The Heritage Legacy Project for California

The beach cottages of Crystal Cove State Park’s Historic District are one of Southern California’s most iconic destinations, giving visitors a glimpse into simpler times along California’s coast. Today, 29 of the 46 cottages have been restored and turned into a national model for low-cost coastal accommodations and a setting for an idyllic outdoor classroom where underserved youth can study how our coastlines are changing.

Crystal Cove Conservancy was founded in 1999 to save the 46 historic cottages dotting the beach and bluffs in Crystal Cove State Park from being demolished and replaced with a planned luxury resort development. Since then, we have created a thriving social enterprise model that directs revenue from the overnight rentals and park concessions to support the maintenance of the Historic District, special projects in the park, and Crystal Cove Conservancy’s mission of education, conservation, and preservation at Crystal Cove State Park. Because of this success, our outdoor Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education programs have grown to bring more than 6,000 disadvantaged school-aged students from across Southern California to Crystal Cove, immersing them in real-world science learning.  Additionally, our support for the State Park’s conservation programs have expanded public access to Crystal Cove’s many natural resources, including nearly 2,400 acres in the backcountry, 400 acres of coastal bluffs, 3.2 miles of shoreline, and a 1,150-acre Marine Protected Area. Due to their idyllic location, historic charm, and low cost, the cottages themselves remain extremely coveted, with a more than 98% occupancy rate year-round.

The Heritage Legacy Project for California will restore the remaining 17 historic seaside cottages in the Crystal Cove Historic District, completing the preservation of this iconic area. When the restoration project is complete, it will double the number of beds available for overnight rentals and provide a sustainable revenue stream to ensure that Crystal Cove is protected and accessible to all Californians for generations to come.


From the nineteen teens, visitors have been finding themselves at Crystal Cove. Early Hollywood filmmakers discovered Crystal Cove and used it as a location to make Polynesian-set films.  In the 1920s, tent campers became a returning community of summer visitors and, later, began building more substantial residences on the beach and bluffs – today’s Historic District cottages. For three generations, residents enjoyed the historic cottages at The Cove before it was opened to the public as a State Park and outdoor classroom.

In 1979, the land that is now Crystal Cove State Park, then owned by the Irvine Company, was sold to California State Parks and National Register of Historic Places status was secured for the entire Historic District, highlighting, among other qualities, the unique vernacular architecture of the cottages. They sold the land to the State of California, and it was incorporated into a new state park. Today, the Crystal Cove beach cottages are the last remaining example of the vernacular architecture style that was prevalent in California’s early 20th century beach communities, allowing visitors to step back into a bygone era.

The Heritage Legacy Project

The Heritage Legacy Project for California will restore the last 17 historic seaside cottages at Crystal Cove. This is a significant undertaking with a total cost of approximately $47M due to the historic nature of the buildings and delicate natural environment where they sit.

Today, 29 of the 46 cottages have been fully restored. They’ve become a national model for low-cost accommodations, hosting 24,000 visitors each year as well as producing revenue to support the Conservancy’s outdoor STEM education programs. As a result of this sustainable revenue, our education programs have become a statewide model for social enterprise and STEM education. As we continue to restore and open cottages to the public, more people from all backgrounds will have access to one of California’s most coveted retreats while also serving more students in our education programs than ever before.

In short, the restoration of the 17 remaining cottages will complete the vision for Crystal Cove State Park’s Historic District, create a sustainable revenue stream to support conservation and education efforts in the park and result in an additional 22 affordable overnight rental units coming online. One of these last 17 cottages, which is designed to operate as a hostel-style dorm, will host overnight coastal engineering programs for underserved high school students from across Southern California. With our partners at University of California, Irvine, we will be educating and inspiring students from inland and underserved communities about the challenges of sea level rise and anticipated coastal changes as they sleep mere feet from the ocean.


The project has been split into two phases: infrastructure and restoration. The infrastructure portion of the project is currently underway. Pre-restoration improvements continue on time and on budget, with an expected completion date in Summer 2020. During this important phase of the project, contractors are stabilizing the hillside that the last 17 cottages sit on, installing modern infrastructure and utilities, expanding the check-in parking lot, and constructing a new 650-foot long service path and boardwalk which will provide ADA access to the site.

Once the infrastructure portion of the project is complete, we will begin restoration of the cottages themselves. This is a detailed, painstaking process that involves preserving and reusing historic materials and refurbishing the cottages and landscape to its midcentury roots. Once the final 17 cottages are restored, they will create an additional 22 rental units, available for the public to use and enjoy at affordable rates.  Revenue from these additional units will support maintenance and special projects in the park, as well as our education and conservation initiatives. By design, the cottages will generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining and revenue-producing once they are completed.

Permitting and Environmental Impact

Great care has been taken to ensure that the completion of this project will not damage the fragile landscape at Crystal Cove. Instead, it will enhance the environmental quality and natural beauty of Crystal Cove as a result of the historic restoration of the 17 cottages.

The Heritage Legacy Project for California’s impact on the environment has been fully reviewed and an environmental impact report (EIR) was issued under California CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) requirements. The California Coastal Commission issued the project a Coastal Development Permit following an extensive permitting and review process. In addition, State Parks consulted with local Native American tribal leadership from tribes identified by the Native American Heritage Commission, including the Acjachemen and Tongva.  The project was also reviewed and approved by the Newport Beach Fire Department in 2018.

The Conservancy’s primary purpose is to protect this one unchanging place in the sun and ensure its survival for generations to come. All necessary reviews have been undertaken with the most earnest desire to uphold that purpose.


The Conservancy has secured more than $30 million toward the estimated $47 million needed to complete this project. The Conservancy’s Board of Directors and campaign committee remain committed to fully funding this project.

We are grateful to the diverse group of donors who are supporting this project and are also working hard to identify new donors to help complete the project. Funding includes state and local government support, foundation grants, individual pledge-makers and low-interest loans that combine to create a stable funding source to continue construction on this important project.

The Impact

Twenty-nine of the 46 cottages have already been restored through the unique public-private partnership between California State Parks and The Conservancy. Since opening to the public in 2006, 24 units have been available for low-cost overnight rentals serving 24,000 people per year. Three of the cottages are dedicated to disabled guests and require an ADA placard to rent. The existing overnight units are in unprecedented demand, with a 98% year-round occupancy rate. When the restoration of the final 17 cottages is completed, we will double our capacity, from 24,000 to 48,000 overnight stays per year, making it possible for more people to enjoy a retreat in one of these remarkable historic buildings.

At the same time, by doubling our overnight capacity, we will more than quadruple the available revenue to support our outdoor STEM education and conservation programs, in addition to providing for all necessary maintenance and supporting special projects in the park. The low rental rate is set as per our contract with the State and only increases with inflation, but still covers all Historic District maintenance costs and provides significant support for our education and conservation programs.

By completing this important restoration, Crystal Cove Conservancy, together with our partners at California State Parks, will realize the vision for this spectacular place – affordable overnight rentals for the families of California and beyond and a sustainable model for supporting important conservation and education programs at Crystal Cove State Park. Download/print 2-page fact sheet.


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