Today’s hot summery weather inspired me to take a little break and trek down to Crystal Cove State Park Historic District (click here for its website). If you haven’t gone there before, today would be a great day to check it out!
Once I parked in the parking lot across from the park on Los Trancos (most days it’s $15), I hopped on the Beachcomber shuttle bus for a mere $1 fare and rode it across PCH down into the little Crystal Cove historic site.
I picked up a copy of the state park’s brochure, and discovered that the area is teeming with history. Originally, El Moro Canyon was settled by Native Americans near two natural springs, before the land was acquired by José Andrés Sepulveda from the Mexican government in 1836. Becoming known as Rancho San Joaquin, Sepulveda used the El Moro Canyon area as seasonal pastures for cattle grazing until selling the land in 1864 to James Irvine and three other California ranchers. After buying his partners out in 1876, James Irvine turned the ranch into a sheep ranch; later James Irvine II (the son) diversified the agricultural business by leasing the land to tenant farmers and created “The Irvine Company” in 1894.
Japanese farmers began to lease the land from The Irvine Company in 1927, building a whole community there. Their community center, known as “Laguna Beach Language School,” is still preserved within the Historic District. Unfortunately, the whole Japanese community was sent to an internment camp in Poston, Arizona and they lost their homes and farms in the Crystal Cove hills because of the forced move.
The Irvine Company continued to lease the land out for agriculture and ranching uses, as well as leasing the coastal area to filmmakers and vacationers. Crystal Cove morphed into a seaside colony during 1930-40, and was supposedly named “Crystal Cove” by Elizabeth Wood because the “name seemed right for such a beautiful place.” During that period, the beach cottages were build for the use of rentals and as backdrops for the movies filmed there. Popular with tropical-themed films, there were a number of movies made at Crystal Cove, including two different Treasure Islands (1918 and 1934) and Herbie Rides Again (1974). In 1979 The Irvine Company sold the property to the State of California and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Much restoration by California State Parks is going on right now, both in building a new educational commons, and in restoring the old beach cottages along the beach. The Crystal Cove Alliance’s efforts have insured that all of the original 46 cottages are still standing today. Twenty-one of them have been authentically restored back to 1935-1955 appearances, and the remaining cottages are set to be restored in the future. Most of the restored cottages are available for reservations.
I’ve previously had a meal at the Beachcomber restaurant, and have found it to have delicious meals. Even at two in the afternoon on a weekday, people were crowding the tables and enjoying the summery day.
During my time there, I browsed the historic district and walked along part of the 3.2 mile-long beach. The park also includes an underwater park and tide pools abundant with sea life. There was a frolicking sea lion while I was there, busying himself with tossing a strand of seaweed out of the water and somersaulting in the water (unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture of it)! I took the pedestrian trail back to the parking lot and ended my visit with a wave from the friendly shuttle driver. You’ll have to go to Crystal Cove yourself to enjoy the area, especially if there’s another warm day like today!
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