Crystal Cove State Park

This stunning stretch of Southern Californian coastline is paradise for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. 

Crystal Cove is a stunning oceanfront wildlife reserve, perfect for picnicking, hiking, sunbathing and more.

The park is divided into two sections. The beach side has three miles (five kilometers) of pristine beach and a protected water park popular with scuba divers, snorkelers, surfers and swimmers. Behind the beach is 2,400 acres (971 hectares) of undeveloped woodland. Here you will find hiking trails, campsites and mountain vistas. Pay for an all-day parking pass and leave your vehicle in one of the three public parking lots while you take your time exploring.

To choose a walking trail, pick up a map from a ranger at the park’s visitor center. Easy walks pass numerous oceanfront lookouts. Hike the perimeter of the park on the advanced 11-mile (17-kilometer) trail. Mountain bikers and horseback enthusiasts can choose from the series of dirt paths that wind through the area. There are also basic campsites nestled deep in the woodland, dubbed the park’s “Back Country.” Getting to these sites is recommended only for the energetic, as they require several hours of strenuous hiking to reach. You must also take all supplies, including water. Alternatively, there are easily accessible waterfront camps and van sites that have communal restrooms and showers to use for a small fee.

The best-known pocket of Crystal Cove is the Historic District. This seaside village has rustic beach cottages, a restaurant, snack bar and souvenir shop. The more than 40 cottages were built in the 1920s and ’30s, and one appears in the 1988 film Beaches, starring Bette Midler. About half the cottages are restored as holiday rentals, which are booked solidly year-round. For reservations, book at least seven months in advance. On a day trip you can take a guided tour of the village on the second Saturday of the month. Book at the visitor center.

Crystal Cove is a short drive south of tourist hot spots Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.