View the Pacific from Emerald Vista, Crystal Cove State Park, Orange County.

On the most transparent winter days, the view from Emerald Vista Point in Orange County's Crystal Cove State Park spans more than 200 miles of Southern California coastline. Far beyond Dana Point to the southeast, the low profile of Point Loma can be traced along the curving shoreline, and the diminutive Coronado Islands barely rise above the ocean haze. Southwest and west stand two big islands, San Clemente and Santa Catalina, the former a gently rising blister on the ocean surface, the latter a bold headland sprawling across 25 degrees of ocean horizon. Over the often murky Los Angeles Basin to the northwest, you can spot the Santa Monica Mountains reaching west into Ventura County.

Morning light is best for distant views, so plan an early start. Drive up Pacific Coast Highway past Laguna Beach and turn inland on the access road into Crystal Cove State Park. You'll arrive at a small visitors' center (fee charged for parking here). From the lot, walk 0.4 mile south on the trail going down into El Moro Canyon. Turn left, heading up-canyon, then very quickly turn right on a narrow trail going up a grassy slope to the south. After climbing about 200 feet, you connect with a service road winding up the west spur of El Moro Ridge. Continue climbing up the service road for 0.7 mile, then make a sharp right on a spur leading south to an antenna facility on the shoulder of the ridge. This is where views of Emerald Bay, the city of Laguna Beach, and the ocean horizon are most panoramic.

If you prefer a longer, more leisurely descent on the return, follow the service road farther north along El Moro Ridge, then veer left down the "East Cut-Across" road to El Moro Canyon. Turn left there and go down-canyon 1.0 mile to reach the wide trail leading out of the canyon and back toward the visitors' center. This is the route that mountain bikers should use both to and from the vista point.

Please note that heavy rains and excessive mud can close certain trails in Crystal Cove State Park, particularly to mountain bikes.

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