"They called it paradise, I don't know why.
You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye. "
There's a lot of great reasons to visit sunny Southern California. It has a near perfect Mediterranean climate with months of sunny dry days. There's lots of fascinating sights to see, like those centered around the movie industry and the many family theme parks (Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Legoland). But you'll certainly not find solitude here and there are very few "wide open spaces" left in the Sunny Southland. Among the features I least like about the region are the busy traffic and all the people -- millions and millions of them in what seems an endless sprawl. I like people and I'm all for progress, but there's got to be some limit or you validate the above quoted lyrics of that great Eagles tune.
But if you look carefully there are still small gems to explore and enjoy, like Crystal Cove State Park. Located off busy Pacific Coast Highway between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove is one of Orange County's largest open space preserves (2400+ acres). It's also one of the last beach nature preserves in the Southern California with more than 3 miles (5 km) of natural beach; its offshore waters are designated an underwater park (that's very popular with scuba divers). Given the population of Orange County it's clear why the park is popular for outdoor enthusiasts like hikers, mountain-bikers, swimmers and surfers.
We've enjoyed visiting this Crystal Cove for many years because it's near a place we like to stay in Newport Beach. One of my favorite activities is walking on the broad sandy beach at low tide, enjoying the pounding of the surf, the squawk of seagulls, the fresh ocean breeze, and flocks of pelicans flying in formation high above (I'm always amazed at how their gliding on the updraft reminds me of a military aircraft display). Sea lions and dolphins can frequently be spotted frolicking just offshore and are always entertaining. The place is busy on the weekends but during the weekdays it's actually quite a peaceful place to walk along the shore.
(sea hare in a tidepool)
There are bonuses for being there at low tide (check the online tide charts) in that you can explore the tide pools. Never know what you might find -- sea stars, sea hares, sea cucumbers, fish, crabs -- and thousands of anemones, oysters and barnacles. The rock formations along the shore and nearby cliffs are interesting, especially those exposed by the water at low tide. And the sandy coves are nice places to sit and just enjoy it all!
The park contains a small abandoned farm village known as Crystal Cove Historic District a federally listed Historic District of 46 homes which covers 12.3 acres along the coast. These homes are rustic coastal cottages originally built in the 1930’s & '40's around the mouth of Los Trancos Creek and they are one of the last examples of an early 20th century Southern California beach development. The State Park has been restoring some of these homes to provide cottages for overnight use by the public (1 and 2 bedroom homes and hostel-style dorms). For more information about overnight cottage rentals see www.crystalcovebeachcottages.org. It's one of the least expensive beachfront places to stay so reserve well in advance if you're interested.
Also available in the Historic District is the Beachcomber Restaurant built in one of restored cottages. I've yet to dine there but it seems a great place for a meal -- certainly can't beat the view.
Enjoy the accompanying photos. You can read their legend by scrolling a mouse over them or clicking on the thumbnails below this post to enlarge them.