Recently we received a pass to get into California State Parks free for a week. So, we made the most of it and set out to visit a few coastal parks in Southern California.
First up was Crystal Cove State Park which I have driven by hundreds of times in my life, but never stopped to see what it was all about. Mainly because it cost money to get in and I was always heading somewhere else.
After spending a few hours at stop number one, I am sorry I never took the time, it is an amazing beach.
Just south of Newport Beach as you are descending into the lowest part of Pacific Coast Highway, is when you get your first glance. Now at sea level, you can feel the ocean breezes and the sight before you looks like something from a travel magazine.
The water was always a crystal blue color and the large bluffs at the end of the long stretch of sand were rugged and scenic. At the top of the cliff far above the breakers sat a few large modern homes, the envy of any car passing by I am sure.
With the pass in hand, this time, I was going to finally take a stroll on this beach and get a closer look.
As it turns out, Crystal Cove State Park actually has three entrances with each one having a different look from the other. So, we would visit all three.
Entrance One, Moro Beach
The first entrance was at the lowest part of Pacific Coast Highway as mentioned, and we were easily waved through the guard gate with our trusty pass. Normally it’s a $15 a day charge.
There were numerous parking areas at different levels and clean bathrooms. Also, scattered about were picnic tables and gazebos for large groups. We chose a spot that appeared to be at the lowest level and closest to the beach.
Grabbing our stuff, we glanced to see where people were walking and headed that way. We soon came upon a tunnel filled with water. We hesitated as we really didn’t see the beach-goers walking through here and we didn’t know how deep it was.
A young lady came by, and we asked if this was the way to the beach and she nodded yes. She saw us wavering a little, and looked back at us and said, “you won’t be disappointed” So, we trudged through the above ankle-deep water and headed to the sea.
Once out of the tunnel, boy, she was right, it was a gorgeous!!!, and we were definitely not disappointed.
It spanned as far as you can see in both directions but only ending south by a massive and rugged bluff.
The one with the beautiful homes that I envied…er…admired.
This is where we headed first.
The sand was clean and the sea was sparkling on this warm October day. There were only a handful of people enjoying sunbathing and less than that in the water. By California standards the water was still swim-able at 70 degrees F. However, the waves were harsh as they hit the shore, making it unfriendly for swimmers in my opinion. In some parts it was a little calmer.
As we approached the cliff, there were a few surfers catching the waves as the breakers formed along the wall of the towering bluff.
Large green mossy rock formations were embedded into the sand making it very picturesque. There were these odd shapes intermixed with the rocks that looked like they were made out of cement. On research later, I couldn’t find out what they were. Or maybe I didn’t try hard enough.
Regardless, I decided that this is in the top ten beaches I have seen though my travels and it was there in front of me all my life!
The beach is mostly sand but in one area we found a thirty-foot wide section where small rocks were bringing in our beach-combing treasure…sea glass! Each time a wave came in, it would open up a new layer where more glass was exposed. We picked for about a half an hour and then decided to walk back to where we came in.
Far north we could see another group of surfers and more of the shoreline which spanned very far. As we splashed along in the ankle deep water, pure relaxation hit us like a ton of bricks. There is nothing more therapeutic than dipping the feet into the sea.
We decided next, to check out entrance two which would be a short drive up the road via PCH.
About a mile or so away, sits the second entrance to Crystal Cove State Park. Plenty of parking here but it is higher up on Coast Highway so you have to hike down a trail from far above the ocean.
I stayed on top and snapped some photos while Staycationer JoJo made the trek all the way down via a man-made trail.
Once down on the sand, she looked so tiny, making me wonder just how high up I was. A few people trudging up the steps were huffing and puffing as if they had just ran a marathon. There were plenty of groups heading down the hill, so I guess the steep trail doesn’t deter most.
Again, this was a very intriguing and scenic beach with rock formations and parts that looked like tide pools that would be exposed in lower tides. On research later, I found out that in reality there are at least four tide pool areas.
If you wanted peace and quiet, this is not the spot for you. This is part of the Crystal Cove State Parks’s Historical District and honestly when I was down on the beach, I actually felt like I had gone back in time.
This seaside community was built between 1920 and 1940 and still has that feel and look.
Some of the rentals were on the lower levels and are closed while receiving a whole new refurbishment, however, on the upper level they are still available to reserve.
As we were heading down a bunch of stairs to check out the restaurant, we saw a rental titled ‘something Lodge’. One of us in our group thought it was for the public so she stepped inside to explore. It was actually a cottage being rented out for the weekend. The guests were a little surprised when she walked in, but one in particular said, “Come on in!!” So we did.
She proceeded to show us all around, first with the multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, then the kitchen and, finally the two patios with stunning panoramic views. She was just a super nice, friendly woman and we were grateful plus surprised to get a tour of this unique cottage.
Don’t get me wrong, this rental is rustic so don’t expect a modern five-star experience. I mean there were two old picnic tables in the kitchen, that should give you an idea. But it was huge and perfect for a coastal family getaway.
After our unexpected tour, we headed further down to the lowest level where there is a store, bar, and restaurant. I am told the food is great at the Beachcomber Cafe and judging by how many people were there, I am sure this is true. A few picnic tables were set up where you can dine right on the sand and the patio was filled with seaside patrons.
I was also told that a shuttle will transport you from the parking lot to this cute little community.
More cottages were at sea level and these were the ones getting fixed up while the others were on the bluff overlooking the ocean. There were also what looked like private homes along this stretch of the beach, and all looked like they were preserving the look of the era they were built.
The whole scene looked like something from the 60’s and it is truly a charming and magical place where I want to stay someday. It is not hard to let your imagination soar to a simpler time.
For now, I was just happy we were able to see it after all of these years. The pass worked great and saved us money by not having to pay at each entrance gate.
We headed back to our car and back into 2022. It was nice traveling back in time and visiting secluded beaches, shoreline restaurants, and old cottages. The stress just melted off, or was that my sweat after climbing the steps back to our car. Next time, the shuttle will work just fine.
Either way, you will be at a better stress level at any of these three locations.
This was a perfect day, and as we say after a lot of our stories…bring yourself, bring a friend, bring a camera, and definitely bring your imagination.
Stories and photos: Debbie Colwell