Anyone around here knows that getting one of those beach cottages that creak with charm and memories in the making at Crystal Cove State Park can be a challenge.
Rental spots open at 8 a.m. the first of every month for a period of seven months out. Bargain-hunting would-be guests rush online to book them, and the better weekends go especially quick.
My wife and I know a couple who have mastered the online reservation system. They consistently book choice cottages on seemingly perfect days.
When asked how they pull this off, they are purposely vague, saying it's about "timing." On a recent weekend, these fortunate friends invited my wife, daughter and me. I went down to their cottage overlooking the Pacific. I somewhat dreaded paying the newly increased parking charge — $15 — but have to agree with a recent Daily Pilot letter writer who argued that the fee is a small price to pay for a day in this publicly owned slice of paradise.
I dropped off my wife and daughter at the roundabout by the beach and then parked just above Coast Highway in the shadow of Pelican Hill and Newport Coast. When I caught up with my family friends, the little ones — my daughter and her close friend are 4 — were busy with their sand toys.
I said some hellos and then took a spot on a beach towel.
Now I am not one who can really sleep in public places. I cannot fall asleep in airplanes. I do not snooze in chaise longues that line hotel pools. I am the one who is always awake on long car trips.
But before I knew it, here on a crowded day at Crystal Cove State Beach, I fell into a deep sleep. At least an hour passed.
I awoke to my daughter tugging at me. The kid asked me to take her down to the surf, and she spent time happily running in and out of the gentle whitewash.
Then I walked her and her friend down to the tide pools, where I instructed them on the delicate ecosystem. But they are still toddlers, of course, and didn't listen. They found it far more fun to pick up the smooth rocks and toss them into the ocean.
After a day on the beach, we all trudged up to the hill to the cabin for wine, cheese, bread and appetizers. We watched the sun fall. The little kids ran up and down the cabin's creaky old stairs and climbed up the cabin's bunk beds.
Adults mingled on the deck, chatting, eating, drinking. After plenty of this, I took a spot on a comfy chair and read the newspaper, enjoying something I get little of at this stage in life — a few minutes of personal time.
We were invited to stay longer, but we decided to drive home at nightfall, feeling relaxed and calm, well-fed, and happy and lucky to enjoy friends in a remarkable setting.
I have my calendar out now here in the editor's office. The first of the month is Tuesday. I am ready to book a cottage. Anyone out there have good "timing"?