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Family Guide to Crystal Cove Historic District via Los Trancos

Family Guide to Crystal Cove Historic District via Los Trancos

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.

This park is popular for its cottages which are available for rental through, 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!

wooden sign that says Crystal Cove State Park Beach & Cafe Park Hours 6am-10pm

How to Get 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.

The parking was just adjusted as of May 2023. It used to be pay-as-you-exit. Now it is pay-upon-entrance with the Yodel app. Parking is $5/hour up a max of $15/day. You can also use your California State Parks Annual Pass ($195/year or try to check out from your local public library for free) which will cover your parking fees in this lot. [There has always been an incentive to get parking validated at The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove restaurant which would give you 3 hours free parking — but parking validations are discontinued from when the Yodel app went into effect.] MAP TO HISTORIC DISTRICT AT CRYSTAL COVE STATE PARK

brilliant orange sunset view of catalina island with a boat on the ocean

How to Get from the Parking Lot to the Beach at Crystal Cove State Park Historic District

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.

a white drainage tunnel with wet sidewalk and murals painted on the wall. a yellow sign reading Caution Tunnel Slippery When Wet and 1932 carved into the concrete above the tunnel.

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!
an asphalt paved road with sycamore trees in what looks like fall along the path that leads to Crystal Cove State Park Historic District
blue crab stencil on the paved trail along the way to Crystal Cove Historic District via Los Trancos parking lot
  • 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). And sometimes you have to do it if the tunnel is closed. Once you cross at the crosswalk of 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 the Shake Shack where there’s a fairly sizable set of wooden stairs that drops you right into the center of the Historic District.
wooden bench near paved bike trail and steps down to Crystal Cove State Park

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 $2 each way (kids 12 and under free). The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove cafe has a FAQ page with answers to questions about the restaurant experience and their beach rentals.
foot traffic only sign
  • It’s a VERY small lot and only accessible on southbound PCH, but you can also park at the Crystal Cove Shake Shack if you are just headed this way for a burger with a view. I can never find an open spot, unless it’s really early and the weather is foggy!
wide beach at Crystal Cove State Park which is almost empty except for a few people walking

Be Aware:

public restroom sign with colorful buoys hanging on a shingled wall


artsy shot of the iconic aquamarine beach building with a wooden sign reading Crystal Cove in all capital letters

What Families Can Do When You Get to Crystal Cove State Park Historic District

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. Make sure you learn about the tidepools before you go and follow all posted rules.

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 Beachcomber 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.

Rent a fire pit and have smores on the beach.

People watch.

tidal area along the beach with calm waves

Explore Other Entrances to Crystal Cove State Park

Originally published in May 2015.

crystal cove historic district family guide pin


Wednesday 17th of May 2017

How long is the meandering trail that leads u to the tunnel ? Or how many min would you say from from the parking area!

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