Smartphone app gives public access to Malibu's illegal "private" beaches

For decades, the unimaginably wealthy residents of Malibu's oceanfront mansions have been using sneaky tricks to prevent the public from accessing the beautiful beaches in the area. But, as reported in USA Today, "The California Coastal Commission, a powerful state environmental agency, says the law allows everyone to frolic in the waves and the damp sand below the point of the highest tide."

That doesn't stop the rich and famous from doing everything they can to obstruct access to this 27-mile strip of pristine beaches. Below, a few examples of their illegal handiwork.

Things could get tougher for these folks when a new iPhone app comes out this summer. "Our Malibu Beaches" was created by Jenny Price, a writer, artist, and environmental historian who advocates for open access to public beaches that have been barred by the residents of Malibu.

Here's the Kickstarter pitch:

Every beach in Malibu has huge sections open to the public. And a lot of them are as deserted as they are beautiful – even on the hottest summer beach days.

The app's called Our Malibu Beaches. And it's filled with info you can't get anywhere else – not on Yelp, Trip Advisor, or anywhere.

Our app shows you exactly where each public access point is. It helps you park. It even walks you down each beach – house-by-house – to find the best spot for your towel on the dry sand.

This app is over a year in the making. And it's awesome.

Now, we want everyone to have it. EVERYONE.

And that's where you, the Kickstarter community, come in. If our campaign is successful, Escape Apps will do two things:

1. Make the app free for everyone to download all summer long.

2. Work our butts off to get an Android version out this summer.

Opening this Summer: The Malibu Beaches!


  1. This will only work if no one from the app approval team lives in a Malibu beach house.

    1. If it gets rejected, make it an HTML5 webapp (which would require rewriting it, yes). Now you don’t need an app approval team.

    2. Ah yes… app approval. That’s the multi-million dollar job that gets you buying Malibu beach houses.

  2. Why does this need a kickstarter? Similar “database apps” have been made for other projects by people who spent no more than the $100 Apple Developer subscription and their free time to populate the database.

    1. Because if you think the authors should get paid for their work, then donate. If you don’t think so, then don’t and you can still download the app for free.

    2. Yeah, because everyone who wants to work on good causes that aren’t economically profitable — or shouldn’t be for profit in the first place — should just work for free and live in the streets. Because martyrs are good for  innovation, the economy and the general well being of humanity.


      These guys are working out a way to get paid for the time that they invested in creating this app without making everyone pay for that app. Those who think it is a worthwhile project will pitch in a little bit, so no one has to be a martyr here and give all their time, effort, or money to this thing.

      1. Let’s just hope they don’t get TOO rich making apps, because then we’d have to start demonizing them for being “fat cats.”

        1. I’m sure they won’t care. They’ll just retire to a little private beach somewhere.

      2. Xzzy didn’t say anything about whether the authors should be paid; s/he just asked why it needed to be done through kickstarter.
        It’s trivial to make a free app, and ask users to pay by IAP if they like it– loads of apps do this.  It doesn’t sound like they actually need investment, they just want to get paid for the app before they’ve finished it (and it must be said, this also avoids Apple’s 30% cut on App Store transactions).  I have nothing against them getting paid however they feel like, but it’s also no bad thing to be clear about the difference between business and charity…

        1.  Skipping Apple’s 30% cut is not nothing.

          In any case, it’s perfectly legitimate to use Kickstarter for this. If you disagree, then don’t back them.

    3. I’m a little surprised the homeowners haven’t offered them double whatever they raise to *not* publish the app. Stupid rich people.

      1.  Look at how many of them insist on driving drunk when they could pay to be driven around in luxury until the end of time. Money doesn’t always equal smarts..  Of course, I guess they are smart enough to know that they’ll be given many more “do overs” than us.

    4. because making the app is cheap. Hosting it and having it actually available to the public costs money. If it gets popular, it costs a lot of money – very quickly.
      Server bills alone can easily run into the thousands per month, and once you start getting even a handful of users on it – it pretty quickly gets to be too big for one person to manage. That means bringing in outside help to stay on top of everything and keep it updated/usable – guess what that costs? More money.

    5. I don’t know the makers of the app, but in their defense…

      1) Malibu is a bit of a drive from most of L.A. so, assuming the app team doesn’t have their own villa there, a lot of trips = a lot of gas money and extremely unpredictable traffic from which there are no side streets or escape routes.    
      2) Malibu has 21 MILES of coastline, much of which has this residential intersect.  

      3) I don’t know if the app makers have encountered this, but believe me, if they see you doing it, the residents WILL threaten you for taking pics of their bogus signs and gates, and they can and will call on CHP, county sheriff and private security to come out and harass you for trespassing or blocking a false “driveway” as shown in the video piece and made abundantly clear in The Big Lebowski.  I’ve been personally harassed by private security in the area while parked legally.  These companies and enforcement agencies may be less aware of access rights than the Coastal Commission, something the popularity of the app could help shine a light on.  
      4) They noted it’s been over a year in the making.If the app has a lot of specifics like those in the photos, it has taken a lot of legwork.  If they’ve sat at home and used Google street view, it’s still a lot of work to sort through the signage and property lines.  Still, it would be nice if the Coastal Commission or the Google would just spell this stuff out on Google Maps. 

  3. OK. When are we getting one up here for Cape Cod?  The rich & obnoxious have been getting away with all sorts of crap for years now. Massachusetts law is quite similar to California, but shoreline homeowner douchebaggery  and outright obstruction continues with few if any challenges from people or communities. Last time I was “ordered” to take my wife and kids off of “someone’s” beach … I was threatened with “calling the police.” My answer was “give em a call, and we’ll talk about ‘your’ beach.”  Of course, the cops never came because they know better.  More people need to stand up to these selfish assholes.

    1. I’ve experienced this (and know people who have experienced it) on Long Island and Connecticut as well.

    2. Unfortunately, MA beaches can essentially be private. Public access above the low tide line is only allowed for the purposes of fishing, fowling, or navigation, thanks to a colonial-era law.

      Most towns do have public right-of-ways that give access to the water. Typically, many landowners do try to hide or eliminate these. There should definitely be an app/site that catalogs these and helps keep them open.

      1. my best friend’s step-aunt makes $88 an hour on the laptop. She has been laid off for five months but last month her pay was $14959 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on  Zap22.c­om

    3. Actually, MA has a different law and people there CAN enforce a “private” beach…

      1. Easy solution: I’m birdwatching, which is “fowling”, and there’s nothing to complain about in that I have chosen to lie on a blanket by the water and wait for my favorite bird to fly by.

  4. The problem with this sort of thing is that it’s a lot more fun to go to a crowded beach and just enjoy the day than it is going to a secluded beach and getting yelled at and fighting with people who, even though they’re in the wrong, will gladly ruin your beach day.

    1. Actually, a lot of us think it’s great fun to stand up to and/or piss off rich fatcats, who know they are in the wrong but think they rule the world because they’ve got a few bucks.  That beats a day at the beach any day.

      1.  It’s true. If I were a rich fatcat, I’d try to find something better to do with my precious time than harass beachgoers.  They deserve their pain.

    2. Just get on Craigslist and organize with your community to inform them of this awesome beach and the actual laws regarding access to it. Then have a few hundred people show up informed and ready to have a good time while standing up for their rights.

      Hell, get a few people together and you can rent a smallish bus, a big bbq and a few dozen brats and ice-cold sodas.

      “So you don’t want someone reminding you that your solipist fantasy is just that Mr/Ms. Wealthy Person? How about several hundred people?

  5. There is a small patch of land between the houses in Malibu that I frequent. It is never “secluded.” Many people know where you can and can’t go. You can’t just park your blanket on dry sand in front of someone’s beach house. You can WALK in the wet sand.  If you are someone who packs up a full car and drives a long distance for the beach, then these spots aren’t for you, anyhow. If it’s a big excursion for your family, you probably would be happier with the large beaches that only charge a small parking fee anyhow.

  6. I’ll be the dissenting voice here.

    Will gaining access to these additional sections of beach reduce overcrowding on the more well-known public beaches? Or is this just a way for people to feel good about sticking it to the rich folks?

    It seems like the outcome of this would be to create a noisy, crowded environment in the back yards of people’s homes where it was once peaceful. With the increased traffic will come safety issues and the potential for more crime, from nuisances like vandalism to thefts and break-ins. That means increased police presence – you know the homeowners are going to demand that – and a greater cost to local taxpayers. 

    From watching the video, it’s clear that a lot of those public beaches are narrow strips of sand between the homes and the water, so we’re talking about people sitting in what is essentially other people’s back yards – even if it is technically public space.

    So if this works as intended, we’ll end up with people’s previously tranquil homes surrounded by noise and activity, higher costs to the taxpayers, lowered home values, and probably no significant reduction to crowding on other beaches. 

    Forget for a minute about whether the homeowners are “rich,” would you want that to happen to your house? This whole thing just feels like a chance for people to get back at rich people for having too much money.

    1. As a not rich person it turns out that is pretty much my life anyway, but without the ocean. The deal they got when they purchased was that there was a strip of beach there. That’s the deal they deserve, even if it would be nicer if it weren’t true.

      1. I think you’re missing his point. These drifters and scoundrels cluttering up the beach would lower the PROPERTY PRICES.
        That’s like, physical assault, or something.

      2. You’re more generous to them than me. I’d say they don’t deserve any of it.

        Their heirs can be fairly compensated for the property when the owners die. Turn it into parkland and make it accessible to all Americans. It’s insanity that in such a large and populated country a few people can fence off such a scarcity and tell the rest of the country to get lost. Can you imagine if the lakefront here was so hard to get to and privatized? Even over a century ago some rich and powerful people could see that this wasn’t right. That’s saying something.

        1. Its like the finger lakes region in upstate NY. Beautiful lakes COMPLETELY surrounded by shitty-ass summer rentals and obnoxious summer “camps” (compounds) that rich folks use for a few weeks, at most. The entire area should be open to the public, not sectioned and cordoned off by assholes who think they own the water. America is the greediest fucking nation on earth.

    2.  I knew before I moved into my house on a lake, that during the day, there would be activity on and around the shore. If you move into a residence by a public place, you should understand this. Those beaches have been public long before any of those assholes moved there.

      Simple As.

      1. But can you really abide by the notion that this is all some petty revenge by some financially stricken female who just wants to ruin the happy and tranquil lives of the seriously job creatingly rich?

    3. Because it’s OUR land.
      If people didn’t push back at this kind of crap, there would be hundreds of miles of our coastline not accessible to anyone who didn’t purchase land on the shoreline.
      The whole point of the accessibility laws was to allow… access.

      1. Well at least you’re embracing the litigious aspects of this story, I’m sure a quick legal redefinition of the term ‘access’ and some sportingly large lawyers fees will soon sort the right from the poor.

        1. lawsuits != laws
          I don’t really understand what else you’re trying to say other than general cynical downersim, maybe?  Don’t be a hater now.

    4.  How can you “forget they’re rich” when they live in such amazing exclusivity? I’d go even further and say that we need to start reclaiming beachfront properties and start turning as much of them as we can into parkland and make access to the ocean open to all citizens as it should be.

      1. Can I be the first to point out it would be substantially easier to forget all about the rich if we just let them close themselves off away from view?
        But I *would* like to see a study proving health benefits for humans with easily discernible access to databases detailing access methods to hidden beaches; and I shan’t be moved on the subject until such a study is produced!

        1. you’re so FUCKING IGNORANT… do you own Malibu beachfront property?! it seems you must.

    5. I hear ya bro. Except for the specific examples of deliberate obfuscation stated clearly in this article, I would say these nice old rich folk don’t look at all as if they have anything to hide.

    6.  Sorry, but no.  You’re not going to be able to convince anyone that, simply because they want more seclusion, that beachfront property owners (rich or poor) should have  sole control over PUBLIC beaches.

      “Technically” public IS public.  Get over it.

    7. Give away public property why again?

      So what IS the difference between these people who bought on the coast who do not respect public property and your fear of those who (you mistakenly believe) do not respect private property?

      1. Well, you can, but they’re under no obligation at all to listen to you.

        Still, yours is the best and most succinct analysis so far.

      2. Chances are that half your lawn is street easement, and you don’t really own it.  My last house was on a street that was built way to one side of the center line of the easement, which is a minimum 60 feet here.  About five feet of my front yard was easement.  The front door of the house across the street was about a foot from the border, even though they had a large yard.  Fortunately, it was a small block going nowhere, so it’s unlikely that the street would ever be widened.

        1.  Actually, you really do own that easement, it’s just that the legal encumbrance against your land may grant another entity some very specific use of it as well.

          That may dictate what you may or may not do with your land, since you basically have to share it with another interest. Even if a portion of a lot of front yards is in the right-of-way, that doesn’t mean that anyone can just come along and treat it as public land, it may only be used for the purpose of widening the road or sidewalk, pending redeinition of the right-of-way.

          I wonder if this is the mechanism by which municipalities compel people to shovel the sidewalks in front of their homes & businesses. I doubt they could force that issue unless people technically owned the sidewalks.

    8. Following your logic all future building must be barred because it will bother somebody somehow. Because any new construction will create noise, bring more people, and possibly lower the value of the real estate. More importantly, when these people bought their homes they were fully aware that the beaches adjoining their homes weren’t their personal property and that the public could and would use the public’s beaches that the homeowners do not own. And why would people recreate on a beautiful beach surrounded by beautiful homes? That makes no sense at all so it must be people wanting to stick it to rich people.

      1. A few years ago I took the ferry from San Francisco to Tiberon, for the first time in about 20 years.

        I couldn’t believe that on the S.F. side of the town, someone had built a 3 block long row of two story condos, completely eliminating the view from the 80+ year old houses that were twenty yards farther back from the water, and completely cutting off access to the semi-beach that was there.

        I was trying to guess how much money changed hands to get that project done.

        Not really pertinent to today’s discussion, but the discussion reminded me of that trip..

        1. I would have had infinitely more sympathy to this story anytime until having to pay rent here in the bay area.  

          An adequate housing stock = payable rent
          payable rent = poor people being able to eat and save for college. 

          Not that I like condos but come on, $1400 for a 1b/1b?

          1.  The dangerous parts, occupied by old, paranoid hippie types who only accept cash and generally don’t rent to anyone they haven’t known for decades. 
            …although mine took bribes in the form of intelligence on his neighbors. 
            Mind you this was a few years back ;)

    9. You do realize that they don’t own the entire beach, right? And that there has been a history of private security guards enforcing bogus claims, right? And that the public access easements exist because these property owners agreed to them as part of the permitting process?

      There are homeowners who asked for a permit to, say, build another story or expand their footprint. The California Coastal Commission said, Yes, but only if you grant a public easement so the public has access to the public portion of the beach. The homeowner agrees, gets their permit, turns a 950 sq foot bungalow into a 3,400 sq ft crackerbox. And now they’re locking gates and putting up signs and hiring security guards instead of fulfilling their half of the contract. Why would you defend that?

    10. “would you want that to happen to your house?”

      If you are asking me to enter a thought experiment where I get the package deal of a luxuriosly large house just meters from a great beach in Malibu plus the nuisance of seeing some lower income types occasionally also make use of said beach, thereby increasing some disturbances compared to a pure gated community scenario (but remaining at a level of disturbance and economic and physical risk much lower than that currently faced by 99% of americans), then I’m very tempted to answer YES. I want that to happen to me. In fact, I want that to happen to everyone.

    11. I once lived in a house right next to a public park. Had a bunch of shady trees, a lovely little playground, a picnic pavilion with a couple of grills, all that good stuff. It would’ve been awesome (for me) if I could’ve erected a fence around that park, announced that it was my backyard, and preserved it for my exclusive use at no cost to myself. Would you be okay with me doing that?

      Oh, how about if my current neighbors and I decided that the traffic on our block is too noisy and smelly and slow, and declared that our chunk of major downtown artery is now a private parking lot and closed to through traffic?

      Look. This isn’t about sticking it to rich people. This is about sticking it scumbags who think they can just fucking annex public property. It happens that most of those scumbags are rich, because poor people know they can’t get away with that shit, but it’d be just as bad if it was a bunch of rural double-wide owners putting up fraudulent NO TRESPASSING signs in a national park.

      Yes, their homes will be less tranquil now. If you want tranquility, maybe you shouldn’t fucking buy a house on a public beach, hm?

      1. Oh, how about if my current neighbors and I decided that the traffic on our block is too noisy and smelly and slow, and declared that our chunk of major downtown artery is now a private parking lot and closed to through traffic?

        California has a law to prevent that very thing. Apparently, it’s been tried many times.

        1.  I don’t know, all the roads in Berkeley that are blocked by giant planters on one end and marked “DO NOT ENTER” so that you can’t use them as a through street seem to suggest that somebody’s getting their way and it’s not the general public.

  7. I’m glad the zone below the mean high tide line is free for anyone to use, but how does the public GET there without crossing private property?

    Also, what happens when the tide comes in? By the letter of the law, if you move your towel above the mean high tide line, you’re trespassing.

    1. You get there via public easement. Many of the property owners agreed to grant public easements along their properties as part of a building permit. They agreed to allow the public to use a path along the side of their property, but they frequently renege.

      Similarly, on some beaches, the public area includes a portion above the mean high tide line. Again, property owners granted a portion of their beach t the public in return for a permit. Still, spread out a towel on the public easement and you may be forcibly removed by private security.

  8. One of their rewards is that they’ll build you an app for $5000. So why do they need $30,000 to build this app?

  9. How about someone just create a custom Google map and put pins where all the access points are? If I knew the access points, I’d do it myself. It would only take an hour or two.

    1. Yup.  That was my thought.  Whenever I hear bright new ideas, I think, OK, what’s the LCD?  (Lowest common denominator).  The google map with pins and annotations is it.

      The app should have something value-added that a google map can’t have, such as reviews or gotchas or stars or warnings about testy neighbors or use stats or whatnot.

      1. Actually, Jenny went through years of public records and found all the dry sand easements in front of each and every house along the beach … So it’s far more than just the access points on a map — although those were hard to find too :) … Lots of reviews, tips, pics, and fun facts as well.

        We’ll post a video tour of the app for you guys on Monday.

    2. All of them can be added to Google Maps via Google Map Maker as well as a custom Google Map.  Trailheads, trails, beaches, parking areas, etc.  It won’t be as comprehensive as the app suggests, at least not initially (reviews can be added to each POI), but it won’t be siloed, either.  You could also add in photos either on the Place page or via Panoramio.  The custom Google Map will turn up in Google searches and (in my estimation) if it’s a better source than anything else, it will be on the first page of results.  The data added via GMM will be instantly published to Google Maps.  Although you have to entrust your data to Google (which is always a tradeoff), it will be more widely available and useful than just a single app.  OSM and WikiMaps are two other possibilities, as they’re a little more flexible insofar as self-publishing is concerned, but they probably won’t turn up in the general Google results.  

      1. Here’s a good starting point:

  10. We have a similar phenomenon where I live – a community called ‘Roberts Creek’ is situated along some really stunning beaches.  I once attended a party where many of the locals were bragging to each other how they were sneakily blocking public access to ‘their beach’ – planting shrubs, placing garbage cans, otherwise making access difficult or invisible.

    The ironic thing is that there are miles upon miles of beach.  Even in their worst nightmares there might be about 20 people on a particular stretch of beach.  Smug selfish twits.

  11. Beachfronters who intentionally misdirect or block legal public access should be treated like thieves, because that’s what they are.

  12. I  live in Malibu  but not on the beach.   I have found , without trying, plenty o beach access.  YOU can see the signs for it as you drive PCH. .  While some ass-hat beach side dwellers, do not play fair wrt access,  the majority play nice. 

    What is up with the $30k they are seeking.  

  13. Interesting approach to circumvent app store percentage charges that are generally around 30%.
    Kickstarter will only take 8-10% total after Amazon payments.

  14. The hard part is parking.  You can’t drive your car onto the beach, and gated communities won’t let the public park there, so you end up having to walk quite a distance to get to some beaches.

    But I wouldn’t be surprised if there are relatively frequent buses down the PCH in malibu, so maybe that isn’t so much an issue there.

    Near me in the Bay Area it seems that any new big construction along the shore is required to add a public parking lot with specific signage.  I’m sure Malibu is grandfathered out of such requirements because it’s already built up.

    Personally I’d rather see a database of parking areas near the shore.

    1. According to the Kickstarter pitch above — the parking areas near the shore easements are art of the app.

  15. These beaches are being maintained by city workers who are paid by ALL tax payers. If we pay taxes to maintain these beaches then we deserve right of way.

  16. Encourage the greedy to claim the beaches for themselves and then bring on the Mega-tsunami.

  17. These sorts of issues are universal, whether at sea level or 9,000
    feet above it. There are plenty of public easements leading to rivers and national forest, where landowners want to treat public lands as their own private playgrounds when they have properties with public right-of-ways across them, but they try to do all these same things.

    It’s pretty annoying, there used to be one particular landowner in the area here, who regularly got into trouble for lying to people, claiming to own public lands they were entitled to use by access of an easement they had right-of-way to, and chasing them off.

    Yes, it is unfortunate that some members of the public are trashy and leave their trash behind, or stray from the paths they have a right to use and trespass on private property, but that just comes with the territory of having a property adjacent to publicly-owned lands that the public has a strong desire to make use of.

  18. I do believe this is what is referred to in the argot as ‘white people problems’ …. 

    1. Not necessarily.  Having access to public facilities and lands is hardly a white people issue – it is a wealth & property vs public good issue.

      Sure there are bigger issues elsewhere, nobody is arguing that.  But that doesn’t mean this isn’t real and important (the issue in general).

  19. Hey Boing Boing folks!

    Thanks for all the great comments/discussion this weekend. I’ve made a quick YouTube tour of the Our Malibu Beaches app that should address some of your questions about what makes the app better than other resources: 

    Shoot me an email at if you have any more questions, and thanks for supporting the campaign!

  20. I agree that its despicable of some of these homeowners to obscure the public access ways to the beach and they should be dealt with and fined appropriately. However I think that this is a very bizarre app because most of the spots that the app is guiding people to have no public restrooms and very limited parking. So taking a walk on the beach is fine but setting up for an afternoon on the dry sand in front of somebodys home isn’t really a great  suggestion. Someone else mentioned also that law enforcement dont really know where all these dry easements are so unless you have some kind of proof in your hands to show that you have the right to be there you could be told to leave and even ticketed. 
    I dont think showing a cop this app is going to be quite official enough is it?
    I’d like to warn people of the dangers of parking and crossing the highway here also as many motorists, pedestrians and cyclists have been killed in recent years. Please take great caution and be patient, use crosswalks, do not run and do not cross halfway and then wait in the median.
    I wish the app makers had also mentioned respecting and preserving the beach and the wildlife while visiting. The whole bay is polluted with trash, cigarette butts and dogshit. Encouraging more people to come use the beach without educating them about protecting the environment and animals is irresponsible.
    If you google malibu public beach access there are maps and directions on several sites, just go to the Urban rangers site and theres plenty of info already.
    These app makers should put their energy into having legal action taken against the offending homeowners and getting the public accessways onto google maps instead of creating this strange app guide.

Comments are closed.