The Muse in Crystal Cove

Crystal Cove. Sounds like the setting of a Nancy Drew novel. The Secret of Crystal Cove. The Mystery in Crystal Cove. The Clue in the Crystal Cove Cottage.

Crystal Cove Beach CottagesAs a writer, I like to get away. The Crystal Cove Beach Cottages in Crystal Cove State Park, located near Newport Beach, California, seemed to be the perfect setting for some impromptu writing—or at least an impromptu picnic celebrating the first sunset of daylight savings. It is a rickety old place an organization called the Crystal Cove Alliance is in the process of restoring to its old world charm. There is even a mysterious set of North Beach Cottages, currently boarded up, but noted on the map as being a part the Phase III Restoration Project. How many old stories lurk behind these walls, I wonder?

One of the North Beach Cottages

One of the North Beach Cottages

It is hard to find inexpensive retreats in Southern California—especially if one is looking for antique flair. Yet the managers of the Crystal Cove Cabins are trying to keep the prices down, even as they attempt to infuse the place with appealing touches. Problem is, the reservation process is a free for all. Those wanting to book a cottage must log on to on the first day of the month and duke it out with all the other romantics looking for a cheap getaway. And don’t be in any hurry to get there.

Here’s how the reservation system works:

“Beginning at 8am PST sharp on the first(1st) of each month, the entire seventh(7th) month in the future, is opened for reservation opportunities…”

If this sounds too stressful, there is another option. You can scan their calendar for cancellations, and then register.

The view from my dorm room.

The view from my dorm room.

The second approach recently worked for me. I was able to land a dorm room on a Sunday night for $50 plus tax (fortunately, I work a night shift on Mondays, so I could fit this impromptu trip into my schedule). My room, while relatively modest and small, had a view of the ocean and easy deck access. The strip of beach below was long enough for a decent walk, and the state park even boasts a beachside restaurant called the Beachcomber Café (on that particular Sunday afternoon, the place was packed).

Beachcomber's Lodge

Beachcomber’s Lodge

My room was located in the Beachcomber’s Lodge, one of the dorm-style cottages. This dwelling offers a number of private rooms that share three bathrooms and a kitchen. One can also rent an entire cottage at a much higher price. I was worried I might feel shorted in my dorm room, as I hate vying for bathroom and kitchen time. Yet there did seem to be plenty of space for all, particularly on the two private decks. As the beach scene below proved to be somewhat frenetic, the decks were a welcome feature.


The Crystal Cove State Park also offers a campground, miles of hiking trails, and various educational opportunities. Indeed, the Crystal Cove Alliance “is dedicated to the protection and preservation of the entire park, which includes 3.2 miles of pristine coastline and 2,400 acres of Moro Canyon backcountry.” It is a gem of a place, a laudable change of scenery for anyone living within an hour or two—and well worth the extra hassle it takes to actually land a reservation.