Best Beach - 2013
Muddy Creek at Crystal Cove State Park
8471 N. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
The cliff behind silences Coast Highway, so all you hear are waves, the wind flapping at your umbrella and an occasional gull outburst. If not for swimsuit styles, it could be 1918, when the first film was shot here, or 1970, when it was common for people to ride horses bareback by the surf. Time passes, 21st-century tensions vanish, and you stop grinding your teeth. Slowly it dawns that people are relishing what they are doing: floating beyond the breakers or peering into tidepools ("We saw opal eyes!"). Children are reading, and adults are getting buried to their chins. After watching a mom take a picture of her kid looming high above her on a rock, you find yourself actually volunteering to take a picture of the whole family as they stand close and grin ridiculously. Now you are grinning, too. You don't even wait to get back to your spot, but drop your hat and sunglasses and dive in at Muddy Creek because that's one of the best spots for bodysurfing at the park. Sandy bottom, not too shallow, no mud—the creek peters out up in backcountry. Back on your towel, the onshore breeze blows your body dry. Being at this beach is an actual vacation, completely worth the $15 entrance fee. Better yet, join the California State Parks Foundation (www.calparks.org) for $25, and get seven day-use passes to visit whenever you want during the year that follows. This beach is safe from wanton development forever. The only worry will come in some future form from the sea—tsunami, the Fukushima radiation leaks—all the more reason to enjoy the here and now. To get to Muddy Creek, park at Reef Point and take the steep, south ramp down, or park at El Moro and go through the tunnel where creek meets sea to the beach, walk north and pick a spot.