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Crystal Cove State Park Beach

The 3.2 miles of Crystal Cove State Park Beach on the Pacific coastline of Newport Beach has gorgeous sandy beaches, tide pools, wooded and chaparral canyons, cliffs and a historic district of beach houses. The Crystal Cove is one of Orange County’s last remaining natural seashores and open spaces. The state park is found between Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar one of the beaches along California’s inspirational Pacific Coast Highway.

The Crystal Cove State Park Beach was established in 1979. This beachfront state park boasts a massive 1,400 acre marine conservation area, along with 2,400 acres of canyons and an impressive 400 acres of bluffs.  These three miles of untouched beach in the middle of a seaside city with the eighth highest housing prices in the United States are a magical oasis in Southern California. The population of Newport Beach was just over 85,000 in the 2010 census.

Where is Crystal Cove State Park Beach? 33°34′N 117°50′W

Where is Crystal Cove Beach?

The area including the Crystal Cove Beach was a pattern of native villages that were built around two natural springs. That is, until the Spanish Missionaries arrived on the scene. The natives in the area, the Chumash tribe, soon were pressed into service at either the Mission San Juan Capistrano or Mission San Gabriel. In addition to becoming the newest Christians in California, the Chumash had to give up their formerly happy go lucky nomadic ways. Due to the pleasant climate in area, there had been no need for agriculture. They were now farmers.

Getting to the beach is steep at Crystal Cove

Steep Hill to Beach

The grazing area of Mission San Juan Capistrano became known as “Rancho San Joaquin”, after José Andrés Sepúlveda was granted the land in 1836 by Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado.  Rancho San Joaquin was a 48,803 acre Mexican land grand in today’s Orange County, California. Rancho San Joaquin was the combined Rancho Bolsa de San Joaquin and Rancho Cienega de las Ranas (Marsh of the Frogs). Sepúlveda later purchased another massive property in 1854, the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. The areas seasonal pastures in the Moro Canyon were used for cattle grazing by Sepúlveda and his native American workforce.

Visit this State Park in Newport Beach

Crystal Cove is found in Republican California

A reputation for over the top parties and race horses made Jose Andres famous. The expenses of life in the fast lane resulted in the income from his profitable ranches being used to pay off gambling debts and maintain the an courtly lifestyle. No longer able to pay the mortgage in 1864, Jose Andres sold Rancho San Joaquin to the trio of  James Irvine, Thomas Flint and Llewellyn Bixby.

In the 2016 United States presidential electionDonald Trump received 24,459 votes, and Hillary Clinton received 18,073 votes in Newport Beach

For reasons including the poor wool, drought and a more competitive market, Irvine bought out his former partners when sheep stock were failing in 1876. Irvine’s son, inherited the land and formed the Irvine Company in 1894. A favorite spot of his was what is currently known as the Crystal Cove. Friends, family and employees were invited to build cottages in the area. Gradually the cottages became more permanent after renovations. The Irvine Company then presented the owners with a choice: hand over ownership to the company, so they can be leased or to move the beach cottages someplace else.

State Beach at Crystal Cove Park

Camping at Crystal Cove Beach

The location where the cottages were developed by the Irvine Company became known as the Crystal Cove Community. Part of the area was leased to a propane salesman who formed a camping site. In the 1940’s trailers replaced the tents. By 1954 the area was renamed to El Morro.
“About 290 mobile home trailers on the beachfront and inland area were primary homes for some families up to four generations.”

Crystal Cove is home to the house from the Bette Midler movie, Beaches.

The El Morro Village mobile home part was demolished in 2006 by the California Coastal Commission who purchased the property in 1979. The tenants were only evicted after a 26 year legal battle. The trailer park became a campground. A marine research facility was built along with a cultural center, and a visitors center. Inside the park, there are still 46 beach cottages remaining from the 20s and 30s. It’s possible to rent 21 of them. These cottages are listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Crystal Cove Historic District.

Great beach spot- Crystal Cove State Park

The Crystal Cove Historic District has a fun tradition every night at its restaurant. At 5PM and 7PM, reveille is played on trumpet for the official start of cocktail hour and subsequent martinis. This harmless fun has been taking place since the 40s.

Crystal Cove is great for playing

Plein air painters of Crystal Cove

Plein air painters have been interested in Crystal Cove for a number of years. Plein air painting is the act of painting outdoors. This method contrasts with studio painting or academic rules that might create a predetermined look. The Orange County beaches, especially Crystal Cove have been painted frequently. A Crystal Cove cottage has been named “Painter’s Cottage” in recognition of the movement. Landscape painters continue to flock to the natural beauty of these beaches.

Newport Beach Crystal Cove has amazing light to paint with

Swimmers, surfers, mountain bikers and more

The Crystal Cove State Beach Park is today frequented by swimmers, mountain bikers, scuba divers, and surfers. The beach is popular and the California State Parks Lifeguard Service protects the Crystal Cove beach. Beaches are patrolled throughout the year, but the lifeguard towers are only manned in the summers. There is a massive Marine Conservation area and a underwater park.

Orange County Beach in California

Such a wonderful space

For hiking and riding horses, the park has 2400 acres of undeveloped land along the coast highway. There are three main routes which fan out to 17 trails to hike or explore. Visitors will also find three camping spots, including the Deer Canyon along with the Upper and Lower Moro campsites. None of the campsites are accessible with car. No pets allowed and no fires in the backcountry site due to the tremendous fire hazard.

Watch out for rattlesnakes on the beach

Watch out for rattlesnakes on the beach

It’s worth noting that if you visit or hike to this beach spot, there are rattlesnakes. They live in the state park, and are sometimes seen in the backcountry, along the coastal buff and even on the beach. They are a vital inhabitant of this natural community and don’t bite unless threatened, disturbed or cornered.

Crystal Cove is a nice getaway from the urban sprawl

If you encounter a rattlesnake, give this native resident respect and room to move. If you see one blocking your path, try stomping loudly to alert the snake to your presence and go around it- giving the snake a wide berth to escape. Rattlesnakes will generally avoid human interaction.

In general, this is a wonderful place to come visit for a day of peace and quiet. However, I can’t see getting on a plane to investigate this beach. If you are in Southern California, by all means visit this wonder. It’s a nice place, just don’t expect the same level of awesome as at the El Matador Beach.  

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About Author

This project, Beach Spot, has been a lingering thought for nearly 20 years. It started on a crazy offshore Venezuelan island, Isla Margarita, during the first dot com craze. The idea evolved while life continually got in the way. A decade was spent on a Mediterranean island as well as a number of years chasing the sun in the USVI.

Back living stateside in San Diego, this project will hopefully be an enjoyable look at a number of beach towns.

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