Passing a Pandemic Day at Crystal Cove State Park

December 1, 2020 Updated: December 1, 2020

Crystal Cove is a very scary place. Just ask Shaggy Rogers and his friends Fred, Daphne, and Velma. Even big dog Scooby-Doo will chip in with a bark. That’s because of the crystal sarcophagus containing the Evil Entity—oh wait, that’s the cartoon-land Crystal Cove. The one I visited was the one in Orange County, California. This one boasts a much longer history of fictional cinematic representation than even “Scooby-Doo” cartoons.

Located within the municipality of Newport Beach, Crystal Cove is a state park encompassing 3.2 miles of Pacific coast. It’s a bit unusual in that it includes a beach and imposing coastal cliffs as well as a small community of beach homes.

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The holidays have arrived on the beach at Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, Calif. (Jim Farber)

My wife and I ended up here because after six months of quarantine we decided to visit friends in Irvine, California. We located a hotel in Costa Mesa and called ahead to see what safety measures were being taken in regard to COVID-19. Satisfied that the hotel was doing all it could possibly do to keep guests safe, we booked three nights and drove west from Mesa, Arizona. We asked our friends to plan only outdoor activities that would include a beach walk because an ocean shoreline is something we don’t have in Arizona. They were happy to oblige since one of their favorite walks is in the Crystal Cove State Park.

What makes this walk interesting is that it can be done as a relatively short loop—less than three miles—but it encompasses numerous geological and topographical surfaces. The parking lot sits atop the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A trail and steps lead down to the beach. If you turn right to the north, you’ll head toward the community of Crystal Cove. The morning we did the walk the air was cool and the beach practically empty. The tide had ebbed, so it was possible to walk along the damp and more solid sands. Also, the low tide revealed numerous boulders and tide pools at water’s edge, which created picturesque scenic views along the shoreline. Otherwise the beach is deep sand until the cliffs that rise almost straight up like a wall.

One can walk forever along the beach, but most people end at the Crystal Cove Historic District, which is just over 12 acres (the entire park is 2,800 acres) at a crevice in the ridge. A popular respite is an old restaurant called The Beachcomber. Also inside the crevice is an enclave of 46 rustic cottages that are for rent. A long wooden stairwell climbs to the top of the cliffs, and a trail then leads back to the parking lot where the journey began.

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Sunrise and sunset are perfect times for a beach walk. (Courtesy of Jim Farber)

A handful of rental properties remain along the beach, and on my walk one caught my attention because of the couple sitting on two chairs, intermittently reading and gazing out to sea. I noticed other walkers would stop in front of this house, take a picture and move on. My friend elbowed me and with a nod toward the property and told me the beach house (formal name is Cottage 13) was featured in the movie “Beaches,” the 1988 tearjerker featuring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. Midler’s hit record, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” was part of the soundtrack to this movie.

Then I noticed an informational board explaining that around 1917, silent-era Hollywood discovered this isolated cove. They planted palm trees and built a few thatched huts to create a movie set for tropical locations. The movie filmed at the cottage that interested me was the 1928 production of “Sadie Thompson,” which was based on the short story “Rain” by W. Somerset Maugham. The story is set on the Pacific Island of Pago Pago—today the U.S. territory of American Samoa.

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Some cottages still remain along the beach at Crystal Cove State Park. (Courtesy of Jim Farber.

Then I read it was also used in the Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall classic, “To Have and Have Not,” which took place on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean. It was used in the movie “Treasure Island,” too, somewhere in the Caribbean or Atlantic,  and “Son of Tarzan,” around the world to Africa. Cottage 13 never moved, but it has traveled the world.

Despite all of those great classic movies, the beach house is referred to as the “Beaches Cottage” or the “Bette Midler Cottage.” Today anyone can still rent the cottage—and make believe they are somewhere else in the world.

When You Go

Crystal Cove State Park is located just off the Pacific Coast Highway between Corona Del Mar and Laguna Beach in Orange County, Calif.

Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Copyright 2020