Uncover a Hidden Gem: Crystal Cove

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Ah, the simple life. Sun. Surf. Sand. Catch a wave and you’re sittin’ on top of the world.  Growing up in LA has its advantages and year-round beaches top the list, especially for the preschool set.  That’s right, beaches aren’t just for summer, and sparkling Crystal Cove, a sunny little community frozen in time, is  waiting for you. We think this little spot that hasn’t changed since the 50’s and boasts hiking, nature and history, in addition to some pristine beaches and waves, is the perfect beach for a fall exploration. Spend a day (or more) at this thoroughly modern throwback to a forgotten era where the ghosts of Gidget and Moondoggie can almost be heard playing the ukulele by a bonfire…

Finding Your Way
Getting to Crystal Cove State Park from LA is easier than it seems.  The 3-mile stretch of protected beach and surrounding bluffs is located off PCH, about 50 miles southwest of downtown LA, only 10 miles south of Balboa Island and the Newport Beach coast.  An expansive parking lot at Los Trancos, just south of Newport Beach Drive, offers easy access to the Historic District.  The $15 parking fee is waived when visitors spend the equivalent (and get validation!) at The Beachcomber restaurant on the sand.

Beach Day Essentials
Beach bag, check. Umbrella, check.  Boogie boards, check.  But who wants to lug it all?  Fortunately, the large Los Trancos lot offers a free shuttle (provided by the Beachcomber) to help already-weary adults transport that beach gear with ease.  As an added bonus, the area touts clean bathrooms and showers for eliminating every grain of sand prior to vehicle reentry.  Or you can at least try.

Those arriving relatively empty-handed and primed for a short nature walk (also good for napping infants) can meander down the hill, through a kid-decorated tunnel to arrive at the historic district’s entrance.  Think you forgot something?  Check out the swell little souvenir shop in one of the original beach cottages, stocking sunscreen, towels, shovels and other sunny day supplies.

A Step Back in Time
Seems like you stepped out of a time capsule?  Kinda sorta.  The kiddos will love the tiny cottages stacked into the hillside; the preserved structures are undergoing several phases of renovation yet remain distinctly charming no matter their condition.  A roughhewn wooden sign beckons your brood to dive into the shimmering sea beyond. (Or maybe dip toes, if it’s a chillier day.)
Welcome Refreshments

Take your pick for snacking in the sand.  The classic Beachcomber restaurant serves hearty breakfasts, family-friendly lunches and dinners daily, with waiting alleviated by buzzers that work at your beach blanket.  The $15 free parking validation deters any sticker-shock at the menu prices.  Sit-down not your scene?  Set up the stairs to the quaint roadside Shake Shack (now Ruby’s) for juicy burgers and crispy fries.

Go Take a Hike
Crystal Cove has walking and hiking trails to suit the tiniest explorer to Ranger Rick himself.  Create your own self-guided walking tour of the charming cottages or venture out to the surrounding trails.  Maps are posted in the parking areas, as well as available at the entrance to the historic district.  Flip flops the only footwear?  Tiny toes will delight in running along the surf to the rocky outcropping at the far end of the cove.  Closer examination reveals tidepools chock full of colorful anemones and other sea creatures.

Found Heaven? Stay Awhile
For the full beach-blanket-bingo experience, try your luck at reserving a beach cottage.  Due to limited availability, the renovated sleeping quarters can only be booked online.  Situated around the Cove’s perimeter, each structure features a unique character, varying in size from shared singles to multiple bedrooms accommodating a family of 7.  Prices range from around $40 for shared dorm-style accommodations to nearly $350 per night for a group of 7 in an individual bungalow.  Prices are per person per night and must be reserved 6 months in advance (beginning at 8:00 am sharp! PST) through Reserve America.  Good news is that they’re available year-round; bad news is demand is high and spots are in short supply.  Lucky for those of us close by, last-minute cancellations happen so check early and often.  Study the district map and description of cottages before accessing the reservations.

beach blanket_crystal cove
Crystal Cove State Park
871 North Coast Highway
Laguna Beach
Online: crystalcovestatepark

– Kim Orchen Cooper

What’s your favorite beach getaway in So Cal?  Let us know!

Photos courtesy of the author.