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 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!
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
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.
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). 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.
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.
- 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!
- Follow the Good Tidepooler Rules and get educated about tidepools before you go.
- $5/hour to park for a max of $15/day or use your California State Parks annual pass (there used to be an opportunity for validation with $15 purchase at Beachcomber Restaurant at Crystal Cove but that is now discontinued).
- 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
- The Shake Shack restaurant (one restroom, 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 or reserve ahead via Open Table.
- The Beachcomber also rents fire pits and other beach rentals.
- 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 and enter Crystal Cove State Park to find activities and register.
- Crystal Cove Conservancy also keeps a calendar of events at Crystal Cove State Park.
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.
Rent a fire pit and have smores on the beach.
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.