Crystal Cove: Seaside inspiration Part I

This is the time of year when every one begins to plan for a summer vacation.  About two miles south of us on Pacific Coast Highway, is an amazing collection of historic beach cottages, that can now be rented for a few days through the California State Parks Department. 
How about this for a vacation idea!

This wonderful and inspiring spot is known as Crystal Cove.   
This amazing three mile stretch of beach is sprinkled with timeless beach shacks and the ambience  of coastal California as it must have looked in the 1930s.  The history dates back to the 1920s when rancher James Irvine, Jr., allowed a small group of families to "camp out" on this unused parcel of coastline.
The history of the cove plays out like a Hollywood movie script, with characters and politics that could rival any great screenplay.  The politics of late have been about the sale of the cove and the surrounding 3000 acres to the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1979.  Although I was born and raised in California and have lived in this area for over 28 years, the first time I was able to visit Crystal Cove was in 2006.  
The earliest "coveites" were there in the 20's to manage the property, which was used extensively as a movie set.  Most of the palm trees you see today are  those planted as props for  silent pictures.  The crews would work all day and then leave at dusk to have drinks and retire to bed in neighboring Newport or Laguna.  

The 20's and 30's was also a time for many now famous Laguna artisans,  working in the french Plein Aire style of painting, to paint along this unusual and majestic coastline

Crystal Cove  is still an extremely popular site for Artists of all mediums and the cottages are almost always a central theme.

What a spot to paint!!!

Early coveites were tent campers who later converted their spots into more permanent sites.  Eventually some of those sites became the cottages of today.
The "tents" were so elaborate at times, that it was hard to tell exactly where the  word "tent" fit into the equation,  but it was part of the culture of the cove and somehow everyone managed to get along.

Finely discontinued in 1962, it was the end of an era for many 
The lucky families who called Crystal Cove home in the 40's and 50's eventually passed the properties on the their children or sold them for a "finders fee".  All of these little homes were land leases brokered through what is now known as the Irvine Company.   The leases were for ten years and families had no ownership of the actual land or the buildings themselves.  It was, however, a small price to pay for this amazing little coastal paradise.  
Cocktail hour began with the raising of the flag, promptly at 4PM and was greeting with much revelry.  The coveites motto: "every night is Saturday night"

Dinner was usually, the catch of the day.   Abalone, albacore, corvina and halibut was still plentiful along the coast and surf fishing was and still is very popular  

Luaus were a favorite theme in the 50's and the 4th of July beach parties were legendary blow outs!

Notice the guy on the left...oh the things men do for attention... 
Below is the original "office"
Most cottages are a cobbled together mixture of boards and shingles as well as "beach junk" and drift wood.  Put all of those elements together and these little gems exude charm.  It's the kind of washed out, warn down simpleness that is so appealing.  The air is fresh and salty and the sand is as clean as any along coastal California.

This is the famous house from the movie "Beaches" made in 1988.  It sits at the very end of the cove and is perhaps the most painted and recognizable cottage.

The cove is a special spot.  It is nostalgic and simple and makes me think things have gotten way too complicated sometimes.  
This little bit of history of Crystal Cove will perhaps  get you thinking about vacation plans at the beach.  In my next post I will share the Cove as it is today;
 a spot for every family to enjoy.

  What is and will become an important legacy for our future

All photos are from the book:

Crystal Cove Cottages
Islands in time on the California Coast 
by KarenE. Steen


thanks for stopping by
  1. Oh what beautiful paintings!?!? I would love to go to California (I've never been) but when I'll have an oppotunity to, who knows? If I ever do get a chance tho - we'll have to meet for lunch! :)

  2. Hi Kelley,

    Is it true you have to have reserations a year in advance? My husband was just talking about this place just the other day. Thanks for sharing the info.


  3. It looks perfect! Simple, fresh air ocean life...
    The art is spectacular!

    What a fun post!

  4. wow, i adored this post son just returned from a Spring Break wk in Malibu....after seeing all their pics, I'm SO California, this was right up my alley!
    Can't WAIT to see the cottages today...cuz I may have to go there...
    loved the photo of the guys and girl setting up the lil cabana on the beach....very cool....

  5. Yes, sorry to say Janet, but reservations here are very hard to get. You can go to this link
    to get more information about reservations.

    Hi Linda, the art is just wonderful. Some of it is on display in the park and there is new Plein Aire works throughout the park offices!

    Hi Artie, I will make the reservations for lunch! : )

    Jeanette: I knew you would like those photos. I was a special time in the 50's and 60's for these lucky families. The beach itself is just amazing.

  6. As I'm having my morning coffee I could smell the salty air & here the waves & feel the warmth of the sun,what a delightful way to enjoy my morning ritual & plan my day!!! Now you have me in the mood for a road trip to Southern Cali!! Thanks for sharing Crystal Cove & look forward to pictures of the cove today,I'm ready for some fun in the sun by the pool,lol Linda

  7. Raise the flag and pass the fish! I want to come up and stay there for the weekend and trot over to visit you!
    This was a fantastic post. Have a wonderful weekend, Kelley!
    xo Isa

  8. Loved this! Can't wait for part 2!!:)

  9. This place reminds me of Dillon Beach up in the northern Cali. area around Petaluma. I love this quaint villages, filled with a romantic vision of what summer should be and used to be. Remember surfing and Gidget? I was in love with Moon Doggie! I aging myself!

  10. Kelley,

    Thank you so much for the history lesson... Written so beautifully! I felt like I was there! I would die to have a piece of property like that. Funny thing my dad & I were just talking about Crystal Cove the other day. Great minds think a like! Plus, I am thinking of a beach vacation with the family. By the way besides taking the cottages I would take all the art work too! Gorgeous!!!


  11. Hi kelley, I came over from my sweet savannah and started to read your blog and when you started in on crystal cove I got all excited!! I live in San Clemente, I work 10 minutes from Crystal cove!! I think we might be neighbors!! :) your home is absolutely gorgeous, you did a fabulous job on everything...I am drooling over here!! nice to meet you!

  12. HI Tara, yes we are most definitely neighbors!!! You should stop by the cove for lunch sometime, you would love it! k

  13. What a fun, historical post! You've certainly done your homework.

  14. What a fantastic post. I found you today from Completely Coastal. I would love to visit this area someday. Amazing.

  15. Kelley, I am in north Laguna and love to walk my dogs here, not to mention go for breakfast. Wonderful post; don't you wish you could go back in time and be in Crystal Cove? I often wish I could have a staycation and just check into a cottage for a week and get away....

  16. I very much miss my beach house. Unfortunately, the state seems to be waiting for it to just fall apart rather than repair it. My family owned the big white house at the end of the parking lot on the beach. We spent every summer and some winters there... They're the best memories of my life! Thanks for keeping the memories alive! :-)

  17. Wow, Fantastic Blog, it’s so helpful to me, and your blog is very good, I’ve from your blog here, Keep on going, my friend; I will keep an eye on it,learned a lot. Thanks for sharing to wonderful post..shakti cove cottages

  18. Love these pictures! I just saw you on Pinterest and had to check out your blog. I am looking for vacation spots this spring and Catalina looks wonderful. I am on the other side of the country in Buffalo, New York. It is COLD! I need some warmth.

  19. I was lucky enough to stay in one of the cottages to celebrate my Oma's 92nd birthday last summer. 3 generations all cozied up in our tiny cottage for two nights. It was pure heaven and oh, so relaxing. Spending the day at the beach there is like going back in time. I loved reliving that special weekend while reading this post. Well done! Wish I could score some of that artwork to treasure forever!!! ;)


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