Nestled in a gentle bend along a dramatic stretch of Southern California Coastline, Crystal Cove is quintessential California. Crystal Cove’s stunning beach and bluffs have been captured in American film, by American Impressionist painters and in the photo albums of countless day-trippers and vacationers who have discovered this real California place over the past 150 years.
Lying halfway between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, and about 60 miles south of Los Angeles, Crystal Cove first attracted Hollywood filmmakers in the 1920s. Seasonal tent-dwellers took up residence in the 1930s. For the next half-century, a handful of families leased the cottages from the Irvine Company, which owned most of the area’s coastal ranchlands.
In 1979, the land was sold to the State of California for preservation as a State Park. The community of Crystal Cove cottages was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and the cottage dwellers faced a 22-year countdown before they would have to go. Covites who’d grown up on the sand and spent their lives in cottages in the Hollow and scattered along Crystal Cove’s north and south beaches were sad to go, but in July 2001, all of the cottages were vacated. The State had awarded a private developer rights and a 60-year lease to turn the historic cottages into a luxury resort.
A third generation Covite, Laura Davick, resisted the plan. She proposed an alternative-one that would keep the Cove’s cottages totally intact, and included a combination of overnight rental and educational uses. She founded the non-profit Alliance to Rescue Crystal Cove in 1999, took her cause to Sacramento, and prevailed. In 2003, this founding organization then transitioned into the Crystal Cove Alliance and its mission shifted from rescue to restoration and education.
Crystal Cove Alliance is the first cooperating association in the history of State Parks to be awarded a concession contract. It’s a unique model that keeps revenues in the park for future restoration.
Today, twenty-nine Crystal Cove cottages are open to the public. Each cottage has been authentically and painstakingly restored to preserve the architectural charms of the original structures. Seventeen more cottages will be restored and made available to the public as soon as funds are secured.
The success of the Crystal Cove Historic District is phenomenal. Every day, Crystal Cove is discovered by hundreds of captivated travelers who come from near and far to soak up the real California.
Crystal Cove is especially treasured by locals in part because of its improbable survival. While Orange County’s coastline has been under constant development since the late 1950s, Crystal Cove remains the area’s singular, unchanged place in the sun. The gentle waves at the Cove are the same, the cottages are standing, and access is open.
Thanks to the Crystal Cove Alliance, Crystal Cove has never changed and it never will.