I know it’s not nice to gloat, but boy, are we tempted.It’s a summer-like Sunday in January and we are sitting on the porch of The Beachcomber restaurant
(thebeachcombercafe.com) at Crystal Cove State Park. This 3.2-mile stretch of spectacular beach is situated between Corona del Mar (Newport Beach) and Laguna Beach. I wouldn’t be surprised, on this glorious, chamber-of-commerce day, to see Frankie and Annette come around the corner and pile onto the beach with their blankets and bikinis.
My husband suggests that we take a phone-photo and zap it back to relatives in the cold, dank Midwest.
Nah, too cruel, we decide, and return to our brunch: something called a Croque Madame — a tower-of-a-sandwich constructed of thick slices of grilled challah with Black Forest ham and melted Fontina cheese, topped with a sunny-side-up egg and Hollandaise sauce; and the Crystal Cove Omelet, filled with bacon and cheddar cheese and crowned with a half-dozen perfect slivers of avocado.
We are thankful that we have reservations; there are several dozen visitors queuing up at the hostess desk, but it’s not all bad. Each party receives a pager that works for up to 200 yards from the restaurant, which gives them the freedom to hang out at the water’s edge until tables open up.
The restaurant has been built into one of the 46 historic cottages in an area of the beach known as the Historic District. Most were built in the 1920s and 1930s during an era when people could spend the entire summer at the beach. (Imagine!) When the state purchased the land from the Irvine Company in 1979, saving it from development, no one quite knew what to do with the cottages. Eventually the Crystal Cove Alliance came to the rescue, getting the historic designation and going to work restoring the cottages. To date, the alliance has rehabilitated about 30 cottages to their 1935-1955 condition, a docent tells us, and they’ve done it all with private money.
Anyone can rent a cottage for up to a week — each sleeps anywhere from two to nine guests — but reservations for the popular cottages go early and fast. Some are dorm-style and four accommodate people with disabilities. Visit CrsytalCoveBeachCottages.org and crystalcovealliance.org.
This state park also includes about 2,400 acres to the east of Pacific Coast Highway (also known as El Moro Canyon) where you can hike and camp in the backcountry. We’ll have to save that for another visit; today, we walk the beach.
We start by heading south. The tide is low, which means lots of water-worn, striated rocks of multiple shades of earth tones are exposed. People are scrambling over the larger, more level ones and poking in tide-pool holes to discover what lurks there. Maybe they’ll find purple shore crabs, sea hares or perhaps anemones.
Above us, on the 80-foot bluffs, there are runners, walkers and cyclers on the Crystal Cove trail, enjoying the view and the perfect day.
On our return trip north, we take the stairs up the bluff to check out Ruby’s Shake Shack, a 1940s-era cottage overlooking Crystal Cove. Formerly known just as the Shake Shack, it was remodeled in 2011. It’s still is so popular that cars are backed up on southbound PCH, waiting for a parking space and the chance to buy chai spice, peanut butter, monkey flip and mocha milkshakes and tri-tip sliders. I am so tempted, but it’s been less than an hour since we finished our generous brunch. When we finally must leave for home, we’re thankful that it’s but an hour’s drive south.
For more information call (949) 494-3539 or visit crystalcovestatepark.com. For information on cottage history and rentals visit crystalcovealliance.org and CrsytalCoveBeachCottages.org.
Next column: We’ll travel a few miles north to Newport Beach.
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at [email protected].