Looking for a great Labor Day getaway – one that doesn’t require a lot of advance planning? Take an hour-long drive down the coast and relax at Crystal Cove. One woman fought to keep this beach open to the public and you can pay homage by playing in tide pools, drinking a date shake, and watching the sunset on an unspoiled spot along our spectacular coastline.
Put the top down and enjoy a quick 60 mile trip down Pacific Coast Highway. Somewhere between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, you’ll see the Crystal Cove. Park at the Los Trancos parking (parking lot is farther north than the others) and take the trolley (or walk through the painted tunnel) to the Historic District. There are actually four nearby lots, but we like this one for the neon sea creatures trail. (Daily parking is $15, but can be validated if you eat $15 worth at The Beachcomber restaurant. Bring cash, no credit cards are accepted in the parking lot).
Crystal Cove is one of Orange County’s largest remaining examples of open space and natural seashore. The park’s Mediterranean climate is characterized by moist, foggy summer mornings, with the fog burning off by mid-morning to bring warm, sunny days and cool evenings. Established in 1979, but with a rich history that reaches all the way back into the 1920s, Crystal Cove hosts three miles of beautiful beaches and active tidepools, 400 acres of open bluffs and 2,400 acres of canyons that house California wildlife, a 1,400 acre marine conservation area on the Los Trancos shore.
Step Into History
The Historic District first developed as a South Seas movie set due to its seclusion and tropical aura. Families first tent-camped in the area, then leased cottages built by The Irvine Company (who owned the land). One woman who grew up summering at the Cove fought a plan for private development, and formed The Crystal Cove Alliance to save the area. Today, this Alliance is the first cooperating association in the history of State Parks to be awarded a concession contract. It’s a unique model that keeps revenues in the park for future restoration. You can explore historic cottages, hang out on public land that hasn’t been spoiled for commerce, and get a scent of how things once were.
Early Skimboarders at Crystal Cove
Once you park, you have a few choices. Take the shuttle from the Los Trancos lot or walk the 1/2 mile path located at the southeast corner of the lot through the tunnel. (The shuttle costs $1 per person each way. Kids under 12 are free).We chose to walk the path. When you hit the fork in the trail: going left will lead on to more sea creatures and going right, you’ll go through the underground tunnel (painted with colorful pictures and Earth friendly messages) and end up at the Historic District beach area, the beach cottages, The Beachcomber and Ruby’s Shake Shack.
Be sure to visit the Visitor Center across from the Beachcomber to pick up a kid-friendly pamphlet on safe tide pooling rules and pictures of the sea life living in the tidepools. Don’t forget to check for low tide. Remind the littles about good tidepool rules: look, but don’t touch. We saw starfish, sea urchins, sea fingers and a number of different shells. According the park, you are allowed to collect sea glass and driftwood, but remember that you can’t take shells, sand, rocks or any living creatures out of the tidepools. We took photos of our shell and animal finds as an alternative.
The Beachcomber is located right on the beach and is very popular. Make a reservation if you can, otherwise, put your name on the list and grab a pager. Wait on the outside picnic tables or have the kids play at the beach until you are called. Remember to have your parking validated. If you are feeling more like burger and fries, head up the stairs to Ruby’s Shake Shack. Ruby’s took over this original Crystal Cove roadside Date Shake Shack several years ago. Ruby’s only makes date shakes at one location and this is it. Even if you’re full, you should order it. It’s a holiday weekend, right?
You can also park and hike into the back country. Click here for trail maps.
I Never Want to Leave, Mom!
With a little advance planning, you can actually stay at restored Crystal Cove Beach Cottages in the Historic District. Thanks to the Crystal Cove Alliance 29 of the original 46 vintage beach cottages have been restored in the Historic District, preserved to capture lifestyles between 1935 – 1955. Sixteen of these historic cottages have been turned into overnight rentals for the public. To book, contact the Crystal Cove Beach Cottages. (Heads-up, these book months out and reservations are taken at 8am on the first of each month).
We recommend spending all day at the beach, because the sunsets are picture perfect. Happy Labor Day!
Crystal Cove State Park // 8471 Pacific Coast Highway // Laguna Beach, California 92651 //949-494-3539
Written by Heather Koopman