It's even known as Secret Cove, this heart-shaped swath of beach below sheer cliffs in South Laguna.
There's a public stairway down to it, but there's no sign to indicate that. In fact, a sign for the attached driveway announces "Private Drive," leading many pedestrians to think they are not allowed.
Most of the handful of beachgoers on a recent day were from the immediate neighborhood, and they begged to have their secret cove kept that way. Bring the public in, they said, and it will be ruined.
It's another spot where the public might be able to get to the secluded beach, near some large homes off South Coast Highway. But so far, no government agency or nonprofit group has accepted responsibility for it, which means that, officially, it has remained closed to the public.
And if no one does so by March 28, 2005, the landowner's offer to dedicate the access point--extracted by the California Coastal Commission nearly two decades ago--will expire.
This is one of 65 such spots in Orange County where the potential for public access will expire from 2002 to 2011 if the cities, county or nonprofit groups don't act.
"I call these [access spots] the lifelines to the coast," said Susan Jordan, a member of the League for Coastal Protection's board. "We've got to open these up, or we're going to lose a tremendous resource."
Seaside landowners seeking building permits or permission to renovate frequently had to offer public access to get the Coastal Commission to approve their plans. The easements allow the public to get to the beach or water through the landowners' property, but a public agency or nonprofit group needs to accept responsibility for maintaining the access ways before they are actually opened to the public.
14 Access Points at Stake on Newport Beach Shore
The Newport Beach City Council will study 14 access points within its boundaries at a Jan. 8 meeting.
"I'm a firm believer that some public access needs to be enforced in this city," said Councilman Tod Ridgeway. "Looking down the line, I'm of the opinion that these things need to all be accepted. I may be alone."
But other local officials noted that by accepting the access ways, they would also be accepting liability and maintenance responsibility.
"As a general rule, we should be accepting only those that have a benefit to the public," said Laguna Beach City Councilman Wayne Baglin.
Laguna Beach has 32 such spots that so far are closed to the public because no agency has taken responsibility for them.
Baglin said that in other instances, secluded public areas have created public safety concerns and become nuisances to adjacent property owners. A mini park off Temple Hills Drive attracted partyers--and their drinking--late into the night. Smokers would also leave cigarette butts there, creating a wildfire risk, he said.
Some access points may "offer more problems than public benefit," Baglin said. The city would have to study each spot before he could comment on any specifically, he added.
In such places as Malibu, he said, the access points could let the public visit spots that would otherwise remain beyond its reach.
"But we have a lot of public access to beaches in Laguna," Baglin said.
Back at Secret Cove, also called Table Rock Beach, five young adults from Hope University in Fullerton were the only outsiders in the area one recent afternoon.
'The Coast Belongs to the People'
David Born, 22, who grew up in Orange, said he had been coming here for years with his childhood friends and didn't recall how he first heard about it. "This is probably my favorite spot in Laguna, or probably all the beaches in Southern California," he said.
Debbie and Bill Sussex were considering moving to Hawaii after a trip to Kauai. But once they found the secluded cove, they moved in next door at Table Rock.
"Don't tell anybody about it," she pleaded.
Jay Reifel of Tacoma, Wash., was visiting his mother, who has private access to the cove. Taking a break from fishing off a massive rock in the middle of the cove, he recalled that when his father was alive, he watched over the outsiders to make sure they weren't leaving trash behind or being too loud.
Reifel understands local residents' concerns about their beach, which has no restrooms or lifeguard.
"But the coast belongs to the people," he said. "Everyone should be able to go to the beach."