A Trip Down Pacific Coast Highway to Crystal Cove Shake Shack

Driving up and down Pacific Coast Highway became my favorite weekend activity after I moved to Irvine to attend UC Irvine four years ago. The scenery during the spring and summer months is especially beautiful, which was why I returned again and again. But there are other draws to PCH, as well.
I found one during an afternoon drive a couple years back. While driving north from Laguna Beach, I spotted a blue and white shack to my left. It’s easy to miss and I nearly did just that. But I had not been speeding like the other cars on the road that day. Luckily, I was taking my time in the right lane.
My first thought was that the shack was some random or possibly abandoned home. I quickly learned just how wrong I was. The shack is actually an eatery that has been a local favorite for beach-goers, locals and visitors for years now.
The shack’s official name is the Crystal Cove Shake Shack and it serves up Ruby’s Diner-esque shakes every day of the week from 10 a.m. to sunset.
Like the name implies, the Shake Shack serves shakes as well as malts and smoothies. On the day that I visited, the Double Dark Chocolate Chip shake caught my attention. After shelling out $4.29 (plus tax), I received my shake, which was topped with whipped cream and a cherry. I was pleasantly surprised that the shake was not over-the-top chocolaty. It was the right consistency as well: not too thick and not too liquid-y.
Besides the Double Dark Chocolate Chip, the Shack offers 13 other flavors. A few of the more unique selections are Date, Orangecicle and Piña Colada. However, if I were to go again, I would order the classics like Coffee, Strawberry or Vanilla.
Although it may not seem like it is possible because of the size and strange location, the shack does manage to serve food to accompany those shakes. The stadium tri-tip sliders ($6.99), hot pastrami sandwich ($7.29) and chili dog ($5.99) are the stand-outs. They also serve chili and chowder, both of which are a reasonable $3.99.
There are a few downsides to the Shake Shack. First off, the parking is extremely limited. Ten or perhaps 15 cars at most can park in front of the shack. I had to wait about 10 minutes before a spot opened up. If you’re not as lucky as I was and all the parking spots are taken, there are other places to park. But you’ll have to walk about 10 minutes to get to the shack.
Secondly, if you do manage to find a spot, parking is limited to 30 minutes. So relaxing and taking in the view of the beach feels rushed.
Lastly, like the lack of local parking, there isn’t much seating at the shack. There is perhaps enough room for 20 people to sit comfortably. However, the above shouldn’t intimidate you from taking a trip over: a good number of people order their shakes and leave immediately to drink the shake on the road. So the wait for a parking spot, shake or seat shouldn’t be too burdensome.
Nonetheless, what makes this shack special and worth your time (because after all, there are numerous Ruby’s Diners located throughout Southern California) is the gorgeous view of the beach. Going to school in Southern California is a great opportunity to spend time at the beach, and this shack proves to be a great location. Grab a shake while driving down PCH, en route to the beach, during a study break or for any reason at all. It’s worth it.
Crystal Cove Shake Shack, 7703 E. Coast Hwy., Newport Coast; (949) 464-0100.
Food thoughts? E-mail me: rleeson@uci.edu.