Paddle Board at Crystal Cove State Park

While the Southern California coast offers some truly spectacular beaches and charming beach towns, it can be difficult to get away from the crowds on a warm sunny weekend. If you’re looking to escape the SoCal madness and feel a little closer to nature without having to drive several hours, look no further than Crystal Cove State Park.

Located at the southern-most end on Newport Beach and on the northern border of Laguna Beach, the park is a rustic wilderness oasis made up of sandy beaches and rocky tide pools, a 1,140 acre underwater park, and 2,200-acres of canyons with 18 miles of cliff trails. Being a State Park, there is an entry/parking fee (usually $15 but may be more on major summer holidays like Memorial or 4 th) and it’s a little bit of a hike from the lot to the water, so be prepared to carry your paddle board a distance, depending where you park. I’d recommend trying to get there early to park in the lower lot, which has a tunnel leading to Moro Beach, one of the 6 separately named beaches within the park. Getting there earlier will also mean you can get your stand up paddle board time in before the breezes kick up in the afternoon.

With 6 different beaches stretching for around 3 miles, you can sup in to explore each beach with its unique charms, and with a 1,400-acre marine conservation area, you can also strap your mask and snorkel to your paddle board to explore some of the underwater sea life within the kelp forests.

Moro Beach is the southern-most beach in the park and closest to the N Coast Highway. Campgrounds and hiking trails are located on the other side of the highway, as is the parking lot which has beach access via the tunnel previously mentioned. The southern end of the beach has a nice left break if you’re into SUP surfing, and I’ve heard that it can get pretty big during hurricanes. And if you’re not into paddle board surfing, then it’s probably a better idea to launch a little further north and wait for a lull in the waves before paddle boarding out.

The next beach up is Reef Point Beach, which is accessible from a large day-use parking area only by stairs. It’s known for its many tide pools and kelp forests off the rocky shores, so it would be a great spot to paddle board off-shore for some exploring and snorkeling.

Los Trancos Beach is the third beach up northward and is the Historic District area of the park where you can find the Crystal Cove Beach Cottages, which are vintage beach homes that can be rented (plan about a year in advance because they get snatched up quickly). You can also find Crystal Cove Shake Shack and The Beachcomber Café, serving an array of American style comfort foods (they also provide parking validation). The parking lot is a pretty long walk from the beach, so if you plan to do a day trip from here with your paddleboard, plan on dropping off your stuff and crew next to the Historic District entrance. If you’re paddling up and down the Crystal Cove coastline on your SUP for the day, this would be a great spot to break for a nice lunch and take a leisurely stroll through the Historic District.

A park entrance at Pacific Coast Highway and Newport Coast Drive takes you to several parking lot options to access the three northern beaches. The two lots closest to the entrance are ideal for hiking into Pelican Point Beach, and the northern-most lot for Treasure Cove Beach and Little Treasure Cove Beach. Good snorkeling areas can also be found off the northern part of Pelican Point Beach extending all the way up to Little Treasure Cove Beach, which are all popular areas for reef diving, and Treasure Cove Beach also offers some good surfing. Keep in mind that access to these beaches is a long hike from the parking areas with no vehicle access for drop offs, so unless you have a super light-weight surf SUP, you might want to access these beaches via the water by supping in from one of the southern beaches.