A Kid Friendly Beach for Hiking, Tidepooling, and Neon Sea Creatures

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Sure, when we think of being outdoors, images of hiking and the beach naturally come to a SoCal mind. But throw kids into the mix and that peaceful image becomes a daunting task, even frightful for some. We know hiking with children under 6 years old can be quite the challenge: they get thirsty, hungry, need to go potty, or just want you to carry them for most of the trail. Doesn’t sound like an ideal afternoon, but let us dish with you about a kid-friendly trail with neon sea creatures, a painted tunnel, convenient bathrooms, and yummy eats.  Hiking at the Crystal Cove State Park will soon become a favorite destination for your family.

What is Crystal Cove?
Okay, so we know all about Laguna Beach and Newport Beach, but tucked away further up the coastline is a not-as-crowded gem known as Crystal Cove. It is actually a state park that was a favorite destination for movie sets in the early 1900’s to the late 1980’s. The moist, foggy mornings and luscious greenery are reminiscent of a mini west-coast version of a Martha’s Vineyard. It is protected by the Crystal Cove Alliance and was put on the National Registry of Historic Places. It boasts many hiking trails, including one that is kid-friendly with fun neon sea creatures, yummy eats, and tide pools among many other activities.

The Trail
The trail starts in the parking lot off of Los Trancos and Pacific Coast Highway. There’s a free shuttle stop that goes to and from the Beachcomber that is a restaurant located right on the beach. You will be relieved to know that there are bathrooms conveniently located throughout the trail and the beach, including one right in the parking at the start of the trail.

You will eventually hit a fork in the trail: going left will lead on to more sea creatures and the trail brings you back to the parking lot.

Going right at the fork will lead you to an underground tunnel that is painted with fun, earth loving pictures.  Going through the tunnel also leads you to another bathroom, the Crystal Cove Cottages, the beach, and The Beachcomber restaurant.

Good to Know: Download the free, new CalParks mobile app that has handy information on over 200 California State Parks.

The Eats
The Beachcomber is located right on the beach in the heart of the Crystal Cove Cottage community.  It might be a good idea to make reservations online, since it is a popular spot. Breakfast with the kids is the better option here and order them the Brioche French Toast or the Strawberry Compote Pancakes.

15 Crystal Cove
Newport Beach, Ca

If you’re looking for a quick, casual snack, try Ruby’s Shake Shack that is located up the stairs from the cottages, off of Pacific Coast Highway.

Breakfast is served and the Cinnamon Roll French Toast will win the little ones over. For lunch the kid’s menu includes choices of a burger, turkey dog, PB&J sandwich, or grilled cheese. If you want to try something new and novel with the kids, order the Chili Frito Bag: crunchy Frito chips smothered in chili cheese served right in the Frito’s chip bag. Oh and don’t forget the shake for dessert.

Ruby’s Shake Shack
7703 East Coast Highway
Newport Beach, Ca

Beach and Tide Pool
Before hitting the beach, stop by the visitor center and pick up brochures, maps, and pamphlets to maximize your Crystal Cove experience. If you prefer to pack to your meals, picnics are welcome as long as you don’t bring any glass bottles or containers. Open fires are prohibited but hibachis and barbeques are allowed as long as they are the gas canister types.

Good to Know: It’s a good idea to teach the little ones how to be a good tide pooler. This means we keep our hands to ourselves and only observe the animals. Touching, removing, or picking up any animals, plants, or rocks can harm these rare living things and state law prohibits it. Be sure to visit the Visitor Center across from the Beachcomber to pick up a kid-friendly pamphlet on safe tide pooling rules and big, colorful pictures of the sea life living in the tide pools. Also, no pets are allowed on the beach or in the Crystal Cove Cottages, but they are allowed on paved roads and trails.

Staying at the Beach Cottages
Vacation like they did in 1930’ s-50 and enjoy some R&R in the restored vintage beach cottages. Protected by the Crystal Cove Alliance from being demolished into a fancy shmancy resort, these cottages were placed into the National Registry of Historic Places. Check out this map to help you familiarize yourself with the area. Visit this site for information on reserving a cottage; you can choose between individual or dorm-style cottages, and each cottage has its own individual character and floor plan.

Good to Know: Visit The Beaches Film & Media Center (Cottage #13) that showcases all of the movies that were shot there. The kids can try to look at all of the old photos and point what they find has changed.

There are 4 parking lots available to Crystal Cove visitors, and they can be viewed here. We are focusing on the Los Trancos parking lot because the neon sea creatures’ trail begins here. Daily parking is $15 but it can be validated if you eat at least $15 worth at The Beachcomber restaurant, which is located on the beach. Bring cash because the parking lot does not take credit card!

Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove Beach Cottages
Historic District
35 Crystal Cove
Newport Beach, Ca
Online: crystalcovestatepark.com

Share your first experience at Crystal Cove in a comment below. What was your kiddo’s favorite part of the trip?

–Sommy Rhee

All photos taken by Sommy herself!