For anyone who has been looking forward to returning to Japan or dreaming of embarking on their first adventure there, the wait may feel endless. In California, however, the influence of Japanese culture can be found throughout: from Umamimart in Oakland to SF76 in San Francisco and Ototo in LA’s Echo Park—to name just a few. Since 2017, Nobu Ryokan Malibu (opened by chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa along with partners Larry Ellison, Robert De Niro and Meir Teper) has been honoring the tradition of Japanese inns on the Southern California coast, creating a secluded and private luxury retreat.
Montalba Architects and Studio PCH, with interior design by TAL Studio, transformed a 1950s beach motel into Nobu Ryokan. This luxurious oasis features 11 guest rooms and five beachfront bungalows modeled after the style of a Japanese ryokan, though incorporating California native plants and coastal views.
Driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway, Nobu Malibu comes into view roughly six miles after the Getty Villa. Then, a glimpse of Nobu Ryokan appears. A large wooden gate opens for hotel guests, who step out of their vehicle into lush gardens and slip away from the busy highway. The air changes and everything seems to slow down as guests fold into the tranquil environment. Subtle aromas of the verdant greenery and teakwood imbue the space with an intangible mystery. The garden, with various textures of bright bougainvillea and large trumpet flowers, reflects the Nihon Teien (traditional Japanese garden) style that highlights the natural landscape.
Some suites have secluded private gardens, while others open floor-to-ceiling glass doors to Pacific Ocean views. Guests are greeted with a small sweet treat of fruit or a piece of matcha cake and a pot of hot green tea. It’s the perfect moment to sit down and take in the room’s relaxing muted palette and artful details.
The minimalist design and decor choices feature platform beds, that nod to the Japanese futon, topped with a luxurious mattress and ultra-soft Anichini linens. Significant historic Japanese art in the rooms and throughout the hotel (from ink paintings and screens to scrolls) enchant alongside ceramics from Japan and vases made by Heath Ceramics in California.
Heath studio director Tung Chiang tells us about being part of the Nobu Ryokan experience: “It’s beautiful to see Heath pieces in this environment. From my perspective, good design will work with good design, no matter the place or period it comes from. It transcends time and distance.” Chiang describes kinship between California and Japan, a love of the ocean and nature, an approach to design that expresses freedom. “It feels natural to pair them,” he says. “This is also an opportunity to bring the grand experience of a hotel into a more intimate context. After the first impression of the hotel’s architecture, it’s nice to walk into a room and experience details, little objects that feel more personal and closer to the heart.”
In the bathrooms natural elements are selected with relaxation in mind. The teak soaking tubs—even when not in use—are works of art. A small wooden bowl with Detox Market custom ryokan bath salts with Himalayan and Epsom salts and green tea and ginseng extracts sits on the tub tray. Luxuriating in that tub feels transformative, and is a glimpse at the traditional onsen experience. A rain shower and Toto toilet, bamboo towels by Peacock and linen yukata robes complete the set of modern Japanese bathroom essentials.
For meals on site, there’s room service and delivery from the full Nobu Malibu menu. Start the day with a Japanese breakfast bento of sea bass cooked in miso, glistening white rice, seaweed pickles and miso soup with tofu. During the day there are snacks available, from shishito peppers to edamame and mochi ice cream. For lunch and dinner, guests can choose from the room service menu or the full restaurant menu, and chef Matsuhisa pays homage to traditional Japanese dishes and ingredients (some of which are sourced from One Gun Ranch) with Peruvian and Californian influences. Some guests opt to walk over to Matsuhisa’s popular oceanfront restaurant for the full experience.
For those who don’t want to relax the entire time, Malibu Fit Concierge offers private training in the gym as well as activities in the area, including surfing, stand-up paddle-boarding, hiking and customized adventures. Guests also have access to the Malibu Racquet Club with eight tennis courts, saunas, steam rooms and a gym. From the ryokan there are private paths that lead to Carbon Beach, where guests can wander and watch sandpipers push their beaks into the sand looking for food.
And at the end of the day, whether spent at the spa or paddle-boarding, guests can unwind on a private deck and listen to the waves lapping the shore. It’s a pleasure that—despite the meticulous attention to detail and elegant combination of Japanese and Californian influences surrounding guests—feels simply idyllic.
Hero image courtesy of Nobu Ryokan Malibu