Crystal Cove Beach
Thoughts of another era when life was simpler and front doors were never locked, that’s what comes to mind when you first feast your eyes on the cottages at Crystal Cove in Southern California. You can’t easily see the structures as you drive along Pacific Coast Highway, which may explain why this historic district has not been discovered by more tourists. Another reason is accessibility. The main area is not open to vehicles. Cottage guests are provided spaces for cars at the parking lot across Pacific Coast Highway. They can ride the Beachcomber Cafe shuttle to the beach cottages or enjoy the short and very interesting walk downhill. Follow the path that leads through state park greenery and into a tunnel painted with "planet-friendly" messages by young artists,
and you’re soon out in the sunshine again at the top of “hollow” where the shuttle stops.
Here the sandy walk to the ocean stretches out before you. When you’re ready for another walk back up the hillside, take the path to the Shake Shack for a higher view of the beautiful blue waters while enjoying a tasty ice cream treat.
Tucked below PCH between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove’s famous history has long inspired local artists. The cottages, rock formations, ragged bluffs, and sweeping surf have been reproduced on many a canvas. Photographers also find the serene landscape the perfect focal point for their work.
Standing in the surf, you can view Crystal Cove’s three-mile expanse of beach dotted by cottages that reach from the sand up to the bluffs. Ocean sunsets cast hues on them making them look like some of Thomas Kinkade’s finest paintings. Many of the separate structures feature wood patios with steps leading down to the beach were the same sunsets turn the beige sand, pink.
This tiny rustic sanctuary is comprised of 10 individual cottages and three dorm-style cottages where living space, patios, and bathrooms are considered common rooms. Restored to look like they did when they were constructed in the 1920’s and 1930’s, the amenities are simple and help to preserve their original beach colony theme.
In the center of the community you’ll find the Beachcomber Cafe,
a popular eatery for tourists and locals with indoor or outdoor deck dining. Reservations are recommended but patrons without them can wiggle their toes in the sand and water, or explore the many tide pools while waiting for a table. Only a handful of other structures exist at Crystal Cove including the Store, Gallery, and public restrooms.
Despite its remote location, the Crystal Cove beach sometimes draws locals with unique agendas. If you’re lucky enough to rent a cottage, keep your camera battery charged and within reach. You wouldn’t want to miss a minute of the activities. On a recent evening I snapped pictures of a photo shoot taking place in the surf. A bride in her gown and a groom in his wedding clothes rolled around in the water and sand while a photographer framed them in his lens. I don’t know if this was a joke, a commercial shoot or a personal one, but all eyes on the beach and on the deck of the Beachcomber Café deck were glued to the couple. I could only imagine how heavy that cold wet gown was when the bride lifted herself out of the surf.
This is a sampling of the kind of entertainment you can expect to see at Crystal Cove. The seclusion and the unparalleled vistas are too inviting for creative minds to dismiss.
From moonshiners, to Hollywood filmmakers, to politicians, intriguing stories abound involving Crystal Cove and much of it can be accessed at the visitor’s center. The 1988 movie Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey was filmed here as well as older films like Treasure Island with Jackie Cooper. Plans are underway to remodel one of the cottages to create a dedicated museum to showcase the Cove’s film history.
The year-round cottages offer unobstructed ocean views and a relaxing winter vacation hideaway that promises warm, sunny days and cool nights. Because the number of cottages is limited, the maximum length of a reservation is seven consecutive nights. Rates are surprisingly reasonable with four-person accommodations going for less than $200 a night and dorm rooms for less than $60 per person. Bare bones room amenities include kitchens with microwave ovens, refrigerators and some cook tops. Minimal kitchen supplies are included. Check the website for a complete list. You can expect to find towels and soap in your cottage and vintage furniture. The plumbing and electricity is modern but you won’t find laundry services on the premises and you must bring your own beach towels. The cottages are non-smoking environments and alcohol is prohibited in dorm-style rooms.
Restoration of the Cottages at Crystal Cove has been an ongoing project for years with more cottages to be made available to the public in the future. The colorful names for cottages currently in use include:
Shell Shack – decorated with a shell theme
Sand Castle – a two story with oceanfront deck
South Sea Shanty – this unit boasts four decks
Crew’s Quarters – a studio steps from the beach
Rustic Loft – wood structure with a sunken bathroom tub
Dive Shack – marine dive theme with brick staircase
Painter’s Cottage – bright and open with a pink kitchen
Romantic Retreat – charming details and stained glass windows
Fisherman’s Perch – six-foot-tall windows face the beach
Soda Shack – soda fountain motif structure was once the Cove’s snack shack
Crystal Cove is not a wild Beach Blanket Bingo setting. It’s a place for simple unhurried days and quiet nights. If you require more, nearby Newport Beach has much to offer. In the winter months especially, Crystal Cove beach may look deserted compared to other Southern California beaches. While the Beachcomber Café keeps the area populated by diners who come to enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the sand is generally crowd-free. An occasional surfer might be seen accompanied by sea gull calls but the sound of the surf is the primary audio backdrop for this picturesque setting. At Crystal Cove cottages there are no TV sets or landline phones. Guests are unplugged and disconnected in the best way possible, and can look forward to a solitary beach walk, or doing absolutely nothing in one of the sweetest spots on the west coast.
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