Inside the Malibu Hotel We’re Obsessed With

Can we get a late check-out, please?

By Jenn Rose Smith
surfrider malibu


If you’re the kind of person who likes hotels with character (and of course you are) then The Surfrider Malibu is your California dream come true. The 1950s roadside motel has been renovated to beachy perfection by hotelier couple Emma Crowther Goodwin and Matthew Goodwin, who moved to Malibu from NYC to take on the project. Emma, who’s originally from Australia, is never more at home than when she’s by the water. Everything about her, from her sunkissed tan right down to her white linen overalls, is 100% beach babe. She and Matthew don’t just live the dream themselves — they’re intent on sharing it with every guest who checks into their historic property on the PCH, designed to feel like your ultimate California beach house. Go behind the scenes with us in the video below,and scroll down to see inside the Malibu hotel we’re obsessed with. PS: We’re never checking out. photographed by kristen kilpatrick video by jenn rose smith

Tell us a little about The Surfrider — it’s history, the building, your approach to renovating the space:

The Surfrider was originally built in 1953, in the optimism of the post-war years, as a classic Californian motel. It’s witnessed the passing of time from the liberation of the 60s to the hippy haze of the 70s, the decadence of the 80s and beyond. It can be seen in the hazy background of a thousand sepia-tinted photographs. You hear members of The Doors, Fleetwood Mac, and Neil Young speak of their familiarity with The Surfrider. (Neil Young’s bar, Crazy Horse, was next door and revelers would often take the after party back to The Surfrider.) The cult classic film, The Endless Summer, sites Surfrider Beach (which The Surfrider Hotel overlooks) as the perfect wave and it’s story is built around searching the world for somewhere as good as Malibu. The Surfrider is an iconic part of the Malibu landscape and at the heart of the Californian culture.

Emma (continued): So, in our approach to bringing it back to life, it was the experience that we wanted to design, more than just the space. We wanted to create a place for travelers, rather than tourists. For the person seeking the local experience. Our aim was to make the culture and spirit of the California Dream a reality for every guest. That sense of freedom, of being alive, re-energized and inspired. And so we designed The Surfrider to feel like your ultimate Californian beach house, complete with a personal staff, in a place with a special culture of it’s own. Every detail from the architecture and interiors, down to the cocktails, music, 1968 sage surf safari truck, custom shaped surfboards in a color palette pulled from vintage Surfer magazines and the in room amenities were designed through one consistent lens, to be in context and cohesive. If the California Dream was a hotel, we wanted The Surfrider to be it.

What do you love about living and working in Malibu?

It’s a bit like having my cake and eating it too. I get the best of both worlds; a dynamic international city just down the road with the perks of small town beach living and the community that comes with that. It’s pretty beautiful too!


How long have you been in the hotel business? What did you do before? 

Nearly one year! Time flies.

Before The Surfrider and California, I spent a decade in NYC and before that, was raised on the sunny shores of Australia. My background is culmination of design, branding, real estate and a very expensive travel bug which I caught on my first solo overseas trip when I was 18. I’ve since visited upwards of 50 countries and am a huge advocate for a healthy balance of life and work experience when it comes to all things design, inspiration and career. I think it was Albert Einstein who said, “play is the highest form of research”?

What’s the most fun thing about being a hotelier?

 The people!

And what’s the hardest thing?

The people!

Tell us a little bit about the rooftop bar area. The menu is so incredibly delicious. Did you develop it yourself or collaborate with a chef? 

Thank you so much! Matthew and I did all the creative direction of the menu ourselves (including the cocktails… tough job!) and have a wonderful chef and team to help execute the vision. Like the rest of the hotel, the menu was created fairly selfishly… what would we want to eat if we were holidaying at a California beach house?

Emma (continued):I’ve visited so many hotels where the food is an after thought but, to me, food, and the act of sharing a meal, is such a part of a culture and has always been a defining experience of so many vacations so, in designing The Surfrider experience, this become one of the more important factors. Good honest food, made to share. In doing so, we tried to think about all those weird times of day where it’s not actually a meal time but a little something would really add to the experience … sunset hour… post surf… we designed food for every minute of the day, that could be eaten anywhere in the hotel, as though it really was your own beach house; in your robe in the library, barefoot and bikinis on the roof deck or, of course, in bed!

The decor at the hotel is UNREAL. Where did you hone your design chops?

Design to me is all encompassing and ever evolving. It’s every time you move house (I did this 13 times in my first 5 years in NYC!). It’s in hosting friends (I’m obsessed). It’s in school and work presentations (because why shouldn’t they be beautiful?). It’s in travel and life experiences (the good ones and the bad ones). It’s in trusting your gut and sticking to your vision (no matter how many opinions you get along the way). And then, it’s being able to take all of these layers and project them onto a space to create a feeling and an experience that tells a story.

Best cocktail in the house:

“The Endless Summer” (aka coconut margarita) is famous.

On the wine menu, I’m loving our latest Estate Pinot Noir from our friends at Scribe Winery in Sonoma.

Best thing on the menu right now:

On the food menu, the ceviche!

What do you love most about Matt?
He dreams big and has the courage to reach for his dreams. He’s fun, genuine and authentic. What you see is what you get. He see’s the good in everyone and everything and genuinely loves life… should I keep going?

Favorite after dinner activity:
Late night walks on the beach.

Favorite beach in the world:

Too hard!! So many beaches for such varied reasons.

• Kings Beach, Byron Bay, Australia (it’s wild, rugged and remote)

• Wylie Baths, Sydney, Australia (it feels like bygone years in Australia)

• Playa Migjorn, Formentera, Spain (the light and colors are spectacular. Clothes are optional).

• Laurito, Positano, Italy (the people watching, the food and the tiny boats to get around. Da Adolfo around the corner is worth the trip alone)

• Maddalena archipelago, Sardinia, Italy (The water is other worldly. Take a boat out and explore the uninhabited islands. If you’re brave enough, sleep on the sand wherever you end up)

• Haena, Kauai, Hawaii (the dramatic back drop speaks for itself and it’s less discovered than the other north shore beaches. Hike the Na Pali coast and then stop here to cool down on the way out).

• Comporta, Portugal (it’s like an undiscovered Hamptons or St Tropez. Pristine beaches with a cool scene)

• Careyes, Mexico (I’m inclined to remove this so to keep the secret real)

• Ditch Plains, Montauk (Surf all day then pull the truck onto the sand and beach bon fire all night. Lobster bakes are best. Take a guitar and play under the stars)

• Little Dume, Malibu. (It’s where the real locals go).

… I could go for days.

Fill in the blank: “It’s not a vacation without ____________.”

The perfect hat.