Just off the Pacific Coast Highway, between Pepperdine University and Point Dume, Solstice Canyon, is an unusually scenic hike to the ruins of a once-grand private estate.
In 1952, “supermarket magnate” Fred Roberts and his wife Florence commissioned an architect to design a modern home for them at their family ranch at Solstice Canyon in Malibu. Fred had begun buying land in the area in the 1930s, eventually amassing almost 1000 acres.
The designed estate, built of stone, brick, and wood, was a perfect architectural fit for the home-site of waterfalls, springs and lush vegetation. The long, low ranch house surrounded by pools and falling water successfully created the tropical feel the couple wanted for their retreat. The couple named their residence Tropical Terrace.
Built as the couple’s retirement dream home, the exotic design was featured in Architectural Digest for its impressive blending of the home’s design with the property’s trees, creeks, and waterfalls. Concerned about the area’s high fire risk Fred insisted that the architect include an elaborate fire protection system for the home and build using only fire resistant materials.
Paul Williams, who also designed homes for Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra, designed the ranch house. The house burned down in the 1982 Dayton Canyon Fire, but the stately skeleton remains, including fireplaces, a bathtub, an old stove, an old oven, and some partially intact walls. The house is surrounded by a number of non-native plants, and a little stream flows nearby creating a waterfall. You can scramble up the waterfall to catch some additional falls and ruins, including a set of the Roberts family hand prints carved into the cement.
Sadly, Fred passed away in 1976 before he could see his vacation home completed. Today, hikers can see its original foundation, along with fireplaces, the bomb shelter, an old bathtub and more at Solstice Canyon.
Solstice provides a window into Malibu’s past. Beyond panoramic glimpses of the ocean and the therapeutic quality of all trails in the Santa Monica Mountains, Solstice Canyon is also uniquely rooted in the history of the Chumash Indians and old-town Malibu.
The fields and hills were historic stomping grounds for the Chumash, an indigenous tribe spanning from Paso Robles in the north to Malibu in the south. In fact, renovations to Solstice Canyon Park in 2003 came grinding to a halt when construction workers uncovered the 200-year-old grave site of a Chumash Indian.
Solstice Canyon, along with the remains of the Roberts Ranch home site became a public park in 1988 managed by the National Park Service. Traces of the Williams’ designed landscape; fishpond and the grassy area overlooking the creek remain, looking like a “life-sized blueprint” of the original home. (National Park Service. Solstice Canyon) Serene and beautiful the area is a favorite circuit for hikers.
Solstice Canyon is worth a stop. From the PCH, turn on Corral Canyon Road, find one of two public parking lots or grab a space on the street if you’re not there early enough, about a quarter mile inland.
The trails provide the perfect combination of mellow flats and steeper climbs and makes for a gratifying, if challenging, trail run as well as hike. Just be aware that during hot weather, the canyon traps warm air like a sauna, but the magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean along the way make it all worth it.
While other trails begin from the main parking lot about one mile inside the park, I suggest the approximately 3-mile loop from Solstice Canyon Trail to Rising Sun Trail. Proceed past the main gate, pass the restrooms, across the bridge to the T, and then take a right. Be amazed as you travel down a trail lined with giant oaks and sycamores and watch as the canyon rises high above you on both sides.
This is one of the better hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains, not only because of the history of the canyon, but because of how isolated it is. Throughout the decades people have always connected with this canyon. It is a special place and when you go there you will see why. What else can you ask for in a hike? It has running water, waterfalls, ruins, shade, wildflowers, nice trails and perfect ocean views.