Crystal Cove State Park is a state park of California, with 3.2 miles of Pacific coastline and inland chaparral canyons. Crystal Cove is a stretch of coastal cliffs and a beachfront cove just north of Laguna Beach. The park hosts a total of 3 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.
Address: Beach parking lot is behind El Morro Elementary School, 8681 N Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
More Info: 949.494.3539
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.
Camping: Yes, in designated areas. We did not camp though.
More Rules: No fires, no alcohol, no nudity, no smoking. (I swear this is a fun place.)
Long sandy beach, waves, rocks to climb on, tidepools, shore birds
What To Bring or Rent
The usual beach stuff, plus boogie boards, surf boards, paddle boards, kayak, fishing poles
At A Glance
A day at Crystal Cove Beach is a fairly low effort adventure. It’s a beach. You park, unload your stuff, set up, and play. A fun break from the crowded LA beaches. With the tidepools and cliffs, and hiking in the back country, there’s a lot more to do than just sit in the dirt and bake in the sun. If you want to add a level of difficulty, bring your kayak or paddle boards. The wind can pick up in the afternoon so plan accordingly.
Get there early so you can park in the lower lot. There’s 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) to head toward the tidepools. The tidepools are a bit of walk from the tunnel, so I’d set up close, leave your stuff and then walk up there. You’re not going to be the only people there, but the beach is 3 miles long so find yourself some space. There’s beach break all along for the kids to play. And lifeguards to save them if you forget to look up from your iPhone when they’re swimming.
There’s a lot of talk about the Crystal Cove tidepools, and yes there is a lot of rocky intertidal exposed at low tide, but don’t expect to see a ton of sea life like at Abalone Cove. The area is exposed to the waves when surf is up which limits what can live there. But there’s still plenty to see – hermit crabs, small fish, anemones, and the occasional seastar. No collecting from the tidepools. Although I did see that you’re allowed to harvest 50 pounds of driftwood per day from the beach. Interesting rule. Anyway, as always, the key with tidepools is, you gotta go at or near low tide! If the tide is high, you’re out of luck.
At the other end of the beach, the south end, 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 surf board handy. I saw a photo of it holding a 25 ft wave during a recent hurricane.
When we went to Crystal Cove, I’d only had the kayak a week, so of course I brought it. Upon parking, I saw guy putting a kayak on the roof of his truck so I went over to ask about it. When I got right up to him, I realized he was soaking wet and exhausted. He told me that he tried and tried to launch his kayak, but kept getting hit by waves and his kayak sank and he never got off the beach. Perfect. Undeterred, 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 it up, and talked to a different guy on the beach who was chuckling about the last kayaker who failed to launch. I loaded up the kids, got us in position and asked this guy 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.
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 with my new GoPro camera 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 with the new camera. I plan to go back and fish that spot, and update this post.
I took the 5 to the 605 to the 405 to 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 $120 fine! I learned that the hard way.