This is a family guide to the Crystal Cove Historic District via Los Trancos – the closest large parking lot to this location. The Crystal Cove Historic District & Cottages at Newport Coast are what most people associate with this state park. It’s popular for its cottages which are available for rental through ReserveCalifornia.com, the Beachcomber Cafe, interpretive programs and public events, and Ruby’s Shake Shack up on the bluff. It’s also a really fun place to take out-of-town guests.
Driving Directions to Crystal Cove Historic District via Los Trancos Parking Lot: There is NOT day use parking for the Historic District on the beach side. That’s what makes this confusing to some: you want to be on the beach side, but the parking is on the foothill side. Coming from the south on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), you’ll pass Ruby’s Shake Shack and the cottages on your left and turn right at the light into the Los Trancos parking area. Take a ticket at the kiosk and you’ll pay upon leaving. We take a ticket or the attendant just waves us through with our annual pass, then we just show our annual pass upon exiting. [The reason you DON’T pay first at this parking lot is because you have the option to spend $15 at The Beachcomber restaurant and get your parking validated for 3 hours.] MAP TO HISTORIC DISTRICT AT CRYSTAL COVE STATE PARK
How to Get from the Parking Lot to the “Play Area” on Foot: Getting there really is half the fun on this trip to the Historic District! We love, love, love taking the trail from Los Trancos parking lot down to the beach. You can walk on the beach from any of the other parking areas, but it could be quite a hike. Here are all the options to get to the Historic District via the Los Trancos parking lot.
On foot (tunnel can be closed during wet weather):
- Park and walk towards the restroom building. We like the longer, less steep and meandering path that goes inland towards the golf course and follows a trail of painted sea creatures on the asphalt. It winds under sycamores and brings you to a tunnel that has murals on the walls. It can be wet and slippery in here so don’t wear your best shoes! In the spring, it’s green and there are tons of coast sunflowers blooming!
- There’s a shorter and steeper paved trail that cuts off the “longer and meandering” part and drops you right at the tunnel. Just stick close to the inside-the-parking-lot path near the chainlink fence where PCH traffic is whooshing by on your right. Head down the hill there.
- OR you can walk across PCH (which I don’t really recommend, but see plenty of people doing it). Once you cross this busy coastal highway, turn left and make your way along the paved trail to where you turn right for the dirt trail to the cottages — or keep walking along the paved trail to right before Ruby’s Shake Shack where there’s a fairly sizable set of wooden stairs that drops you right into the center of the Historic District.
By car or shuttle:
- You can drop your guests off at the shuttle stop by turning left at the Los Trancos light following the “Crystal Cove” street sign — and then go back across PCH and park in the Los Trancos lot.
- Or you can all take the shuttle from the parking lot which costs $1.50 each way (kids 12 and under free). The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove cafe has full directions on how to get to their establishment.
- It’s a VERY small lot and only accessible on southbound PCH, but you can also park at Ruby’s Shake Shack if you are just headed this way for a burger with a view. I can never find an open spot.
- Follow the “Good Tidepooler Rules.”
- $15 to park or use your California State Parks annual pass – opportunity for validation with $15 purchase at Beachcomber at Crystal Cove
- Opens at 6am and closes at 10pm
- Restrooms on the right as you enter from the shuttle stop — or across the bridge in the Education Commons
- Ruby’s Shake Shack restaurant (one restroom, Ruby’s coupons usually do not apply to this location, outside eating on a patio overlooking the Historic District, no parking validation for the Los Trancos lot)
- The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove cafe (more high end sit-down restaurant and bar, good for special Sunday brunch, during the summer they have a Beachcomber Express Menu). There can be quite a wait for an outside table, so get there early to put your name in.
- The Park Store gift shop and Visitor Center
- Crystal Cove Conservancy and CrystalCoveStatePark.org are the best sources for info about the park
- Read “How to Buy a California State Park Annual Pass” – I think it’s really worth it. The more you go, the more it pays off!
- Official website for How to Reserve a Cottage at Crystal Cove through ReserveCalifornia.com
- There are guided activities offered all the time and most of them are offered for free – beyond paying the park entrance fee. Check LetsGoOutside.org/activities to register.
What Families Can Do When You Get There:
- Buy a gift in the The Park Store.
- See if anything is scheduled at the Education Commons (sea glass jewelry making, beachside chat, family hike, guided tidepool walk).
- Stay overnight at the Crystal Cove Cottages if you are lucky enough to score a reservation.
- Watch the sun set over Catalina Island.
- Go tidepooling at the Rocky Bight tidepools to the south of the Historic District.
- Walk north towards Pelican Point or further to Treasure Cove for a long beach walk.
- Celebrate a family milestone with a special meal at the restaurant. During the holidays, there’s a Christmas tree on the beach here.
- Enjoy a summer beach day swimming and playing at the beach near a lifeguard station.
- Wander along the beach and scope out the cottages — daydreaming about which one you’d pick for vacation.
- Keep your eye out for sea birds and dolphins playing just beyond the waves.
- Build sandcastles.
Explore Other Entrances to Crystal Cove State Park
- Moro Beach at Crystal Cove State Park
- Reef Point at Crystal Cove State Park
- Pelican Point and Treasure Cove at Crystal Cove State Park
Originally published in May 2015.