California Dreaming at Malibu’s Surfrider Hotel

Tony Bennett might have left his heart in San Francisco, but I left mine in Malibu — at the Surfrider Hotel to be specific. A wild travel enthusiast, I enjoy wandering off the “beaten path” to hang out where the locals are. I prefer to skip the travel books and allow myself to get lost on the streets, typically gravitating toward the unique, one-of-a-kind, and exceptional experiences each city has to offer. 

Nestled along PCH, about 45 minutes north of LAX (depending on traffic, of course), Malibu is that sort of quintessential California experience one longs for once released from the gridlock of the 405 freeway. It’s known for its celebrity residents, lavish mansions, and some of the most gorgeous views the world has to offer.

For a city that always seems slightly intimidating and on a completely different wavelength than the rest of LA, with so much extravagance and flash, the Surfrider is a breath of fresh air. Everything about it seems inviting, warm, and welcoming. Built in 1953, the hotel is a Malibu icon that has managed to maintain its sense of nostalgia. Once a stomping ground for musicians like The Doors, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan, its history permeates its newly renovated walls — you get the sense that you’re walking on hallowed ground. 

Co-owner and Creative Director, Emma Crowther Goodwin, fell in love with the land and hotel when a friend mentioned the opportunity, and laughs when she says, “From there it sort of took on a life of its own.” 

The entire concept, redesign, and rebranding for the hotel was decided completely by Crowther Goodwin and her partners to ensure there was synergy within every aspect of the development process — a classic beach vibe perfectly blended with a chic, modern style.

Everything about the rooms look and feel like the beach, right down to the raw stone sinks, crisp white sheets, and crème-colored, wooden walls. To ensure the ultimate California beach experience, the hotel provides essential SoCal amenities and perks like surfboards, beach towels and umbrellas, picnic programs, and even complimentary Mini Coopers with specially selected California “road trip maps.” 

The pièce de résistance though, is in the nuances of the hotel, like the local and organic food served in the restaurant, the hammocks that accompany the balconies, or the eco-friendly face and body products provided in the bathrooms. It is these more subtle characteristics that reflect the level of intention and love that went into the place. Integrity and quality were not compromised for the sake of cutting corners. The guest’s experiences are what matters most — which makes complete sense once you get to know Crowther Goodwin. 

An Australian native, she is a travel lover who traveled to 50 countries between the ages of 18 and 25. At 21 her travels took her to New York City, which she loved so much she decided to stay in the US. Her background is in real estate and branding, however she has no prior experience in hospitality. In fact, opening a hotel was never a plan of hers. “There was no five-year plan or strategy,” she confesses. “That said, I firmly believe that if you are living authentically, doing everything with good intention, approaching things with passion and soul, all while genuinely working hard to build foundations and create layers of knowledge and experience, the rest will fall into place one way or another.” 

It’s no easy feat owning and operating a boutique hotel in one of the world’s most prestigious places, Crowther Goodwin has had to face her fair share of obstacles as a female-business owner in a predominantly male-dominated industry. But with incredible mentors she is reminded that there is more “power” in being guided by intuition and emotional intelligence than the more traditional mindset of big business. The love she has for her staff and brand radiates from not only herself, but from the establishment itself. “One thing I always go back to is that old comment, ‘It’s not personal,’” she says, “but, in my business — and any business I would ever want to be in — it’s ALL personal.” 

And it’s in that comment that I perfectly understand why this place feels and looks so special.

Julia Piantini is a writer living in Miami, Florida. Head over to her recently relaunched site theserverandthesage.com for a complete collection of both her personal and contributory writings. For extra fun, you can find her on the ‘Gram at @julia_piantini or at @theserverandthesage.

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