Summer Camp at Crystal Cove

From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, families flocked  to Crystal Cove to set up camp for the summer

In the early days at the cove, after the highway was completed in the mid-1920s, people began to discover the beauty of Orange County’s coast. No longer the well-kept secret of Hollywood insiders and Irvine Ranch employees, the cove was now open for the stumbling upon-and in fact, that’s exactly how many longtime cove residents first came here. Word spread and soon the beach was lined with camping families. During the day they swam and fished in the surf; took long, restorative walks; and collected shells from the tide pools. The ones who fell in love with this simple routine returned year after year, pitching their tents in the same spot every summer.

After World War II began, however, tent camping and bonfires were declared unsafe and halted for a few years. Tent camping returned after the war, and everything about it was bigger and better. Shower facilities and restrooms were centralized as at any campground, but the tenters had everything else they needed inside their summer homes. Each site was wired for electricity, so most tents had a refrigerator, a hot plate, a coffee pot and electric lights hanging from the ceiling. Some women even brought sewing machines. Other tents, thanks to the ingenuity of campers, even had hot and cold running water after a group of bachelors used a burner from a water heater to build a tap. Tenters came from near and far, and once you secured a spot, it was yours until you passed it on to friends and relatives.

But even the cove was not immune to growth and development. In 1962, the Orange County Board of Supervisors outlawed tenting on local beaches. It was the end of an era, but the spirit of Crystal Cove camping now lives close by. Campers are still welcomed at Moro Canyon, where they can pitch a tent at one of the backcountry campsites (reservations required).

Adapted from the recently released SECOND EDITION of “Crystal Cove Cottages” by Karen E. Steen, Laura Davick and Meriam Braselle, available for purchase at the Crystal Cove Park Interpretive Store and Gallery. This beautifully illustrated book shares Crystal Cove’s unique history, and all purchases help support Crystal Cove State Park!  

Make Reservations: Reserve California

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