the beach from Zuma Canyon; there are no ocean views. Residential properties are nestled on a floodplain below steep slopes and rugged ridgelines.

Zuma Canyon is one of the least disturbed canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, and it is considered a Significant Ecological Area. Its dry slopes and ridge are sparsely covered by a mixture of chaparral, coastal sage scrub and natural grasses. In contract, the riparian bottom of the Canyon is dominated by narrow bands of dense native Oaks and Western Sycamore woodlands. Significant Watershed areas surround the woodlands. Zuma Creek flows down the mountain and interior valleys towards the Pacific Ocean. The interaction between the ocean and streambed forms one of the last remaining wetlands along the Southern California coast.

The brushy, grassy habitat of Zuma Canyon provides a haven for a rich diversity of wildlife. Deer, bobcats, rabbits, raccoons, badgers and other species continue to be site in Zuma Canyon. The Canyon's canopy of trees and shrubs provide a sanctuary for many bird species, including trashers, quail and Golden Eagles. Members of the Audubon Society find Zuma Canyon a paradise for birdwatching activities. Historically, the high cliffs of Zuma Canyon provided a nesting habitat for the Peregrine Falcon, a State and Federally listed Endangered Species.

Describing the physical attributes of Zuma Canyon is much easier than defining the personality of its neighborhood. Even with access to an entire vocabulary it is difficult to find the proper words to express the quality of life existing in the Canyon. Many Zuma Canyon property owners are longtime residents who came to the Canyon seeking solitude and serenity. They, as well as newcomers to the Canyon, have chosen to retain those qualities. Over the years, the quiet, secluded, rural character of the Canyon environment has remained virtually unchanged.

Several residents of the Canyon are now retired and appreciate more than ever the intimacy of canyon living. Others are professionals who work in the city but pay the price of lengthy commutes to return to a slower pace once their day's work is complete. Even non-residents enjoy the Canyon's ambience; riders regularly enjoy a ride through the Canyon.

A common denominator shared by Zuma Canyon property owners is a desire for privacy. This has brought about a feeling of closeness and community among the neighbors that's hard to find nowadays.

Sources: Information on this page was adapted from the City of Malibu, General Plan, November 1995

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