I love taking the kids to the beach, but in Los Angeles, going to the beach can sometimes be a struggle. Traffic, parking, crowds, and really not much to do once you're there. I get bored in a minute just sitting on the beach. I want to go somewhere, discover something and so do the kids (usually.) If a day at the beach is going to be a day of adventure and exploration, it means leaving the city beaches of Los Angeles behind and heading out of town. One of our favorite beach spots is Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach, Orange County, about 45 minutes south of LA.
Crystal Cove is a California state park with 3.2 miles of Pacific coastline and inland chaparral canyons. The park is a stretch of coastal cliffs and a beachfront cove just north of Laguna Beach. The park hosts a total of three miles of beaches and tide pools, a 1,400-acre marine Conservation Area as well as underwater park, 400 acres of bluffs and 2,400 acres of canyons.
There are a number of different access points to the beach at Crystal Cove. Where you go depends on what you want to do. If you want more of a traditional day at the beach - park, unload your stuff, set up and play - then I recommend the south end of the cove. If you want to walk, explore tide pools and scramble around on the rocks, then the north end of the cove is your best bet.
CRYSTAL COVE SOUTH - a day at the beach
Address: Beach parking lot is behind El Morro Elementary School, 8681 N Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Cost: Parking $15
Facilities: Small concession stand for essentials (snacks and drinks) and rentals (chairs, umbrellas, etc.), and bathrooms near the lower parking lot. Bathroom on the beach in the lifeguard station.
What To Bring: The usual beach stuff, plus boogie boards, surfboards, SUPs, kayak
Get there early so you can park in the lower lot. There is a tunnel at the south end of the lot that leads to the beach. On the beach, either go left (south) to be near the bathrooms and the cliff and the surf break, or go right (north) and set up on the long stretch of sand. You're not going to be the only people there, but the beach is three miles long, so there's plenty of space if you just walk in either direction from the tunnel. There's a beach break all along for the kids to play. And lifeguards to save them if you forget to look up from your phone while they're swimming.
At the far south end of the beach, the sandy beach ends abruptly at a rocky cliff. Definitely worth the short walk down there from the tunnel to check it out. There's a nice left that breaks off the point into the cove there too if you have your surfboard handy. I saw a photo of it holding a 25-foot wave during a recent hurricane.
The first time we went to Crystal Cove, I'd only had our kayak a week, so of course I brought it. I carried my kayak across the lot, through the tunnel, and across the sand. Not easy by myself. With an eye on the waves, I set up the kayak, while talking to a guy on the beach who was chuckling about the last kayaker who nearly drown trying to launch from the same spot.
I loaded up the kids, got us in position and asked for help pushing us out. We waited for a lull in the waves, hopped on, and got off the beach easily. We paddled to the north to fish near the kelp forest off the tide pools. When we surfed the waves back onto the beach (which can be trickier than launching) some guy jumped up and ran out into the water, grabbed the front of the kayak, and pulled us up on the beach a bit before we could get knocked sideways. It's funny how willing strangers are to help when they feel like you're putting the lives of two small children at risk.
Fishing and Snorkeling
We ended up not fishing much because my son wouldn't stay out of the water. He had to snorkel around the kelp forest. And I was more focused on taking photos of him and watching out for sharks than fishing. There were several boats fishing in the same spot and some guys fishing off the beach. But mainly, we just paddled around taking selfies and jumping in the water when we passed over dense kelp. The kelp is definitely reachable from the shore, but a little bit of a swim. On a calm day, the bay off of Crystal Cove is beautiful.
CRYSTAL COVE NORTH - exploring the tide pools
Address: Enter the park through the gate directly across from where Newport Coast Drive ends at the Pacific Coast Hwy (near Pelican Hill Golf Club). After paying at the gate, turn right and park in the first lot. Then follow the paved footpath to the right down to the beach.
Cost: Parking $15
Facilities: Bathrooms at the parking lot.
What To Bring: Day pack, water shoes or old sneakers, change of clothes
Where the path from the parking lot ends at the beach, walk a short distance south (to the left) to the rocky point. At low tide, a large area of rocky intertidal is exposed. There are small pools and boulders to explore, where you'll see a variety of sea life - hermit crabs, small fish, anemones, and the occasional sea star. It's a "no take" zone, so no collecting, not even empty shells. Although I did see a sign stating that you're allowed to harvest 50 pounds of driftwood per day from the beach. Interesting rule. Anyway, as always, the key with tide pools is, you have to go at or near low tide! If the tide is high, you're out of luck.
After exploring the tide pools, work your way up the shoreline to the rocky cliff at the northern edge of the cove. There's a nice sandy stretch along the way. At the northern point, there's another big intertidal area to explore. Lots of great opportunities for taking some interesting photographs of the twisted layered rocky outcrop.
If you're feeling adventurous, and there's a very low tide (and you can keep a secret) go around the point, out of the park, and explore the relatively unknown stretch of amazing coastline between Crystal Cove and Corona del Mar that I vowed not to write about. Don't tell anyone you heard it from me.
I took the 5 to the 605 to the 405 to the 73 to Newport Coast Drive to the 1(PCH). NOTE: the 73 is a toll road, you need a FastPass or you can go online to pay the toll within 48 hours. If you don't pay within 48 hours, it's a hefty fine! I learned that the hard way.
If you have any questions about exploring the California coast, please leave a comment! Happy adventuring!