Crystal Cove State Park is along the Coast Highway in the Laguna Beach area of California. We went there mostly to check out the tide pools and let the kids play in the sand on the beach while we waited for low tide. What we discovered was a beautiful beach, perfect conditions for a swim in the Pacific, and an overall wonderful place to spend the whole day.
On all the beaches that we’d been to, Emelie had resisted going in the water. She loves baths and begs to swim in every pool she sees, but waves made her uncomfortable so she often wouldn’t even get her feet wet. This time, she was willing to try some baby-steps, from being held by someone who was touching the water, slowly getting closer and closer until she finally was splashing in the waves. She loved it, up until she accidentally got her head wet (oops, didn’t see that wave coming!) and then she was done.
The thing was, we weren’t really planning to swim. I’d brought bathing suits for the kids, Staffan was wearing his, but I didn’t even have mine with me. The kids ended up splashing around in their clothes, and when Peter got a little cold, the only thing I had to change him into was his swimsuit. Backwards, yes, but it worked.
At first I sat, watching longingly as Staffan and Emelie explored the water. Then I took Peter to the water’s edge and splashed a bit with the kids. But as I sat back down in the sand with the kids while Staffan took a swim, I knew I couldn’t miss my chance to swim in the Pacific. So I took my turn and in I went in my clothes. Many weeks and many washings later, there is still sand in the pockets of those shorts. And every time I put my hands in my pockets and feel that awful sand-under-your-fingernails feeling, I smile and remember how great the water felt. And I’m glad I didn’t miss it just because I didn’t bring my swimsuit.
Finally, as the sun, sand and saltwater exhaustion started to kick in, we let Peter catch a few Zs in the stroller while the rest of us explored the tide pools. The tide had finally gone down enough to walk out on the rocks. In among and between the rocks are cracks, crevices and lower areas where sea creatures swim during high tides but are then caught when the tide goes out. The visitor’s center has free laminated guides that show pictures of the different creatures you might see so you can identify them. Exploring the tide pools was fascinating and tons of fun, but also slippery and a bit sharp in places, so walk carefully.
Try teaching a 3-year-old to say “sea anemone”
Another little tip about Crystal Cove. If you go to the right entrance the first time (which we didn’t), you don’t pay the entrance/parking fee on the way in but on the way out. If you then decide to eat a meal, snack, or (like us) dessert in the little restaurant on the beach, they will validate your parking. Since the entrance/parking fee is $15, as long as you eat for $15 or less you at least break even. The restaurant isn’t cheap, and the validation did nothing for us since we already paid the fee when we went in the wrong entrance, but perhaps someone else can benefit from our experience.
We had a beautiful day at Crystal Cove. I’m sure we would have had a great time at any of the many amazing beaches in that part of California, but the added experience of seeing sea creatures up close in their natural habitats of the tide pools made it an unforgettable day!