This Gorgeous State Park Has Some Of California's Best Hikes And Beaches

When you think of state parks, perhaps you assume they're all out of the way, far from towns and cities. If you happen to be visiting California, however, there is a fabulous state park that is not only right in the center of Orange County — that's where Disneyland is, by the way — but has miles of beaches, some incredible hikes, camping, and really special places to stay that are connected to early 20th century California history. Meet Crystal Cove State Park, located off of the famous scenic road, Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH to the locals). 

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Crystal Cove State Park has 2,400 acres to explore, as well as great shoreline spots for swimming, surfing, boating, and snorkeling, for which is deserves a spot among the most beautiful locations in the U.S. There are tide pools to explore, good scuba spots, and even a few restaurants inside the park to visit like Beachcomber Café and its accompanying bar and a burger spot with a view of the ocean. The park is easy to get to — unlike some of California's other scenic beach towns — and it is a whole lot of fun to visit. Here's what you need to know about Crystal Cove State Park. 

All about Crystal Cove State Park

Open from 6 am through sunset, the park boasts great hiking opportunities, like El Moro Canyon Trail, which is a 4.9-mile loop of moderate difficulty with an 800-ft elevation gain. It begins and ends right at the visitor center. If you like early morning hiking, you can see a great view of the sunrise there. Hardy hikers can try out Crystal Peak Park Loop, which is a challenging 6.7-mile loop with pretty vistas. You can also try the Reef Point and Crystal Cove 5.2-mile loop with a 278-foot gain. This is a popular one that has an uphill portion near the end. There is a very helpful hiking trail map that even includes the trails' effort levels. 

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Campers will especially love Crystal Cove State Park. Visit the Moro Campground for RV, trailer, and tent sites along with bathrooms, potable water, and showers. You can bring your dog with you as long as they're on a leash. All the sites have beach access. In addition, there are backcountry primitive sites to camp at (no dogs allowed) at Lower Moro, Upper Moro, and Deer Canyon. For those, you'll have to hike in at least three miles. If you do that, don't forget to bring one of the best backpacks for camping trips. It's a great place to fish, ride horses, paddle, and do some birding or wildlife watching. You can make camping reservations online and there is a parking fee with options.

Beaches and cottages at Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park has a unique feature, which is its Historic District. It was once a seaside colony that had a number of cottages built in the 1930s and '40s. Today, you can stay overnight in them. There are studios, one- and two-bedroom cottages, and hostel-style lodging, and more are being renovated for future rentals. One was turned into Beachcomber Café, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with items like Korean steak skewers, gorgonzola-crusted prime filet mignon, devilish eggs, and macadamia-crusted steak cauliflower. Make reservations if you want a spot. There is an attached walk-up bar as well. (The historic district is open until 10 pm.) You can also grab burgers at the Crystal Cove Shake Shack right by the beach.

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Speaking of the beach, there are 3.2 miles of it to enjoy. Los Trancos Beach (above) is in the historic district. Moro Beach requires a pretty walk through a tunnel with fun paintings on it, and it's great for paddleboarding, fishing, and kayaking. Pelican Point has tide pools at low tide to splash in, and it's a great scuba spot, so pack your reef-safe sunscreen. You can dive at Treasure Cove Beach, which is also a hot surfing spot. Reef Point Beach is the destination for you if you love snorkeling. You might even be able to do a bit of whale watching. 

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