Sometimes you can find true hidden travel gems in your own city. I spent a wonderful day at The Adamson House in Malibu, California, an amazing museum overlooking legendary Surfrider Beach and the home of the founder of Malibu Potteries. After living in Los Angeles for 20 years, it’s been something I’ve driven by many times, always making a mental note to visit one day.
The home is not only a beautiful Malibu destination, it’s a must-see for pottery lovers, art aficionados and especially those interested in the arts and crafts movement. It’s a perfect storm: you have an inspired, artistic owner, a great architect, a perfect setting and an unlimited budget.
We arrived a bit late for our visit but were fortunate to find a friendly host and docent willing to do a final tour, it was only three of us and felt like a private tour. The docent was wonderful and deeply informed about every detail, every inch of the the house. No question went unanswered and we were really treated to a top-to-bottom tour and explanation of everything. I look forward to a return visit as it was quite overwhelming. In my travels, I’ve found you get a great tour when the tour guide has the keys to museum. This was the case in our visit, as we were lucky enough to run into the head educator for the whole program, the woman who trains the docents who conduct the tours.
The house is owned by the State of California and is part of the California State Park System. The history of the home and area is fascinating. The site was part of the original Malibu land grant dating back to the Spanish control of California in the 1800s. The owners of the Malibu Rancho, as it was called, had a daughter, Rhoda Rindge Adamson, and in 1929 she commissioned the mansion by the sea to be built. The home was originally a summer beach home, but eventually became Adamson’s year-round home.
This was all done during the Great Depression and Adamson was also battling the government, who wanted to put a highway (eventually Pacific Coast Highway) through her property to connect Northern and Southern California. After most of her money went to legal bills, she was hoping to discover oil and regain her family’s wealth, she instead discovered clay that made excellent tiles. Rhoda Rindge Adamson partnered with local artists and created Malibu Potteries to make money during those tough times. The company only lasted from 1926-1932, yet produced some of the most beautiful, most spectacular examples of 20th Century American pottery, mainly decorative tiles. They were able to use colors never before seen in tile, and the tiles are extremely rare and collectible today. A check of eBay shows vintage Malibu tile shards going for $50 and complete rare tiles selling for more than $1000, for a single tile.
The experience with the architecture and Malibu Potteries tiles at The Adamson House is quite immersive. As the home of the founder of the pottery company, it’s a showcase for the finest examples of Malibu Potteries tile and the finest examples of craftsmanship in its installation. Many parts of the house are tiled, with spectacular themed tiles. Aside from the ornate tile work, the home features hand-painted ceilings and one-of-a-kind fixtures and lights. All the period furniture is intact, as are artwork and other design elements like rugs. I loved being able to walk into the bathrooms and look at the tiles up close, admiring their beauty and also getting a sense for how these people lived.
The highlight for me, and for many others, is a complete Persian carpet, made from Malibu tiles, accurate down to the intricate Arabic designs and the fringe along the edge. The “carpet” is installed on the floor of a loggia, overlooking the patio, the fountain and the beach, and is just amazing to experience. The tour literally walks you through the rooms of the house. You go into the bedrooms, the bathrooms and on the breath-taking patios. All the areas of the house, inside and out, are shown, and the tiles are pointed out. The tour also includes great information about the family and the history of the site and company.
If you don’t care for architecture, or visit during a time when tours are not offered, the grounds themselves are spectacular. You can walk on the paths, admire the fountains and pool, look out on the beach and Malibu lagoon. It’s a great place to spend some time relaxing, reading a book or enjoying the extensive gardens and plants. The gardens have so many special plants they have their own tour, offered on Fridays.
This is a house built steps from the sand, in a location impossible to build today due to coastal zoning restrictions. It becomes almost sensory overload. The oceanfront setting, the wonderful interior design and construction and the abundance of these priceless tiles really create a dream world, but a dream world that was really once someones home.
Whether you live in Los Angeles or plan a visit, The Adamson House makes a great part of a day trip to Malibu. You can combine a visit with a day at the beach and also eat and shop in Malibu. We arrived at 2 p.m., got right into a great tour, then spent an hour walking the grounds. After visiting the museum, we walked about a quarter mile down the beach to Malibu Pier where we had a lovely early dinner at The Beachcomber at Malibu Pier. This is a great, upscale restaurant right on the pier, overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean. We shared a classic Caesar salad with grilled chicken and it was great. We also had a grilled steak sandwich, which was a bit tough. The meat was tasty and the sandwich was good, but the meat had to be cut up to enjoy. But with that view, it’s all forgiven.
The Beachcomber at Malibu Pier
23000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265
PH: (310) 456-9800
The Adamson House is easily reachable by car from Los Angeles, simply take the Pacific Coast Highway, north to Malibu. The house and parking area are on the left, just past the Malibu Pier. Be careful making the left turn across Pacific Coast Highway. Parking is $6 per car in the county lot located at the museum entrance. There may be no guard at the parking area, but you need to pay the machine, then display the receipt on your dashboard, as parking enforcement will ticket you without it.
The fantastic grounds are open daily, from sunrise until sunset. The house is open for tours from Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the last tour at 2 p.m. They request reservations for groups of twelve or more. Adult admission is $7 and the museum offers membership with higher donations. They also offer special tours of the gardens led by a docent on Fridays at 10 a.m. and the grounds can be rented for weddings and events.
23200 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265
PH: (310) 456-8432