The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Crystal Cove State Park
Midway between Newport and Laguna Beaches, amidst the ever-encroaching Orange County sprawl, Crystal Cove State Park (8471 N. Coast Hwy., 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 bathrooms and showers plus excellent tide pools and a fine beach. You can stay overnight at Crystal Cove Beach Cottages (35 Crystal Cove, 949/497-0900 or 800/444-7275, $42 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 oakland glade of Moro Canyon, which gives a vivid sense of Orange County’s rapidly vanishing natural landscape.