Rugged bluffs, golden coastlines, Southern California's laid-back vibe—they all come together at Dana Point, a town nestled on the Orange County coast just south of Laguna Beach. Dana Point was named for American lawyer and writer Richard Henry Dana Jr., who referred to the area as "the only romantic spot on the coast" in his famous memoir Two Years Before the Mast. Ocean lovers come for surfing, fishing, and boating at the city's beautiful beaches, and a high concentration of whales in the cerulean Pacific waters creates some of the best whale-watching conditions to be found anywhere in the world. Whether you're visiting for the weekend or taking a day trip from Los Angeles, prepare to be enchanted by the outdoor recreation possibilities and small-town charm that Dana Point offers.
Dana Point features one of the few harbors on the Orange County coast, and the city spreads outward from its central waterfront. Travel in either direction along the coastline and you stumble upon a wealth of beaches and parks, proving that life in Dana Point centers around the ocean.
Home to shops, restaurants, and a bustling marina, Dana Point Harbor is the place to begin discovering the city. Boat tours depart from the harbor, and the education-focused Ocean Institute occupies its western end.
Wide and sandy, Salt Creek Beach Park fits the image that probably comes to mind when you picture a classic Southern California beach. Spread out a picnic blanket on the grassy Bluff Park before heading down to the shore for beach volleyball and swimming.
Locals come to camp, barbecue, and surf at Doheny State Beach, which sprawls across a mile (1.6 km) of coastline. At low tide, explore the tide pools for a fascinating glimpse into native marine life.
Located just south of Doheny State Beach, Capistrano Beach is home to some of Orange County's finest real estate. In between scoping out the multimillion-dollar homes, take advantage of cycling, basketball, and other beach activities.
Dana Point's sights offer you the opportunity to connect with nature, both on land and sea. Marvel at the ocean views at the Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center, where you can explore trails on the Dana Point Headlands and delve into the area's ecological history. Then, make your way down to Dana Point Harbor and board a whale-watching boat for an action-packed cruise through the Pacific waters. Dana Point has been nicknamed the Whale Capital of the West for its year-round cetacean visitors, which include gray whales in the winter and blue whales in the summer. Afterward, continue your marine education at the Ocean Institute, home to tide pools, ocean-themed learning centers, and a full-size replica of the Pilgrim ship that brought Richard Henry Dana Jr. to the city's shores.
In such a spectacular Pacific Coast locale, it's no surprise that the activities in Dana Point revolve around the great outdoors. Seek out watersports with surfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding rentals at the city's pristine beaches, which range from expansive stretches of sand perfect for spreading out your towel to cliff-hugged coves with legendary surf breaks. Looking to venture out a little further out into the ocean? In addition to whale-watching cruises, local tour operators offer sailing trips and chartered fishing tours so you can find your perfect adventure. Grab your clubs for an unforgettable golf game at Monarch Beach Golf Links, which perches on Dana Point's dramatic bluffs with sweeping views of the blue Pacific. If you're seeking the local experience, mosey over to La Plaza Park on Saturday morning to peruse the tantalizing produce and crafts at the Dana Point Farmers Market. The city is also home to 36 different parks and miles worth of trails to explore, offering ample opportunities for hiking, jogging, and cycling.