Disneyland is not all there is to Orange County. This wild beach is a great place to sun yourself and to take fascinating pictures in a place where the locals like to go.
We first discovered this state park while cruising Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) for interesting things to do. Crystal Cove contains a long stretch of beach, a historic resort area, and an arm of deep wilderness leading into the heart of the San Joaquin Hills.
The beach presents options for both sunbathers and tide pool explorers. Best parking is at the Los Trancos area where there is a large lot. A long graffiti-covered concrete tube leads you under PCH to the area where employees of the Irvine Ranch built their beach houses. Some of these can be rented. There is a cafe and up the hill via a wooden stairway, is the bright yellow Ruby’s Shake Shack.
The beach opens up past a greenhouse featuring exhibits about the geology and ecology of the area. Stop in this area if you want to swim, surf, or otherwise enjoy the sun. Hang a left, jump the creek, and continue for about fifty yards to the first outcropping where you can see Crystal Cove’s famous “hamburger rocks”. These were formed around tree roots on the cliffs behind you and cast onto the beach as waves undercut the hill.
Serious explorers can examine the grooved rocks for pools rich in fish, crabs, mussels, sea anemones, and other sea life when the tide is out. Beachcombers can find turban shells, angel wings, pieces of seaweed, and other bits of flotsam and jetsam brought by the waves.
All kinds of cameras can be used successfully here. Come in any season. Give yourself a few hours. Listen to the crash of the waves and watch shore birds running from you as your eyes scan the sand for evidences of life. Crystal Cove is an alternative to Disneyland and for some of us, a magic kingdom worth revisiting many times over.