Midway between Newport and Laguna Beaches, amid the ever-encroaching Orange County sprawl, Crystal Cove State Park (949/494-3539, daily dawn-dusk, $15 per car) protects one of Southern California’s finest chunks of coastline. With three miles of sandy beaches and chaparral-covered bluff lined by well-marked walking trails, it’s a fine place to enjoy the shoreline without the commercial trappings. Originally home to Native Americans, the land here was later part of Mission San Juan Capistrano and, until 1979 when the state bought it, the massive Irvine Ranch, which once covered most of Orange County.
The main parking area for Crystal Cove is at Reef Point near the south end of the park, where there are restrooms and showers plus excellent tide pools and a fine beach. You can stay overnight at Crystal Cove Beach Cottages (800/444-7275, $35 and up), a well-preserved collection of 1930s-1950s beach bungalows. There is also a large section of the park inland from Hwy-1, through the oak glade of Moro Canyon, which gives a vivid sense of Orange County’s rapidly vanishing natural landscape.