A visit to Crystal Cove State Park immediately draws a sense of wonder and magic. With its crisp blue waters, rocky caves, and backcountry hills – this Southern California gem right in the heart of Laguna Beach is as magical as its name suggests.
This California State Park has over 3 miles of Southern California’s world famous sandy beaches, 2,400 acres of rolling backcountry hills with views of the shoreline, plus offshore underwater areas for tide pool exploration and more marine life experiences. Yes, this Orange County protected area that boasts wide open public spaces and natural, untouched, and undeveloped seashore is truly magical.
Crystal Cove History
Long before the Spanish Missionaries arrived at this patch of the California Coast, the Gabrielino and Juaneno indigenous peoples called this territory home. Here they fished the deep waters of the Channel Islands in large, wooden plank vessels for food, gathered acorns to pound into paste with mortar and pestle, and lived in community villages along the coastline. But in 1769 when colonizers came to set roots; this tribal life drastically changed much like the rest of the New World.
Flash forward 200 plus years to the 1920s and you come upon a much different Crystal Cove. When looking out upon the shoreline, movie cameras, actors and actresses, and a sprinkling of tents as the first feature film to be filmed here, Treasure Island, was being captured. Quaint beach cottages would be built as Japanese farmers began planting hundreds of crops on the hillside. The 1950s brought the peak of tourism to the area and the El Moro Beach Trailer Park was established into a permanent mobile home facility in 1956.
Jump forward once more to 1979 when Crystal Cove State Park was officially established. This expansion of recreational paradise remains to this day protected by the Crystal Cove Conservatory from any luxury resort developments. And thanks to this organization Crystal Cove State Park remains a wonderful place to explore for the entire family.
Crystal Cove State Park is a popular hiking area for locals. The 2,400 acres that comprise the park have over 18 miles of designated trails spanning the coastline and into the mountains. As you climb into the hill-filled backcountry, you’re rewarded with views of the Pacific Ocean. The trails weave around endangered coastal sagebrush plants, so when trekking make sure to stay on the trails and off the plant life. Also please note our four legged friends, AKA dogs, are not permitted in the park.
Crystal Cove Trails To Hike
- Reef Point and Crystal Cove Trail: This easy rated, 5-mile trail is a great loop along the beach. Highlights include Pelican Point where you can explore some caves right on the shoreline and the last historic cottage from the 1988 film starring Bette Milder and John Heard.
- Crystal Cove State Park Historic District: I will admit this mile hike is not really a hike but more a relaxing stroll through history. This easy trail will take you around the 12-acre historic Irvine Ranch Lands. Here you can see the 46 cottages built between 1920-1930 which you can still rent out today.
- Rattlesnake Loop Trail: The rating is moderate as you make your way up and down the rolling hills. The length of the entire loop is about 8 miles and promises great views at the higher points in the trail.
- Crystal Peak Park Loop: This is a great backcountry trail that will take you right along the boundaries of the State Park. The trail length is just shy of 7 miles and rated hard for a great workout.
Want to expand your time here beyond just a day trip? Crystal Cove State Park has multiple campground options within the park. One campground is more developed and big rig friendly, while three backcountry primitive camps give that more “roughing it” experience. Each campground requires reservations and a permit fee to use. To reserve a campground visit www.reservecalifornia.com, or call (800) 444-7275.
- Moro Campground: This campground is quite large with 57 family picnic table campsites. If you have an RV or trailer there are 27 sites specifically for you, while the remaining 30 are for what is described as “low impact” soft sided trailers, van conversions, and tents. Restrooms, hook ups, and coin operated showers are available. And the best part? Pups are allowed in the developed campground area!
- Primitive Camping: Although Crystal Cove is a gorgeous beach you can not actually camp on its sandy shores. All three of the primitive campgrounds require at least a 3 mile hike up into the hills from the parking area. Other things to remember when camping is there is no water available and any fires are limited to only backpack stoves. You can not beat the sites and privacy of these campgrounds. That alone makes the hike worth it. The three sites are:
- Lower Moro
- Upper Moro
- Deer Canyon Campsites
Crystal Cove State Park has four amazing tide pools along its seashore. Tide pools are only visible at low tide when the water is less than 1.5 feet high. Due to the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun on the earth there are two high tides and two low tides in California every day. When the water recedes at low tide rocks are revealed with pools of ocean water trapped along the shoreline. Inside of these crevices is a thriving marine world filled with many living organisms such as crabs, anemones, limpets and if you are lucky, even sea stars.
When visiting make sure you do not pick up or bother any of the sea critters. The simple act of handling an animal will cause irreparable damage and stress to these beautiful creatures. Also collecting seashells is prohibited so please take pictures only to share.
There are four tide pool viewing areas in Crystal Cove State Park: Reef Point, Rocky Bight, Pelican Point, and Treasure Cove. Each tide pool requires an entrance fee and are pretty easy access from the parking areas.
There are so many ways to enjoy Crystal Cove State Park from hiking to camping, tide pools to junior lifeguard programs. Whatever you choose to do you will really, truly enjoy your visit!
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus