At the urging of reader "tarbubble," I asked the designers at Pamela Burton & Company what lawn substitutes they used on their award-winning Malibu landscape (which was featured previously on this blog).
I got a response from Burton associate Stephen Billings. First of all, regarding grasses in lieu of lawn, he recommends referring to the Sunset Western Garden Book for a list of alternatives to turf for lawns.
As for this particular landscape, three of the ornamental grasses we used are:
• Muhlenbergia capillaris
• Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'
• Nassella tenuissima
And here's more info I dug up:
Muhlenbergia capillaris (left): As summer is winding down and with it your blooming annuals and perennials, Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly Grass) is springing up — giant puffballs of cotton-candy pink, so airy you expect a breeze to carry them away. A source of late-season color, this native grass is effortless to grow and tolerant of just about anything Mother Nature throws its way. The grass forms a nice little hedge, edging, or middle-of-the-border ribbon of color from spring through summer, but when the rosy-pink plumes arise on 4-foot stems, it grabs the garden spotlight. Tolerates heat, humidity, poor soil, and even drought. See a white version called White Cloud. (From home Depot)
Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' (right): A beautiful grass whose white margins on its very narrow leaves give it a creamy-pale green from a distance. Blooms late and doesn't tend to self-sow, although it may do so moderately in moist areas. Grows to 6 feet tall. (From Home and Garden TV)
Nassella tenuissima (left): Also called Mexican feather grass, it is soft and shiny in the spring garden. Nassella tenuissima should be trimmed severely in the later part of the summer as the seed heads start to dry. Once matured the seed is very fruitful and can become something of a pest. The florets are very prone to sticking in socks or the fur of your pets. This is not recommended for gardens near wild areas as the Mexican feather grass can easily escape. Sometimes sold as Stipa tenuissima. (From California Gardens.com)