There is a lot more to Crystal Cove State Park than beaches and trails, this special place has preserved a bit of California beach-life history that can't be found any longer along the California coast.
You see, way back in 1864 a man named James Irvine acquired a very large swath of what we would call today "prime" property. His son James Irvine II turned that land into an agricultural empire known as the Irvine Company.
The beaches on the Irvine property became a favorite spot for Irvine II and he allowed his friends, family and some employees to build cottages on the site forming a community called Crystal Cove.
Over the years, the cottages were renovated and slowly it became permanent homes to a number of people who began leasing the land from the Irvine Company around 1940. The settlement became a favorite spot for artists, actors and writers. In 1979, the Irvine Company sold the property to California State Parks and that sale started a 26 year legal battle with residents who wanted to stay on the property. In the end, the state won the battle but, rather than tear down all the cottages, they agreed to preserve and restore them so they could be enjoyed by everyone visiting the park.
Today when you visit, you will find a museum that displays one of the 1920's to 1940's era cottages giving visitors a peek into that long gone beach lifestyle. There are a total of 46 cottages, 21 of which have been renovated are now available for vacation rental.
The most famous of the cottages on the site is the "Beaches" cottage which was used in the Bette Midler film by the same name.
One of the cottages has been turned into The Beachcomber, a great restaurant that sits about as close to the crashing waves as a restaurant can get. Over the years, I've enjoyed breakfast, lunch and dinner there and have always enjoyed every meal.
Of course the beach is what draws many people to the site but, I have to admit that the wistful feeling I get when I walk along the beach and look at all those ramshackle cottages is what draws me back time after time.
One year I even stumbled on to a photo shoot with an attractive model all decked out in 1940's clothes and hair style. The background of those old cottages must have been perfect for these shots.
I suspect that I'll be back again for another visit come this August. After all, I can soak up some California history, enjoy the flora and fauna and savor another delicious meal. And then there's the BEACH! There is always the BEACH!