Photo by Heather SwaimThe California Coastal Act of 1976 says the beach—at least the wet sand on the beach—is the property of the Golden State and can't be privately owned. But Orange County is full of rich people with ocean-view homes who like to think that they not only own the whole damn road but the sand below their back porch as well. The beaches along Newport Coast—the name that developers gave to what used to be the pristine coast south of Newport and north of Laguna—is walled off by a continuous stretch of gated communities, making them virtually off-limits to most Orange County residents.
You see, if the scenic beaches along Newport Coast aren't technically private property, there's no way to get to any of them unless you live in one of its multimillion-dollar homes, know somebody who does, or look like enough of a millionaire to convince someone you simply forgot the gate code.
Fortunately, there are still public beaches in rich neighborhoods you can visit without impersonating a land baron or bribing a security guard. The best-kept secret among them is Table Rock Beach. It's a white-sand cove hidden down hundreds of rickety steps in South Laguna at the end of Table Rock Drive, a quiet lane of picturesque homes with lovely front-yard gardens you can peer into before invading the local residents' collective back yard of quasi-private sand.
Here's what you do:
Park on or near Pacific Coast Highway near the intersection of First Street, just one block south of Catalina Avenue at the southern end of Aliso Beach in South Laguna. You're going to need to get here early because it's a popular spot with surfers. If you can't find a spot on PCH, look to the hilly side streets—Florence or Fairview Avenue (just east of PCH) for relief. Once you head down Table Rock Drive from PCH, follow the street to the intersection with Bluff Drive and look for the public stairway.
There never seems to be more than 20 or so people there, no matter how nice the weather—so, for instance, there might be two pregnant-and-fat Latina chicks, four teenage boys, two tanned bikini babes frolicking, one young couple getting their engagement pictures taken on a rock, and a couple of old folks covered up from the sun, and there are tide pools, too, and it looks like the kind of beach that would be in some '70s Greek-island soft porn in which Daryl Hannah slowly pours white sand across some chick's tanned navel, and across PCH is an organic fruit stand run by a bunch of damn dirty hippies with dreadlocks and no shoes and everything,and they leave the cash register totally unattended right on PCH while they hang out in the tomato beds, which used to be a parking lot, and it never even occurs to them, like, hey! Maybe someone should watch the cash register!
But even better than the white sand and the green water and the nice people all getting along and the hippies at the top of the stairs are the views. All you have to do is climb the rock at the southern edge of the cove (judging by the beer bottles, it's a popular spot). There, sitting with the cliff at your back and looking west over the water, you can turn your head left and see the neighboring cove. And then beyond that is a natural arch through hundreds of feet of stone, allowing you to see into a third cove all green and peaceful and perfect and happy, and then you climb down after a while of bliss and let the next people come up while you go play in the waves for a while and don't even get a staph infection. That's a beach.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).