Families flock to Crystal Cove not just for its three miles of idyllic beachfront (protected as Crystal Cove State Park), but also for its amazing tide pools. This Orange County stunner, straddled by Newport Beach to the north and Laguna Beach to the south, is also a designated marine conservation area. Tide pools overflow with kid favorites like anemones, sea stars, and hermit crabs. Time your visit for low tide, then head to Reef Point and Pelican Point to search for critters among the rocks and pools. There’s also plenty to see if you head out into the water; look for bright orange garibaldis, bat rays, and other native fish, and—if you’re lucky—an octopus hiding in a rocky crevice.
Stretch out your stay with a night in one of the park’s rustic coastal cottages along the bluff. Just be warned: Lodgings fill up many months in advance, and there’s usually a long waiting list. Another option: Pitch a tent or bed down in an RV in the park’s campsite. Whatever you do, make sure you’re on the beach when the sun sets. Watching the dark silhouettes of your children trying to get one more minute peering for creatures in the tide pools as dusk descends is a painting beyond price.