Surf's Up for Crystal Cove!
By Jill McLean

Step back in time with us as we explore our beloved Crystal Cove. With cottages on the sand nestled beneath expansive trails and wildlife along Pacific Coast Highway, this coastal paradise is beyond cool. A treasure trove of idyllic coastline and bluffs, it is an icon of southern California beach culture. As the golden sun streams across this historic gem, the stories are rich with community, art, preservation, wildlife and even classic movies! 

The sandy beaches and sparkling waters originally provided summer habitation for Native Americans all the way back to a whopping 4,000 years ago. Fast forward to the 1800’s and we find this pristine land changing hands from Mission San Juan Capistrano to the Sepulveda family. By 1864, alongside Flint and Bixby, the famous Irvine family purchased the land and our bejeweled Cove transformed into one of the bright spots in James Irvine’s enormous Irvine Ranch. Creativity burst forth in the early 1900’s, with famous artists like William Wendt (from the Laguna Beach art colony) initiating the emergence of plein air painting in the Cove. Then came the Hollywood filmmakers, with set creations being erected for tropical stand-ins for movie favorites such as “Treasure Island”, “The Sea Wolf” and (later) “Beaches”. Paradise was made complete with deliberately planted palms that still shimmy in the wind today. By the 60’s and 70’s, the beach party lifestyle really came alive, and memories of great times still linger in today’s relaxed atmosphere. Surfers, doctors, artists, you name it… these residents enjoyed life and social gatherings all year long and stories are still passed down to this day.

Perhaps of all the awesome things that fascinate both travelers and locals alike are the beachfront cottages that have weathered the storms of time. After James Irvine allowed the beachgoers to pitch tents on the sand for decades (many of whom would stay an entire summer at a time), visitors finally began to build habitable shacks in the 1920’s. Without permits or building plans, the would-be tenants creatively used whatever was at hand, even the rugged, sea-drenched lumber from wrecked ships! The tents continued to mix with the funky cottages in the warm California sun, but soon came the winds of change. The tent lifestyle was banned in 1962, and in 1979 the free-spirited inhabitants of the cottages faced eviction when the Irvine Company sold the land to the state — securing the family’s dream of converting the area to what is now known as Crystal Cove State Park — and the double-decade wave of fighting to save the cottages began. The loyalty of the “coveites" (the endearing name assigned to lively beach dwellers from every profession and lifestyle) and eventually Laura Davick’s newly formed Crystal Cove Alliance finally won the day and the 46 cottages remained intact. Even our tasty Beachcomber restaurant made the cut and is established in one of these original salty-wood cottages, serving up delicious food fit for the coolest of beachgoers in the Cove. 

Nowadays, there are numerous happenings associated with the Crystal Cove State Park… art and tide-pool outings, hiking and biking, classes, lectures and preservation efforts. Each Christmas season sparkles with the Alliance’s “Annual Tree Lighting & Holiday Bazaar” in the Historic District, complete with treats and hot cocoa while carolers ring out under the crisp sunset sky. Capturing the hearts and memories of locals and visitors, nostalgia is not just a thing of the past, but a very active present and future with everyone keeping the lifestyle true to the “coveite” memory. Crystal Cove rides the wave of paradise and authentic So-Cal beach culture hands down.