Dana Point California Vacation Guide

Where to Stay And Things To See In Dana Point CA.

In Dana Point California you can enjoy Doheny Beach, dine at the Marina, go fishing, go whale watching or rent a kayak. It’s located just south of Laguna Beach and north of San Clemente in Southern Orange County.

Salt Creek Beach is a really nice beach to the north, while the harbor has restaurants and boating activities.

Dana Point was named after the author Richard Henry Dana, who wrote “Two Years Before The Mast”. Back in 1835 when Dana was here, the harbor was a major port, the biggest between Santa Barbara and San Diego. The point itself is at the northwest end of the harbor and is a huge mound with 200 foot cliffs seen for miles around.

Dana Point Harbor

In 1970 the new harbor was completed, along with a long jetty, creating a calm, safe haven for the pleasure boats.

The natural cove has two marinas: the west marina and east marina. At the west end are the Ocean Institute, Baby’s Beach and the Dana Point Yacht Club.

The east marina has some shopping villages, a hotel, waterfront restaurants, and the Dana Wharf, where you can catch a cruise to Catalina, go sport fishing or take a whale watching trip.

There is a boardwalk along the marina with outdoor tables. Grab a bite at Coffee Importers & Deli (wraps, bagels, soup, coffee) or the Scoop Deck & Espresso Bar (ice cream, coffee, pastries) and sit and enjoy the waterfront atmosphere.

Grassy areas and picnic benches are found throughout the harbor, so you can sit, enjoy a picnic and watch the boats glide in and out of the channel. Parking is free, but some of the lots are for boat owners and their guests only.

The Beaches of Dana Point California

Within the harbor itself is Baby’s Beach, a calm little beach where you can swim or launch a kayak or paddle board. Being so sheltered, the water quality may be dubious, so don’t let the little ones ingest it. Salt Creek Beach is to the north, while Doheny State Beach is to the southeast of the Harbor.

Strands Beach is just south of the Ritz Carlton.

Head a little further down Pacific Coast Highway and you will see Capistrano Beach Park on the right and several hotels and motels on the left, facing the ocean. The beach is sandy and has a metered parking lot. There are also picnic tables, restrooms and basketball courts. A stand, when open, rents out bicycles, umbrellas and beach chairs.

Doheny State Beach

For beach camping in Orange County, one popular spot is Doheny State Beach, just south of Dana Point.

From the beach, you can see the boats going in and out of Dana Point Harbor in the distance. There is a nice grassy picnic area and volleyball courts on the day use side of the beach at the north end. A lagoon with pelicans and shore birds separates the day use area with the camping beach on the south side. And, there’s plenty of sand to kick back on.

Surfing is allowed at the north end of Doheny Beach. Surf fishing and swimming are other activity campers can enjoy here. There is also a bike trail which goes along San Juan Creek.

Things To Do On The Water

Love watersports? There are so many options in Dana Point California! Here are a few:

  • Take a wildlife cruise from the Ocean Institute.
    Also, the Ocean Institute Dana Point is a great place to bring the kids to learn about the marine environment.
  • Rent a personal watercraft.
    Try Capo Beach Watercraft Rentals at 949-661-1690 or the Dana Point Jet Ski and Kayak Center (also has the paddleboards) at 949-661-4947. The Embarcadero Marina has sailboats and electric Duffys for rent and also offers sailing lessons. Call 949-496-6177.
  • Charter a sailboat or yacht.
    Try Spirit Sailing Charters at 949-922-2759/949-378-2023, Captain Dave’s Safari at 949-488-2828, The Schooner Curlew at 949-496-5794, Dana Wharf Sportfishing at 949-496-5794, or Aventura Sailing Association at 949-493-9493.
  • Head for Catalina Island.
    The Catalina Express leaves 3 times a day on weekends and takes about an hour from Dana Point California to Avalon.
  • Take a harbor cruise.
  • Try Dana Wharf Sportfishing, Captain Dave’s Whale & Dolphin Safaris at 949-922-2759, or The Schooner Curlew (offers champagne sunset cruises) at 949-922-2759.
  • Go fishing.
    For more information on fishing or sportfishing, see the Marina page.
  • Take a whale watching cruise.

Ocean Institute Dana Point

Don’t miss the Ocean Institute Dana Point for a fun and educational experience at the beach. Learn about sea plants, fish and other sea animals in their natural environments.  Located at the west marina in Dana Point Harbor, it is an education center with aquariums, working marine labs and a full size replica of “The Pilgrim”, the ship Richard Henry Dana described in his book, “Two Years Before The Mast”. The public can actually go on the square-rigged ship to learn knot tying and sea chanteys.

The institute also offers wildlife cruises led by scientists to see whales, dolphins and sea lions. In addition, they give harbor cruises and even summer snorkeling cruises to Catalina.

Each September, the Institute hosts the annual Toshiba Tall Ships Festival, where the public can come explore real tall ships and exhibits. You can actually take a short cruise on one of these ships.

For three days, the festival includes living-history demos, sea chantey concerts, cannon battles, lots of kid activities and public tours. Also enjoy Polynesian dancing and cannon battles! Much of the festival is free, but for certain activities there is a pass you can buy to get in.

A tall ships parade is held at sunset on the first day, and it includes the Brig Pilgrim which is docked year-round at Dana Point Harbor. To find out more about the next festival, go to www.tallshipsfestival.com.

On the ocean side of the Institute, out on the point, people like to sit and watch the sun set, or watch the waves crash on the jetty.

The gift shop has various maritime and ocean themed gifts and decor.

The Institute is open to the general public on Saturdays and Sundays 10:00 to 3:00. During the week they have programs for school kids. You’ll find them at 24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive. For more info call 949-496-2274 or see them at www.ocean-institute.org.

Views And Blufftop Strolls

Dana Point Harbor is backed by some seriously steep bluffs. At the top are several spots with great views:

  • Heritage Park — This is a grassy park up on the bluff overlooking the harbor. There are benches to sit at and enjoy the view or you can walk the paths, which are also wheelchair accessible. The park covers 6 acres of grassy rolling hills with paths throughout. The ocean views are magnificent. Bring your binoculars and look for migrating whales during season. A steep stairway connects the park with Dana Point Harbor. The address of the park is 34400 Old Golden Lantern near Camino Capistrano. This park is also available for weddings. To reserve it, call 949-248-3530.
  • Lantern Bay Park — grassy park east of Heritage Park. Basketball, picnic areas and bbq grills, restrooms, path. Enter from Street of the Park Lantern or take stairs from Street of the Golden Lantern.
  • Ken Sampson Lookout — Lovely views of the harbor from benches. Find it on Street of the Blue Lantern near the Blue Lantern Inn. Nearby is the Blufftop Trail which goes along the cliffs between Street of the Amber Lantern Street of the Violet Lantern.
  • Hilltop Park — Find steep steps across from the Chart House on Street of the Green Lantern.
  • Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center — At end of the Street of the Green Lantern. There’s a small parking lot, or street parking. The center is open daily except Monday, and there is a posted map of the Dana Point Preserve Trail, which goes out around the natural preserve up on the Dana Point headlands. Ocean views galore.

Events In Dana Point California

The annual Festival of Whales is held over two weekends in March. It includes loads of fun activities for the whole family, from a parade with floats, a street faire, an outrigger canoe race, a Woodie exhibition, Nash Metropolitans, hot rods, a horseshoe tournament, guided family tidepool hikes, an art show, sailboat rides, clinics on stand-up paddleboards, live music, an outdoor movie, sand sculpting exhibit, kid fishing clinics, a regatta of junior sailors, a rubber ducky race, and a whole lot more! Free shuttles make it easier to get around.

The Dana Point California Wine Festival is held in April at Doheny State Beach.

The Doheny Blues Festival is held in late May.

The Dana Point Harbor Annual Boat Show is in June.

In July is the annual 4th of July Fireworks Extravaganza. Fireworks are shot off from a barge and can be seen from Doheny Beach, Dana Point Harbor and up on Heritage Park.

The Dana Point Toshiba Tall Ships Festival, which is the largest gathering of tall ships on the west coast, is held each September at the Ocean Institute.

In December is the annual Dana Point Boat Parade of Lights, which has been going for 35 years. It includes around 100 colorfully lit and decorated boats cruising throughout Dana Point Harbor.

Prizes are given to the best decorated boats. Some boaters really go all out to turn their boats into spectacles of light.

Around 1000 spectators come to Dana Point California each winter to watch the hour and a half long parade over two weekends. It starts at the East Marina near the Jolly Roger restaurant and heads over towards Baby Beach in the West Marina and circles back.

Getting There

To get to Dana Point California, take the I-5 south from Los Angeles or north from San Diego, get off on the Beach Cities Exit or CA-1. That’ll lead you to Pacific Coast Highway and Street of the Golden Lantern. Go left and follow the signs to the harbor and you’re there!

The nearest major airport to Dana Point California is 25 miles away at John Wayne airport in Santa Ana, which serves Orange County. Also, if you’re coming by train, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner stops in nearby San Juan Capistrano on its way between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. Additionally, Metrolink trains can be picked up in San Juan Capistrano on their way between Oceanside and Los Angeles Union Station.


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