Nestled in a peaceful Santa Monica Mountain valley amid vibrant yellow coneflowers, the Malibu Hindu Temple’s calm respite seems a world away from the busy suburbs of LA. Yet this glittering South Asian sanctuary — rising in a tapering white façade punctuated with golden statuettes — lies just a 15-minute drive from Malibu Beach Inn’s stretch of California coast.
A hidden, albeit highly-accessible gem, the Malibu Canyon temple is one of only four of its kind in the United States, its ornate structures bearing stark resemblances to hallowed Hindu sites in India. Purveying an atmosphere of inclusivity to all, it’s the perfect place for even non-Hindus to self-reflect and expand their knowledge of another culture’s faith while witnessing the authentic customs of what is considered the world’s oldest religion.
Built in 1981 as a palace of worship for the Hindu god Venkateswara and various other deities, the religious complex has long welcomed the region’s Hindu population and casual visitors alike to experience its beautiful architecture and myriad shrines. Upon first approach to its palm-lined entrance, guests are greeted with a spectacular row of rosebushes sporting vibrant blossoms of white, pink, yellow, and sunset orange — an appropriate primer to the visual splendor waiting just beyond.
After removing their shoes, visitors are invited to climb the steps onto the tiled plaza and explore the temple’s main attraction: an elevated central temple paying homage to the site’s presiding deity, Venkateswara, who represents an iteration of Lord Vishnu. On this consecrated surface, a resident priest in colorful robes can often be seen chanting in Sanskrit and blessing the gold altar as incense burns alongside offerings of fresh fruit and flowers.
Much of the worshipping occurs in the temple’s basement level, where the wall’s highest points are lined with large windows to let in ample light. Arranged around the centerpiece shrine of Lord Shiva are multiple blocks with black statues, each one representing a distinct deity to be honored. Among columns of intricately carved stone, Hindu practitioners can sometimes be seen walking slow circles around the subterranean shrines, their hands pressed together as they recite pertinent prayers of veneration beneath massive chandeliers of gold and crystal.
Lucky visitors may run into the occasional onsite volunteer, who will eagerly share about the significance of each shrine and its associated history. While touring the temple is always free for guests to enjoy, they can feel free to leave a donation in one of the complex’s receptacles to support its continual upkeep by the Hindu Temple Society of Southern California.
On the lower level, weekend and holiday guests can also follow the enticing smells of South Indian food wafting from the back hallways, where it is cooked in giant woks. Step into the volunteer-run cafeteria to indulge in exquisite vegetarian offerings such as lemon rice, ralta, and stewed vegetables in curry sauce — all paired with generous servings of spiced chai.
The temple, which has been historically featured in Hollywood productions like Beverly Hills Ninja and Bollywood movies such as Jeans, is also home to regular ceremonies and spiritual gatherings for the Hindu community, as well as the occasional wedding.
To find this serene oasis from Malibu Beach Inn, take the PCH north to Malibu Canyon Road and follow it into the mountains for about 7 miles. Turn right onto Las Virgenes Canyon Road and take another right at the second intersection. The temple’s white brick veneer will soon rise into view on the right. While its extraordinary exterior is especially astounding just after sunrise, nighttime offers another beautiful rendition as the complex radiates with light.