Crystal Cove Shore
Crystal Cove includes 3.2 miles of shoreline with sandy beaches, rocky bluffs and a variety of marine life, from starfish to octopuses.

Crystal Cove: Irvine’s beach

A decision in 1979 created the 2,791-acre Crystal Cove State Park

by TOM BERG

Each summer, Irvine falls in love again with a picturesque little cove that never seems to age. Its waters teem with exotic marine life. Its bluffs attract plein air artists. And its idyllic setting has attracted Hollywood filmmakers for more than 70 years.

For many, Crystal Cove is more than a beach. It’s a throwback to quieter times.

And perhaps no time was more important than 1979 when a rare alliance of residents, environmentalists and a committed landowner vowed to preserve it.

Protecting the waters

The sandy shores of Crystal Cove once belonged to Irvine Company. In 1979, the company agreed to permanently preserve the 3.2-mile beach along with nearly 2,800 acres of backcountry wilderness for what would become Crystal Cove State Park.

Later, the company teamed up with scientists, engineers and environmental groups like the non-profit Orange County Coastkeeper to preserve the cove’s marine life – from spiny lobsters to octopuses to striped shore crab.

The company installed an elaborate system of coastal cisterns, catch basins and pumps that annually divert millions of gallons of urban runoff to treatment facilities for reuse as irrigation.

“The Crystal Cove water quality program stands as a model for coastal development throughout the state and, in our view, demonstrates Irvine Company’s commitment to protecting water quality,” says Garry Brown, founder of Orange County Coastkeeper.

In addition, the company preserved more than 15,000 acres in Newport Coast, Laguna Beach and Irvine to create one of the largest coastal preserves from Mexico to Malibu – and make it possible to hike from Irvine’s Bommer Canyon to Crystal Cove.

No place like it

Crystal Cove Cottages
Crystal Cove’s 46 cottages are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Of the nearly 60,000 acres of open space preserved on the Irvine Ranch, Crystal Cove remains one of the most popular – attracting more than 2 million visitors each year.

“We love the amazing views, tide pools and wonderful nostalgic feel,” says Debbie Ludwig, of Irvine, who visits each summer with her husband David. “We always feel like we’re someplace far away when, in fact, it’s a mere 15 minutes from our home.”

Where else can you splash in tide pools of starfish? Swim with orange garibaldi? Or rent the cottage (#13) where Bette Midler’s “Beaches” was filmed in 1988? All it took to preserve it was teamwork. And a commitment to keep the waters clean.

How clean? The 2017-2018 “Heal The Bay” annual report card lists Crystal Cove on its honor roll – with a rating of A+.