One of my favorite things to do in Orange County is to spend a day in Crystal Cove State Park. Crystal Cove is one of Orange County’s largest park areas, and it stretches from the ocean into the backcountry hills and has a bunch of things to do!
The Crystal Cove area includes a protected marine park, some of OC’s most gorgeous beaches, a super cute Historic District complete with cottages for rent and restaurants, walking paths, camping areas, and miles and miles of hiking and biking trails. Crystal Cove State Park is like an outdoor lover’s paradise, making it one of the best stops along Pacific Coast Highway.
For this post, I want to give you an idea of how you can enjoy a day trip to Crystal Cove State Park for the first time!
If you are interested in staying in Crystal Cove for longer than a day, you can book a campsite or beach cottage. Reservations are booked 6 months in advance and fill up very quickly!
The Best Way to Spend a Day in Crystal Cove State Park
Park info: Visit the Park Website for park rules, maps, and other info
Park hours: 6am to sunset (Historic District open until 10pm)
Where to park: There are several parking areas in Crystal Cove. Under each recommended activity I will let you know which parking lot is the closest.
Parking fee: $5 per hour or $15 for the day
Shuttle service (from Los Trancos lot): $1.50 per person each way
START THE DAY WITH SOME EXERCISE
I know it doesn’t sound like the most enjoyable thing to do, especially if you are on vacation, but trust me. This will not feel like exercise. More like an exploration of nature with gorgeous ocean views. Orange County is a very fit place to live, and it’s probably because of all the awesome hiking spots it has. Hiking in Crystal Cove State Park is one of those spots that cannot be missed.
I have two options to recommend for a nice and easy morning in Crystal Cove: Hiking or Walking.
OPTION 1: HIKE MORO CANYON
Moro Canyon is a nice beginner hike in Crystal Cove State Park. This 5-mile loop takes you into the backcountry, up to the top of a ridge, and turns you around into an incredible panoramic ocean view. From here you will be able to see over the top of Laguna Beach and Crystal Cove, and on a clear day, you will be able to see Newport and Huntington Beach, as well as Catalina Island.
Note- This hike is currently rated as “difficult”, which could be for some people. I consider this an easy hike, but I am someone who hikes somewhat frequently. There are no technical or steep sections until the very end, which has a very short and rugged downhill section. If you are not comfortable hiking, consider the walking option I give next.
Check out my full guide to hiking Moro Canyon.
Here is more information about all hikes in Crystal Cove State Park.
OPTION 2: WALK THE COASTAL TRAIL
If you are not up for a hike, you might enjoy taking a walk through the 3-mile paved pathway above the ocean called Crystal Cove Trail. You will have pretty ocean views for this entire walk, plus you will have the chance to pick out which beach you want to spend the rest of the day at.
Since most of this path is paved, feel free to bring the baby stroller, bicycles, or even your dog. There are some sections that venture off the pavement, which are not dog-friendly.
Note: This is the only place that dogs are allowed in Crystal Cove State Park.
Where to park for the Crystal Cove Trail: There are several places to park that will give you access to the pathway.
- Reef Point Drive at the Pacific Coast Highway
- Los Trancos Parking Lot
- Newport Coast Drive at the Pacific Coast Highway
FILL YOUR BELLY
After you burned all those calories getting some fitness in, it’s time to eat! You have a choice between two food options in Crystal Cove State Park, and both of them are in the Historic District.
BUDGET OPTION: THE SHAKE SHACK
The Crystal Cove Shake Shack isn’t only for (delicious) shakes…you can also grab breakfast, lunch, and dinner here. I love this option not only because it has great-tasting and affordable options, but because of the great view.
BEACHFRONT OPTION: THE BEACHCOMBER
The Beachcomber is a popular food option in Crystal Cove State Park and is directly on the beach. Imagine enjoying your meal while watching and hearing the waves crashing ashore. This option is a little pricey though, so expect to splurge!
There is also a beach express menu with some cheaper options. That menu is only available from mid-June to Labor Day.
Where to park for the Historic District: Park in the Los Trancos parking lot and take the shuttle or walk through the tunnel located at the southeast corner of the lot.
BRING-YOUR-OWN OPTION: TRADER JOE’S
If you would like to pack your own lunch and have a picnic on the beach or in the park, make a stop at Trader Joe’s. This grocery store is not technically part of Crystal Cove State Park, but it is in the same area. You will actually pass it while driving through sections of the park.
What is Trader Joe’s and why is it special? Because you will feel like you are shopping at a high-end farmer’s market. The food is perfect for a picnic day!
Where to park for Trader Joe’s: You can find Trader Joe’s in the Crystal Cove Shopping Center on the Pacific Coast Highway.
FIND YOUR BEACH SPOT
I imagine that the main point of you wanting to visit Crystal Cove State Park is to spend time at the beach, right? I have good news for you…There’s not just ONE beach to choose from, there are SEVERAL beaches in Crystal Cove!
You can choose from Moro Beach, Reef Point, Historic District, and Pelican Point. If you feel like visiting all 4, go for it! Each beach has its own parking area so you can drive to each, but if you feel like you have a lot of energy to burn you can try walking to each one! Just follow the pathway named Crystal Cove Trail on the ocean side of the Pacific Coast Highway.
Most of the beaches are similar, but the beach at the Historic District will have a little bit more to offer such as restaurants and beach rentals. Check out all of the beach descriptions for Crystal Cove.
HOW TO PICK YOUR BEACH SPOT
All of the beaches in Crystal Cove are great for a beach day, but if you are having a hard time deciding which one you want to go to, here is a brief description of each one.
Moro Beach: This one is probably the most popular beach in Crystal Cove and the one with the closest parking area. Moro Beach is a great spot for swimming, or simply lounging on the beach.
Reef Point: Check out Reef Point if you are interested in diving or exploring some tide pools.
Historic Area: You might want to go here if you are visiting Orange County for vacation. I say that because you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas from The Beachcomber, and have easy access to food. This is also a good spot to swim.
Pelican Point: You can try this beach if you like diving, surfing, or checking out the tide pools. This area is also a great place to lounge in a quieter setting.
EXPLORE THE HISTORIC DISTRICT
Even if you are just visiting Crystal Cove for the day and not staying overnight in one of the cottages, the Historic District is still worth checking out. This is where you can find over 40 cottages that were built in the 1930s and 40s, back when Crystal Cove was just a little seaside village. Most of the cottages are rented out, so you are not able to go inside them, but you can walk through the tiny town to see them.
This is also where you can find food options, a store, guided walks, learning exhibits, and other activities. Check out all of the upcoming events in Crystal Cove.
WHAT TO DO AT NIGHT
Hopefully, you have the chance to stay in Crystal Cove late enough to see the sunset. You can enjoy the sunset from any beach of course, but my favorite spot is from the Crystal Cove Shake Shack (because you know I am enjoying a yummy Strawberry shake too).
Another cool thing to do (which I haven’t done yet, so if you do it let me know how it was!) is to rent a fire pit from The Beachcomber and make S’mores! They have a “sunset” package, which includes the fire pit, chairs, drinks, and S’mores. How cool is that?!
Crystal Cove State Park FAQ’s
Are dogs allowed? Dogs are allowed on any paved surface such as a parking lot or the paved Coastal Bluff Trail. They have to be kept on their leash and are never allowed in the backcountry trails or on the beaches.
Are there restrooms and showers? Yes, you can find restrooms and showers near parking areas and the Historic District, but the Historic District does not have showers.
Are there picnic areas? Yes, you can find picnic tables near the parking areas as well as on Moro Beach and the Historic District Beach.
Can I fly my drone? Drones are not allowed in Crystal Cove State Park
Will the trails close if it rains? Yes, the trails could be closed before, during, or after it rains. You can check the website for updates.
Will I see any wild animals on the trails? You could see rabbits, bobcats, and snakes. Watch out for rattlesnakes.
How do I get to the Historic District? You can park in the Los Trancos parking lot and take the shuttle for $1.50. Or you can walk through the tunnel from the southeast corner of the parking lot.
How can I park for free? If you park in the Los Trancos lot and spend at least $15 at the Beachcomber Café, they will validate your parking and you will be able to park for 3 hours. Anything after that is $5/hour, or $15 max.
How do I make reservations for the cottages or campgrounds? You can book through Reserve America.
You can find the full list of FAQ’s on the Crystal Cove State Park website.
I hope you have a great day in Crystal Cove State Park, actually, I KNOW you will!
Do you have a favorite thing to do in Crystal Cove that you would like to share?