Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Crystal Cove

John and I skipped town for a couple of days over New Year's. We visited a place many people never see: the Crystal Cove Beach Cottages in Orange County, California.

At Crystal Cove the beach is pristine. The Cottages themselves are a historic district. The surrounding area is overcrowded, overbuilt, sadly spoiled California coastline so I won't show you that part.
A stretch of MacArthur Avenue heading into Corona Del Mar.

It's not easy to reserve a cottage at Crystal Cove. Rentals open up something like six months in advance and fill up in about five minutes. After that you might find a cancellation if you're lucky, but you have to think ahead. We were of the "lucky" variety. We received our stay as a gift from some very generous friends.
The view from our balcony to the southeast.

The view from our balcony to the northwest.

A few things you may notice from these shots: One, fog. Two, no crowds. The beach isn't private, it's a state park. But it was cold, and the cove isn't easy to get to. (More on that in a minute.)

You might also notice that our view looked over some shabby rooftops. Those cottages are unoccupied and awaiting renovation. The Cove has quite a story behind it, which I can't begin to tell in a short post. Briefly, the state bought the Cove a while back to save it from developers. That's good, otherwise it would look like the rest of the cheek-by-jowl pseudo-Spanish Lego that surrounds it. Some cottages have been fixed up, some haven't. Money is needed to complete the work. More on that here.

Boo Radley's beach house.

Some of the beach colony is a ghost town. On a foggy day it looks positively sad. But Crystal Cove has a sweet quality. The people who work there are dedicated to preserving it. And we liked breakfast at the casual Beachcomber restaurant. It was pricey but delicious, with good service. For dinner we went into Corona del Mar for a great meal at a more elegant place called Oysters. It was our Christmas gift from John's parents. For less than what we'd have paid at the Beachcomber we got a delicious meal including drinks, and a superb black truffle and edamame bruschetta. (Seriously. I'd never heard of it before either.)

The Beachcomber Restaurant.

Many of the cabins have kitchenettes so you can bring your own food. But they get away with charging a premium at the Beachcomber because they have a captive crowd. Remember I said it's not easy to get to Crystal Cove? In summer it's no big deal. But in winter, you may not want to bundle up and walk up the path away from the colony, through the tunnel, up the hill and across the windy parking lot all the way on the other side of Pacific Coast Highway. It's no big deal for the kids, but the retirees probably don't relish it. Or women walking alone. (Even though the cottage rental office furnishes flashlights.)

The tunnel.

Then again, you might be at Crystal Cove to escape the crowds you run into in Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Corona Del Mar. It might be worth it to you to stay in the Cove for all your meals, where for a brief time you can forget there's a world out there.

Some gift, eh?