Being seasoned Orange County residents at this point, when it gets warm, we hit the beach. Fortunately for us, Irvine is less than fifteen minutes away from a number of gorgeous stretches of sand, all owned by the state and all free. Crystal Cove State Park in neighboring Newport Beach is convenient, close, and beautiful, as well as relatively crowd-free. Not a bad place to go for a walk and get your toes wet.
Located on Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1), slightly south of Newport Coast Drive, Crystal Cove State Park boasts a 3.5 mile swath of beach with two major entry points. The larger one, further south, is near the main woodland area that comprises a majority of the park. It's also close to Ruby's Shake Shack. The smaller one, within a mile of Newport Coast Drive, leads to a section of the beach that's more beautiful and tends to be less crowded. This is the one Cat and I enjoy frequenting. To get to the beach from the parking lot, you take a quaint little boardwalk through scrubland that appears deserted, save for the occasional small lizard.
Once you get down to the beach, you're greeted by a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. Now, a less wary person might decide to dive right in, particularly on a hot day. However, this panda saw Jaws for the first time at the tender age of 5 and is fully aware that the second a human being enters the ocean, he drops straight to the bottom of the food chain. That seductive blue minx is full of hungry creatures eager to sink their teeth in my soft, squishy body. Oh yeah, there's the pollution and whale pee and whatnot as well. Just not my cup of tea.
On the other hand, I do like a good stroll. With several miles of beach available, you can walk for as long or as little as you like.
You'll see lines of grizzled seagulls staring somberly out at the ocean like little Mafioso discussing the family business. The odd sandpiper or pigeon will be scattered amongst them, tolerated, but not trusted with any important affairs.
Spurs of shale and other rock jut out from the wet sand, worn smooth by the pounding of the waves.
A closer look reveals clusters of delicious mussels clinging to the sides. It may be tempting to try a taste, but remember that pollution I was talking about before. Pop one of these in your mouth and you'll be on the fast track to the emergency room.
The seagulls are far less discriminating, as the scattered shells around the rocks clearly attest.
Of course, incriminating footprints near the scene of the crime are always helpful. I wonder if the gulls put out a hit. Maybe the mollusks were trying to muscle in of their territory. *ba dum cha!*
Further on up the beach are some amazing swirls of rock, worn down to the sand over the centuries. In a few hundred more years, the mussels are going to have to find a new home.
Cat likes hunting for pretty stones in the rubble.
The ocean isn't the only part of the beach that offers attractive scenery. Explore the cliffs along the back, and you'll find several small waterfalls, like this one, where streams and other runoff finally make it to the sea. However, if the moss and tar streaks haven't already warned you, look, don't touch. Lots of bacteria live in that water. This is what runs into the ocean, which is why I choose not to swim in it.
Where the rock is more solid and exposed to the saltwater during high tide, you'll find small caves carved into the sandstone from years of battering. They don't go anywhere yet, but they'll only get larger and deeper with time. It's still not a good idea to go poking around down there.
If you're in an exploring mood, the tide pools surrounding the caves offer a variety of small sea creatures to discover, including hermit crabs and barnacles. Be careful when moving about. The rock is smooth and slippery. One wrong step and you can both break a bone and destroy a fragile colony. Life is hard enough in these pools without humans disturbing the creatures within.
Once you've gotten yourself good and crisped, it's time to mosey on down the beach to Ruby's Shake Shack. Founded in 1945 as the Crystal Cove Shake Shack, the Shake Shack provided a refreshing pit stop of weary travelers on PCH and thirsty beachgoers. Later on, it became a famous date spot amongst Orange County locals. In the late 1980s, the Shake Shack was saved from demolition by local petition, only to have its lease expire. The state put the Shake Shack's concession contract up for bid. It eventually won by Arden Flamson, who opened up a Ruby's franchise at the site in May of 2006. The new concession has been named Ruby's Shake Shack in an attempt to evoke the nostalgia of the old eatery. However, according to locals and longtime fans, Ruby's Shake Shack is a pale shadow of its predecessor.
Feeling nostalgic for family trips to the beach, I ordered a simple Vanilla Ice Cream Cone. Cold and sweet, it tasted like the familiar gas station soft serves by father would buy me one our way home from Santa Cruz.
Cat did me one better by getting a Hot Fudge Sundae. The molten chocolate helped her ice cream melt faster and formed a rich sludge, which she scooped up contentedly with her spoon.
The happiest diner by far was a cheeky, fat squirrel living in the bushes right next to the outdoor tables. This little fellow knew no shame, zipping about my legs and standing up whenever I lowered one of my hands to see if I had anything for him. There were a number of chunky birds in the bushes as well, from which I surmised that a thriving ecosystem had sprung up around the Shake Shack, fueled by garbage and scraps. There were some locals, at least, who didn't mind the changeover.
Ruby's Shake Shack - It's really just a convenient place to get something cold after an afternoon at the beach. There's nothing special about it now.
Bill (for two)
Vanilla Ice Cream Cone - 1.75
Hot Fudge Sundae - 3.99
Tax - 0.45
Tip - 0.00
Total - 6.19
Ruby's Shake Shack
7703 E Coast Hwy
Newport Coast, CA 92657