The lands and waters that we call Crystal Cove State Park today are located on the ancestral and unceded homelands of the Acjachemen and Tongva Tribal Nations. They remain an important part of our community to this day, and together, we’re committed to uplifting all voices dedicated to protecting this important place.
The Story of Crystal Cove State Park
Today, Crystal Cove’s shining beaches, gray-green hills, and deep blue waters are an important reminder of what Orange County once was. The Acjachemen and Tongva people have been the traditional stewards of this place for over 10,000 years. We acknowledge the painful and unjust colonization that began in 1769 with Spain, and later Mexico and the United States.
Crystal Cove became part of the Irvine Ranch in the late 1800s, when it was used for cattle grazing and eventually leased for agriculture. Hollywood producers discovered Crystal Cove in the 1910s and began using it as a South Seas film set. With the opening of Pacific Coast Highway in 1926, more and more visitors discovered the Cove and the era of tent camping began. By 1936, the forty-five cottages that we all love had been built on land leased from the Irvine Company.
Farming continued at Crystal Cove through the 1930s and 1940s. Many of the farmers who leased plots were Japanese American families. Looking to introduce their children to the same cultural traditions that they experienced growing up, the families came together to build a community center and schoolhouse for their children to attend on Saturdays, which is preserved today as the park’s Japanese Language Schoolhouse. Community parties, language lessons, kendo demonstrations, and Buddhist services were some of the immersive events held there.
When the US entered World War II, everything changed for Crystal Cove’s Japanese American community. Most of the families were deported incarceration camps, and none ever returned to Crystal Cove. The schoolhouse sat empty until 1947, when the building was relocated to where it stands today on the bluffs of the Historic District.
Today, the Japanese Language Schoolhouse, which sits atop the bluff at the edge of the Historic District, pays homage to Crystal Cove’s diverse past.
Becoming a Park
In 1979, the Irvine Company sold the land to California State Parks. Those who had been living had until 1999 to move out, leaving behind their homes, including the Historic District cottages and more than a hundred mobile homes in Moro Canyon. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, as residents left the Cove, a development contract was awarded to replace the cottages with a resort property.
With another vision in mind, Laura Davick founded Crystal Cove Conservancy as The Alliance to Rescue Crystal Cove. It was not only Laura’s vision that inspired what The Conservancy has become, it was her relentless pursuit of that vision and her gift for knowing who could help.
The Cottages at Crystal Cove State Park have become the true center of the Park for many, helping to protect these land and waters, educate our future environmental leaders, and ensure that this place and places like it remain protected for generations to come.