Walking tour: A little surf, sand and nostalgic fun

Can you believe it? Summer is drawing to a close when it feels like we just started wearing shorts.

When days start turning dark earlier and earlier, that can only mean it's time to hit the beach more often to take advantage of the warm weather before it's time to don sweaters and pants.

So come along with us on a winding walk toward Crystal Cove, a few blocks north of Laguna Beach. "Walk," my daughter says. How can you refuse on such a crisp sunny day?

Our 15-minute walk takes you from the parking lot across the street from the beach to a short path next to Pacific Coast Highway and then a tunnel where you can cross the famous highway without worrying about traffic.

Or take the shuttle for $1 for a one-way trip if you want to get to the beach quicker or are loaded down with too much beach gear.

A few minutes later, you will end up on the main walkway leading toward the beach. This is the heart of the Crystal Cove historic district, infused with a colorful history that started in the 1930s and 1940s when the area was first established as a seaside movie set. Its secluded location later drew bootleggers who used it as a gateway for their business.

The efforts of preservationists landed this beach on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and the coastline here reportedly looks the same as in the 1920s.

On this particular Friday, it seems quite a few people had the same idea about enjoying the beach, which tends to attract mostly families and a few tourists because of its calm, relaxed atmosphere.

As you can imagine, this area literally invites plein air painting. Painters can often be found in the area.

This little guy came along to keep us company for a while just a few inches from our beach chairs.

The Beachcomber Cafe, perched right on the beach, offers spectacular views. Many people make the tunnel trek or take a shuttle just to have a meal here.

This renovated cottage is one of a few cottages available for rental, but these are notoriously difficult to reserve since there are only a few of them and they must be reserved months in advance. They typically rent within minutes of becoming available. (I tried once unsuccessfully.)

At one point, all 45 cottages were in danger of being razed because developers had their eye on the land, but community intervention saved them. Now, the non-profit Crystal Cove Alliance oversees the renovation of the cottages to preserve them and make them available for rental. Twenty-one cottages have been fully restored.

The visitor's center shows what the cottages originally looked like.

As part of its fundraising efforts, the Crystal Cove Alliance maintains a tiny store, stocked with goodies ranging from toys to beautiful paintings depicting seaside life.

My son checks out the store, which offers vintage-style signs and clothing, as well as sea-inspired jewelry crafted by local artisans. You can find their online offerings here.

You may also take a virtual art tour of plein air paintings featuring Crystal Cove here.

These steps lead to another beach hangout well-known among locals: the Shake Shack, famous for its milkshakes, of course, as the name implies. Many think the shakes were better when the coastal eatery was independently owned before it was bought by Ruby's Diner. Either way, I can think of few ways to enjoy a milkshake than while enjoying the ocean view.

Well, friends, that brings us to the end of this little tour as we head back out toward the path we first started out on.


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