Dana Point, a quaint beach town in southern Orange County, California, is known for its unique harbor along the Orange County coast, accessible via the scenic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
Historical Insight: Dana Point was named after Richard Henry Dana Jr., author of 'Two Years Before the Mast', who described it as "the only romantic spot on the coast".
The city is a haven for surfers, watersports enthusiasts, kayakers, swimmers, hikers, and whale watchers. The Dana Point harbor bustles with specialty shops, dining experiences, and serves as a starting point for various seafaring adventures.
Baby Beach in the harbor is known for its calm waters, making it ideal for small children. Parents can relax and enjoy the stunning cliffside panoramic views while their kids play in the sand and water.
Visitors can explore the harbor's waters in numerous ways, including private yacht and sailboat charters, sailing and diving lessons, parasailing trips, kayaks, Jetskiis, and watercraft rentals.
The renowned Catalina Express begins its regular service to the nearby resort area of Catalina Island from Dana Point harbor.
Throughout the year, the harbor hosts special events such as the Festival of Whales, a Tall Ships Festival, and a Holiday Boat Parade.
The harbor is also home to the Ocean Institute, an educational organization offering ocean science and maritime history programs for K–12 students and their teachers. Open to the public, it operates ocean discovery cruises.
The rolling hills of Dana Point, with multimillion-dollar homes and hiking trails, rise near the harbor, offering a picturesque landscape.
Dana Point Headlands
The headlands, giving the city its name, are a prominent hill jutting into the ocean. They offer amazing views of the harbor and beaches below and are now a protected preserve with a nature interpretive center and hiking trails.
The Center is small but informative, with historical, cultural, and natural history exhibits. It's recommended to visit the restrooms at the Center as there are no facilities along the trails.
The Interpretive Center is FREE and was open to the public between 10 am and 4 pm (every day except Monday).
The main trail starts from the Center and winds through the headlands, with several viewpoints along the way. The trail is marked clearly with wire cable and warning signs about the protected area. Stay on the trail until it exits through an iron gate into a residential area.
The trail doesn't end at that gate. Continue down Dana Strands Rd, and after passing the houses, look for the trail to pick up to the left. It then winds down a hill and into Strands Beach. You can turn back at that point or keep going and connect to the trail along Salt Creek Beach.
While walking through the headlands, take advantage of one of the viewpoints to try and spot whales and dolphins.
The only restaurant on the headlands, Charter House, overlooks the harbor and offers excellent views of the ocean and a delicious meal.
The Ocean Institute
The Ocean Institute is an ocean education organization offering ocean science and maritime history programs for K–12 students and their teachers. It hosts many exhibits, aquariums, and hands-on exploration areas for kids of all ages to learn about marine life and the environment.
The highlight for many visitors is a cruise on the R/V Sea Explorer, a 70-foot marine science research vessel, to visit dolphins and whales in their natural habitat. The exploration cruise is complemented by educational talks from knowledgeable staff like Captain Mike, a biologist with extensive experience in marine life.
Salt Creek Beach
Salt Creek Park, located about 40 minutes from Anaheim in Dana Point, is unique for several reasons: It is a long stretch of beaches (around 18 acres); it borders the luxury Ritz Carlton resort; it features a beautifully landscaped hill overlooking the beach with picnic areas; it has a very good food stand, and it has an easy hiking trail.
Enjoy this beach in any season. During colder days, take your breakfast or lunch with you, find a picnic area on the grass or at one of the marble tables, and enjoy your meal with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and surfers. After your meal, take a leisurely hike on the sand or on the paved trail.
Doheny State Beach
Doheny State Beach, protected in the state park system of California, is located in Dana Point. The beach is at the mouth of San Juan Creek, which flows from the Santa Ana Mountains southwest to the beach, forming a fresh-water lagoon.
The beach covers an area of 62 acres (25 ha) and includes a day-use surfing beach at the northern end, as well as campgrounds in its southern area. It features tide pools and a visitor center with several aquariums.
Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale-Watching Safaris
The waters of Southern California are teeming with dolphins and whales year-round, but springtime is particularly special. The weather is beautiful, and there's the added bonus of spotting migrating whales heading north to Alaska.
For a sea adventure, Captain Dave’s Dolphin Safari in Dana Point offers a unique experience. Captain Dave operates a smaller catamaran from Dana Point Harbor with a net bottom up front and two glass underwater observation pods.
The Catalina Express ferries operate from several Southern California locations, including Dana Point harbor. They offer fast, regular trips to Avalon and Two Harbors on Catalina Island.