Crystal Cove: Beautiful Preserved Scenery, Educational Fun, & Beachy Eats
Crystal Cove State Park is one of Newport Beach’s most prized gems. 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 tide pools, 400 acres of open bluffs and 2,400 acres of canyons that house California wildlife, a 1,400 acre marine conservation area containing the unique underwater park, and whose sandy Los Trancos shore is home to the nationally registered Historic District Beach Cottages. The Crystal Cove State Park is anything but selfish with their preserved and protected land and offshore waters, offering an overwhelming amount of varying activities and enjoyable educational opportunities for individuals and families.
Here’s a round-up of all of the best activities and events Crystal Cove State Park has to offer:
BACKCOUNTRY AND MORRO CANYON TERRITORY
Located on the south end of the park, inland off of Pacific Coast Highway, lies 2,400 acres of wilderness and 18 miles of trails ready to be explored by campers, trailblazing mountain bikers, horseback riders, and adventurous hikers.
Hikers have the opportunity to hike trails suiting their unique abilities, ranging from easy and moderate to difficult and severe, in the backcountry of the Morro Canyon in the park. If you are fairly new to hiking, or just want more of a direct educational experience, join in on a guided hike led by the park docents and naturalists. The family hike is a great way to get the family together to enjoy the outdoors, all while learning about our local nature from a knowledgeable park naturalist. The dreamy Sunday sunset hike offers visitors to enjoy the rising moon over Morro Ridge through an hour-long moderate hike. Crystal Cove State Park also offers a guided summertime Bird Walk, both inland and coastal opportunities, for bird lovers to gain some valuable insight into the 180 different species of birds that can be observed in the park throughout the year. Check out the Crystal Cove State Park website for more information on future guided hikes and specific dates regarding when they will be held.
Traditional campsites are available in the Morro Campgrounds and are just a short distance from the beach. There are 58 family campsites available in total, where 28 are designated RV and trailer campsites and the other 30 are designated “low impact” sites that are perfect for tents. Eight campers are allowed per site, and there is a reservation fee for campsites and extra vehicles.
Camping in the backcountry of Crystal Cove State Park is a great place to get out into nature and enjoy true primitive camp lifestyle, all while still having the luxury of being able to hear the sound of ocean waves crashing in the wind. All 32 4-person occupancy campsites, strewn out between three campgrounds, are only reachable by a three to four mile hike. No water or trash cans are available for use at these campsites and no open-flame fires are permitted. A permit is required to camp in the backcountry.
Camping reservations can be made online on www.parks.ca.gov or by calling (800) 444-7275.
Note: No dogs are allowed anywhere in the campgrounds or on any backcountry hikes, for nature and wildlife preservation reasons.
BEACH FUN AND OFFSHORE ADVENTURE
When people think of Crystal Cove, the beautiful and diverse coastline rich with opportunities for family fun oceanic adventure comes to mind first. The three miles of coastline offers a wide range of specialized areas that cater to certain beach-bound and offshore activities, in addition to your usual beach day fun. Beach cruiser bicycles and causal walkers can be seen enjoying the coastal vegetation using the paths that link each beach entrance and parking lot along the entire coastal edge of Crystal Cove State Park. On the northern end of the Crystal Cove State Park beach, Little Treasure Cove, Treasure Cove, and Pelican Point beach areas are most easily accessed through the coastal Pelican Point park entrance. The area between Little Treasure Cove and Treasure Cove is a great place to wander down into the tide pools and observe the active life. Treasure cove is best suited for swimmers, while Pelican Point proves to be aimed towards those interested in scuba or skin diving, surfing, as well as tide pool exploration.
The coastal Reef Point entrance along the middle region of the park is the best place to park to enjoy Rocky Bight, 3.5 Cove, Reef Point, and Scotchman’s Cove beach areas. Rocky Bight and Reef Point are the go-to areas for tide pool observance and all diving activities. Scotchman’s Cove is the ideal spot to catch some great waves or watch the surfers rip, while 3.5 Cove maintains more of a swimming ad body surfing atmosphere.
Lastly, the Moro Campground, Day-Use area, as well as Muddy Creek and Moro Beach are all best accessed through the Inland Moro Canyon entrance and parking lot. Beach-goers can easily park directly across from these beach areas and follow the underground tunnel under Pacific Coast Highway to start enjoying the hot sandy shores and offshore activities such as swimming, boogie boarding, and body surfing. The Ranger Station and Visitor Center are also accessible through this entrance.
Fun Fact: The area we now call the Moro Canyon Campground and Parking area in fact started as a campground named “Tyrone’s Camp”, until the 1940s when trailers replaced tents and it eventually became the El Morro Village Mobile Home Park. These trailers served as home to some families for up to four generations, until 2006 when the California Coastal Commission converted it into the public use area we enjoy there today.
The place where Crystal Cove as we know it today all began. The Historic District beach area, rustic Beach Cottages, Beachcomber Cafe, Bootlegger Bar, and the Ruby’s Shake Shack are all most easily accessible by means of the underground tunnel to the beach or by the shuttle through the Los Trancos entrance located on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway. Ruby’s Shake Shack, serving up good old American hamburgers and Shakes in 1940s style to visitors and locals alike, can also be visited through their entrance and limited parking lot off of Pacific Coast Highway. The Beachcomber Cafe and joining Bootlegger Bar are nestled right along the Los Trances Creek and directly into the sandy Crystal Cove beach. They offer a quality diverse menu, and suiting tropical beverages, serving up scrumptious breakfasts, healthy lunches, and decadent sunset dinners. Make sure you stop by at 5 PM or 7 PM to witness the daily raising of Doc’s Martini Flag and officially celebrate cocktail hour with a martini in hand like a local.
The Historic District is most well known for the 46 restored historical beach cottages that have resided on that very beach since the 1920s and 1930s. These cottages were originally built as part of a seaside colony when James Irvine II, founder of “The Irvine Company”, allowed friends, family, and employees to settle along the desirable beach. In addition to being film stars from the past, these historical cottages are available as overnight rentals all year long (although the cottage reservations must usually be made many months in advance, they will take day-of walk-ins if something is open). Located along the north bluff are the least expensive dorm-style cottages, which vary in style and occupancy availability, housing anywhere between 1 to 6 people at a time with a higher base rate. Traditional oceanfront cottages, housing anywhere between 4 to 9 people at any given time are mainly located immediately surrounding the Los Trancos Creek.
Beach Cottage #13, the famous cottage from the 1988 film “Beaches”, has been transformed to serve the community as a Film History and Media Center space as an homage to Crystal Cove’s Hollywood past where visitors can learn about the rich history behind these rustic cottages. Cottage #22 serves as the Park and Marine Research Facility. Other educational opportunities in the Historic District are offered throughout the year within the beachside Education Commons, Special Event Deck, and the Rotating Exhibit Facility right on Crystal Cove’s sandy shores. The Crystal Cove Alliance hosts Community Days every Wednesday providing children and families with traditional crafts, historical beach fun, and exploratory science activities all within the State Park.
Featured events this month range from the weekly sea glass jewelry crafting fun, to the guided Photography Walk, as well as the family essential Tidepool Walk. More information here.
Crystal Cove State Park is truly full of endless opportunities and adventurous fun, whether it be exploring nature in the backcountry, offshore activities in the refreshing Pacific Ocean, or simply gathering with friends and family along the beach enjoying the Southern California sun. So settle into a historic vintage beach cottage, grab yourself a hearty meal paired with a tropical drink, and enjoy being a part Newport Beach’s magnificent piece of Southern California history.