There were so many coves, or so it seemed growing up in Laguna Beach, California. Secret Cove, Woods Cove, Fisherman’s Cove, Diver’s Cove, Shark’s Cove, and the coves of Treasure Island. Each with its own personality, its own unique way of expressing itself. Some, like Treasure Island have fine diving rocks, with clear pools of emerald green water. Others like Shark’s Cove are dangerous places to swim, with jagged rocks, high cliffs and rough surf.
There is an energy to these coves that attracts different people. People migrate to their own particular beach in much the same way as they do to certain cities, neighborhoods and restaurants. Some coves, like Shaw’s Cove are very social and affluent. Some, like Diver’s Cove and Fisherman’s Cove are more utilitarian, attracting scuba divers and fishermen. Woods Cove, with its fine white sand, sunning wall, and mixture of scenery attracts a wide variety of people.
Secret Cove, and the coves of Tortuava and 9th street are a place apart from the rest. These coves are more transcendental, secretive and reclusive. They offer seclusion, beauty and more. It used to be that the access to these coves was private, which has helped define the essence of these special places. Although 9th Street and Secret Cove can now be accessed by public stairways, they are still private beaches to those who frequent them. In addition, the stairs down to 9th street, appropriately named Thousand Steps, have their own way of self selecting those who partake of these beaches.
Beyond offering seclusion, the beaches from Secret Cove south, provide an adventure that is as challenging today as it ever was in the past. It may seem unlikely, but in the middle of Southern California, on a stretch of coastline no more than a mile long, you can easily be outmatched by the elements of surf, sea caves, and cliffs as you look to make your way from Secret Cove south to Thousand Steps and back.
Like any adventure, you can never quite be sure what awaits beyond as you scale the rocks at Secret Cove and head south. The climb into the next cove affords a view of one of Laguna’s bluest bodies of water and most secluded coves. Beyond is a sea cave and window to the ocean which tunnels under a 100-foot cliff.
The sea cave crossing can be a treacherous one with waves rushing from two different directions across a rock-strewn shelf. With big surf, the roar of the waves in the cave drowns out everything but your thoughts as you look to secure a foot and handhold on the cliff beyond which leads to Tortuava Bay. Tortuava Bay still is a private beach. Unless you swim in or climb in along the cliffs, the only people who have access to this aquamarine jewel are those fortunate enough to live above this ocean paradise.
This is one of the few places in California that have remained essentially unchanged over the last 50 years. Beach shacks provide storage for beach chairs, umbrellas, face masks, snorkels and fins. A crescent shaped bay provides for a peaceful place to swim and a beach of powdery white sand to soak in the sun on warm summer days.
Heading south you come to a black point of jagged rock that affords a view of the coves of 9th street and beyond. Like the sea cave, the crossing here can be quite dangerous, especially when the surf and tide are high. This transition requires climbing or jumping down between waves to rocks that may or may not be surging with surf, and then running literally for your life, across a shelf of rocks to the beach beyond. As with everything in life, the key here is timing. The mental focus, determination and athletic coordination required in these short but potentially perilous crossings can be quite exhilarating to those who enjoy that sort of challenge.
The essence of Thousand Steps beach lends itself to music, laughter and romance. This is also one of the few beaches anywhere in California with homes that sit in the sand. The access to these homes, like the beach itself is on long stairways that lead to the cliffs far above.
While this adventure is not long in distance, it has the ability to take you beyond time and place. The roaring of the waves, the ocean spray and smell, the texture of the rock and sand, along with the total seclusion transport you to a place that seems a place apart, which indeed it is.
Story and Accompanying Photos by Joe Prickitt