How To Spend A Day At Crystal Cove
Firstly, I feel that I should suggest that you reserve a cottage at least overnight but 2 nights would be the minimum I would do. Crystal Cove is a lovely spot and a few nights will mean you leave completely relaxed.
If however this isn't an option for you, this post should help you to plan your day to maximise all that Crystal Cove has to offer.
Crystal Cove State Park opens at 6am and closes at sunset, however the historic beach cottage area is open until 10pm. I would get up early and try to be at the car park by 7am at the latest.
I would start your day with a good hike around the park. You can either do the coastal boardwalk (which is very easy and a lovely walk) or hike Moro Canyon which would be my recommendation. This Hiking Map shows you the multitude of options you have for anyting from 3 miles to 9 miles. I've done the full canon loop (the red path on the map) and while it classes it as strenuous I would say it's medium at the most. I think the strenuous is because of the distance, however If you use the Cut Across path, you can greatly reduce that milage and give yourself a nice wake up hike to start the day.
Parking can get really busy so this is another reason I would arrive to the park early. This parking info should give you an idea of where to park and even though the Moro Canyon is almost 2 miles from the main historic beach area, I would park at Los Tancos and walk down to the trail head. There are shuttles from the car park to the beach area so in the evening if you are tired and have had enough, you can easily shuttle it back to your car. If you would rather not add an extra 4 miles to your day, park closer to Moro and then move your car up to Los Trancos when you are done with your hike.
Mid to late morning
Once you have kick started your heart with a hike, head down to the Shake Shack for a cold drink to rejuvenate. You can't miss it. It's the bright yellow building with tables and chairs next to it. Here is the Google Maps location just in case. My personal favourite was the Pina Colada shake. I did try the pineapple but it was very strange. Eeww – not for me at all!
At this point you want to grab yourself a slice of sand. Don't forget to put your umbrella up and “slip, slop, slap” as we Aussies say. That means slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat. It is very easy to laze a few hours away on this beach.
the Beachcomber Cafe is a great place for lunch, however at least a few days before you go – BOOK! It gets super busy and I've been there a couple of times (we have very good friends that lived in Laguna and now Aliso Viejo so that's why some Aussies frequent Crystal Cove) and not been able to get a table. They do also do breakfast so if you want to fuel up before you hike, you can. The coconut macadamia pancakes are great! The few times I've been I always try to get a slice of sand very close to the cafe and then make sure I take all my valuables, but leave my towel and umbrella to go back to. You don't have to do this but I can't be bothered carting everything around constantly so if I can see it, I'm happy but make your own decisions about that. The Beachcomber also rents beach chairs and umbrella's if you don't want to drag all your own gear down. My other reason for setting up my slice of sand in the historic district is that there are toilets close by.
Afternoon and Evening Activities
Head back to the beach for a little relax and then a swim before packing up around 3-4 to head off exploring the historic district.
Sunset and Dinner
The Beachcomber also rents out firepits for sunset and smores! What a great idea! It is new since we have been but our friends tell us it is a great way to bookend the day at Crystal Cove. If you don't want to spend money on dinner, consider doing the sunset with some snacks and leaving by 7:30 to head home to eat. Or alternatively send one of the older kids up to the Shake Shack for burgers to eat around your fire.
Things of Note:
- Dogs are only allowed on paved surfaces so probably best if Fido has a day at home. There are no dogs allowed on the Moro Canyon trails.
- If you do decide to lash out and book a cottage, they can be booked up to 6 months in advance but sell out super quick. Book here.
- If you spend $15 at The Beachcomber they will validate your parking at Los Trancos for the first 3 hours, otherwise it is $5 per hour.
- I saw my first ever rattlesnake on the Moro Canyon loop so watch out. I god damn crapped my pants! Then I thought about it and thought at least your snakes warn you, not like ours who just move in!