Dana Point is a gorgeous city in Orange County, known as one of the best surfing areas in Southern California. The city is home to the lively Dana Point Harbor, one of Orange County's few public harbors, which provides access to nearby Catalina Island via the daily Catalina Express ferry service. Area visitors can embark on a wide variety of watersporting adventures from the harbor, including parasailing excursions and whale and dolphin watching charters. Acclaimed nature-focused educational experiences are offered at the Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center and the Ocean Institute, which operates programming aboard the 19th-century replica Pilgrim vessel. Annual special events include the city's Tall Ships Festival, held in September, and its Festival of Whales, which spans two weekends each March.
1.Salt Creek Beach
Salt Creek Beach is one of Orange County's loveliest beach parks, located in Dana Point adjacent to the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Laguna-Niguel hotel complex and the championship Monarch Beach Golf Links. The beach takes its name from the creek of the same name, which flows along its northern end. On its southern end, the Monarch Bay Beach Club offers exclusive members-only dining and drinks. Visitors come from all around Orange County to swim, surf, and bodyboard at this picturesque beach, which is also beloved as a family-friendly splashing and beachcombing spot for its many tide pools exposed at low tide. On land, visitors can spread out and enjoy ample space for playing in the sand and sunbathing along the beach's shores. Day-use picnic sites are offered at Salt Creek Beach Park, along with a number of beautiful walking trails.
11 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Dana Point, CA 92629, website
2.Dana Point Harbor
© Newport Coast Media/Fotolia.com
Dana Point Harbor is hailed as the "Whale Capital of the World" for its excellent vantage points for watching migrating gray and blue whales throughout the winter months. The lively harborfront is home to a plethora of specialty shopping and dining experiences, as well as the beautiful Baby Beach, which offers excellent swimming conditions and stunning cliffside panoramic views. Visitors can take to the harbor's waters in a number of ways, including private yacht and sailboat charters, sailing and diving lessons, parasailing trips, and a variety of watercraft rentals. The harbor also serves as the launching-off point for the famed Catalina Express, which travels regularly to nearby resort area Catalina Island. Special events hosted at the harbor throughout the year include a Festival of Whales, a Tall Ships Festival, and a Holiday Boat Parade.
34571 Golden Lantern Street, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-388-3663
3.The Ocean Institute
© The Ocean Institute
The Ocean Institute is one of Dana Point Harbor's most unique natural attractions, offering a variety of hands-on marine and nature experiences for visitors of all ages. The institute, which was founded in 1988, is located along 2.4 acres of beautiful beachfront within the harbor, which is home to tide pools and natural areas that are used in a wide variety of educational programming throughout the year. More than 100,000 children enjoy the institute's natural programming each year, including its annual children's summer day camp programming. Visitors can participate in state-of-the-art learning lab programs or explore the institute's two historic ships, including its full-sized Pilgrim replica. The Maddie James Seaside Learning Center is open to the public seven days a week, offering exhibits and information on the region's ecosystems and wildlife. Special events hosted by the institute throughout the year include the Festival of Whales and the Tall Ships Festival.
24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-496-2274
4.Dana Point Parasail
Dana Point Parasail is the premiere parasailing company of Dana Point, operating out of the Dana Point Harbor's Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching company building. The company, which has received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for its high-quality operations, is committed to providing all participants with safe, fun, memorable parasailing adventures along the beautiful Pacific Ocean coastline. Participants five years of age and older can enjoy spectacular views from more than 800 feet above the coastline, traveling single-passenger or in tandem flights. Trips last approximately one hour from boat launch to return, with all passengers enjoying approximately 10 minutes in the air aboard parasails. All passengers are required to wear lifejackets, making the experience safe, smooth, and worry-free. Digital photo packages are offered as add-ons to parasailing packages, providing up to 30 photos so participants can remember their experiences forever.
34675 Golden Lantern, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-877-9822
5.Doheny State Beach
Doheny State Beach is a lovely beachfront park located near picturesque San Juan Bay, owned and overseen as a state beach park by the State of California. The beachfront, which is accessible via Dana Point Harbor Drive and Park Lantern, is home to two separate public beach areas separated by the mouth of beautiful San Juan Creek. Visitors can enjoy excellent opportunities for swimming, beginner surfing, and stand-up paddleboarding at the beach, which receives gentle, low waves from the nearby bay. Tide pools are often exposed along the shoreline during low tide conditions, making the beach a great choice for families looking to splash around and observe native marine life. A visitor center at the beach showcases interpretive nature exhibits and an aquarium, while a large campground along its southern end provides opportunities for overnight tent and RV camping.
25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, CA 92629, website
6.Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center
Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center is a delightful public exhibit center in Dana Point, offering nature-focused exhibits developed by the City of Dana Point and the Dana Point Historical Society. The center, which is open to the public Tuesdays through Sundays during the afternoon hours, is home to lovely interactive exhibits showcasing the geology, ecology, and history of the spectacular Dana Point Headlands. Interpretive panels detail the region's changes and development throughout ancient and modern history, providing information on geological changes and native flora and fauna over the years. Recent restoration and conservation efforts are documented, elaborating on how area nature groups strive to keep the region's ecosystems preserved for future generations to enjoy.
34558 Scenic Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-248-3527
7.Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safaris
Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safaris offer a unique opportunity to view the dolphins and whales of Dana Point up close throughout the migratory season each year. Visitors can take to the seas aboard the company's 49-passenger Lily catamaran or intimate 12-passenger Fast Cat vessels and enjoy up close and personal experiences with orcas, blue whales, and gray whales at select times throughout the year. Year-round excursions are also offered for viewing wild dolphins, fin whales, Minke whales, and humpback whales, as well as native sea life such as sharks, sea lions, and endangered seabird species. All excursions are led by knowledgeable marine life naturalists, who offer information on animal species and their daily lives. All participants can also enjoy a special treat of the company's home-baked triple fudge brownies after returning to the Dana Point Harbor.
24440 Dana Point Harbor Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-518-0310
8.Stacks Pancake House
© Stacks Pancake House
Stacks Pancake House is a delicious breakfast joint offering two locations in Southern California, including a location in downtown Dana Point. The restaurant, which is overseen by married duo Mixon and Ovita Tanuwidjaja, blends the couple's Japanese and Hawaiian cultural traditions into unique fusion fare options, including the restaurant's signature banana macadamia nut pancakes served with coconut syrup. Other creative breakfast fare includes options like Japanese fried rice omelettes, Portuguese-style sausage and eggs, Oreo cookies and cream waffles, and traditional Hawaiian-style Loco Moco, which pairs diners' choice of chicken katsu, kalua pork, or spam with steamed rice, two eggs, and brown gravy. At lunch, diners can enjoy chicken teriyaki plates, kalua pork and cabbage platters, or signature house cheeseburgers with thousand island dressing and double portions of American cheese.
34255 Pacific Coast Hwy Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-429-2222
© Newport Coast Media/Fotolia.com
Baby Beach, officially known as Dana Point Harbor Beach, is the main beachfront area of lively Dana Point Harbor, one of the city's most popular recreational spots. The beach is a very popular recreational area for families throughout the warmer months, offering a protected swimming section for young and novice swimmers that is staffed by lifeguards during the summer at peak times. Visitors can enjoy excellent conditions for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and swimming throughout the year or can fish at the beach's public fishing pier, which is located adjacent to the historic Pilgrim ship replica. Boating opportunities are offered at the Dana Point Marina, which serves as the jumping-off point for a number of public walking trails. Above the beachfront, a blufftop public park area offers day-use picnic sites, barbecue grills, and group picnic pavilions.
24300 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, CA 92629, website
Pines Park is a charming public park in Dana Point, located atop a bluff directly overlooking Capistrano Beach Park. The lovely park is one of the city's most popular spots for families to play throughout the summer months, offering a shaded play structure with a climbing wall and tunnel slide for young children to play on. Four day-use picnic areas offer bench seating and barbecue grills, great for bringing picnics to enjoy with the entire family. Stunning ocean views are offered from a walking path in the park's wooded area, with sunset viewing benches offered for observing from the shoreline. On clear days, visitors can see all the way to nearby Dana Point Harbor from the park. Visitors should note that there are no public restrooms offered at the park and should plan trips with young ones accordingly.
34941 Camino Capistrano, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624, website, Phone: 949-248-3530
The Pilgrim is a replica of the historic 1825 ship of the same name, located on display outside of Dana Point Harbor's Ocean Institute. The ship, which made several significant voyages to Boston throughout its tenure in the mid-19th century, was immortalized in Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s classic American maritime novel Two Years Before the Mast. The replica housed at the harbor was constructed in 1945 and was converted to its present replica state in 1975 by marine architect Captain Ray Wallace. Today, it is utilized as part of the Ocean Institute's "Two Years Before the Mast" educational programming, which is presented to thousands of regional students throughout the school year each year. Area visitors can explore the ship as part of public open house events on Sundays, when docents dressed in period costume invite families aboard the ship to recount nautical lore and participate in sail-raising operations.
24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-496-2274
12.Monarch Beach Golf Links
Monarch Beach Golf Links has been named as one of the United States' best golf courses for couples by GOLF Magazine, noted for its gorgeous Pacific Ocean surf break views from all 18 of its holes. The one-of-a-kind course was designed by master golf architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and is noted for its challenging, unique par-70 layout. Visitors can play the award-winning golf course throughout the week and enjoy its rolling greens, tight fairways, and unique obstacles, which are sure to please novice and expert golfers of all ages. The course is modeled according to the traditional Scottish links style, spanning 6,600 yards in total. A top-ranked golf retail shop is offered for players, along with men's and women's locker rooms and a variety of practice facilities. After hitting the links, guests can dine at the Club 19 Restaurant and Grill, which serves up delicious American fare throughout the day.
Drive North, 50 Monarch Beach Resort N, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-248-3002
13.The Eco-Adventure Center at The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel
© ADMIRAL BENBOW/Fotolia.com
The Eco-Adventure Center at The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is one of the most unique attractions at the famed luxury hotel of the same name, offering a new perspective on Dana Point's natural wonders for participants of all ages. Resort guests and visitors can enjoy programming led by expert naturalists, exploring the region's unique ecosystems and turning the surrounding headlands area into a wondrous living laboratory. Programs include Whale of an Experience whale-watching excursions, SANDSational Sea Hikes, Beach Banzai Bodyboarding excursions, and a newly-introduced Eco Artist program, which lets participants create natural works of art supervised by experienced artists. Customized programming is offered for small groups, including school tour groups and organizations.
1 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-240-2000
14.Sea Canyon Park
Sea Canyon Park is a lovely public park in Dana Point, offering safe play opportunities for young visitors of all ages to enjoy throughout the year. The park features two children's playground areas, including a safe play area for younger children that features swings, climbing structures, and a miniature music center with bongos and other rhythm-based activities. Its older children's playground is safely enclosed, letting younger children wander around with their older siblings without fear of wandering off alone. A nearby multipurpose field at the park offers opportunities for pickup games, including soccer games. Day-use picnic tables can be used for birthday parties, group excursions, or dining together with the entire family throughout the day. A nearby dog park provides opportunities for four-legged friends to tag along with their families for the day, featuring safe fencing to allow dogs to roam freely.
33093 Santiago Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-248-3530
15.The Hide Drogher
© City of Dana Point
The Hide Drogher is a unique public art sculpture in Dana Point, located along the Blufftop Trail between its Violet and Amber Lantern areas. The life-sized sculpture was constructed in 1990 by regional artist F. Benedict Coleman, made from metal and standing approximately 10 feet tall. It depicts a New England sailor from the 19th century, known as a hide drogher, in the process of throwing a cowhide over a cliff into the nearby bay in order for a waiting ship to transport the goods back to Europe. The statue is depicted overlooking Dana Point Harbor in a position where a 19th-century sailor might have once stood carrying out a similar action.
16.Synaptic Cycles Bicycle Rentals
Synaptic Cycles Bicycle Rentals is Orange County's premiere road bike rental company, offering partial and full-day rentals of top bike brands such as Volagi, Focus, and Calfee. The company, which has been in business in the area for more than 25 years, prioritizes safety, comfort, and fun for all renters, outfitting them with bikes tailored to their personal skill level and excursion needs. Bikes can be delivered all throughout Southern California or picked up at the company's Dana Point location, depending on riders' needs. Bike rentals are offered for partial-day, single-day, and weeklong time frames, with longer rentals available with special arrangement. All road bikes are equipped with top-of-the-line safety features, including Ultegra and Dura Ace components, Compact 5o or 34T cranks, and 11/25 or 11/28 cassettes.
34145 Pacific Coast Highway #508, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-484-6409
17.Dana Point Farmers Market
Dana Point Farmers Market is the premiere farmers' market event of the Dana Point region, held each Saturday morning throughout the year between 8:00am and 1:00pm. The market takes place at the city's La Plaza Park, just north of Golden Lantern. Attendees can shop for excellent seasonal produce, meats, cheeses, and baked and pantry goods, offered by a variety of area producers and farmers. Goods sold throughout the year include fresh-baked bread and pastries, local honeys and dips, and freshly-cut flowers. Ared food vendors sell a variety of delicious prepared food and beverages throughout the year, while service vendors offer goods and consultations on a variety of topics.
34111 La Plaza, Dana Point, CA 92629, Phone: 951-271-0669
18.Lantern Bay Park
Lantern Bay Park is a quaint hilltop park offering stunning views of Dana Point Harbor and Doheny State Beach, open to the public daily throughout the daylight hours. The park is a favorite area spot for family barbecues and picnics, offering plenty of pine trees for shade even on the hottest days of the year. A children's playground provides safe play experiences for youngsters, while a grassy area offers space for relaxation and pick-up sporting and frisbee games. Other amenities include a bocce ball court, a basketball court, and a sunken amphitheater hosting special events throughout the year. Donation-based Yoga in the Park events are hosted at the park throughout the week during the morning hours.
25111 Park Lantern, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-248-3530
19.Capistrano Beach Park
Capistrano Beach Park is the main public access beach within Dana Point's lovely Capistrano Beach community, operated by Orange County as a public beach park. The beach is known as one of the area's best surfing spots throughout the year, offering excellent high wave break conditions during good weather times. Visitors can lounge and sunbathe at the beach's narrow sandy shoreline stretches, which are also popular areas for pick-up beach volleyball games throughout the year. Additional sporting courts are offered north of the beach's public visitor parking area, including sand volleyball and basketball courts. Visitors should note that only the stretch of beachfront below the mean high tide line is open to the public, though additional beachfront facilities are offered at peak times at adjacent Doheny State Beach.
35005 Beach Road, Dana Point, CA 92624, website
20.Veterans Memorial Park
© David Prahl/Fotolia.com
Veterans Memorial Park is a beautiful public park in Dana Point that honors the service of area members of all five branches of the United States armed services. The park, which was dedicated in 2010 in a ceremony overseen by Mayor Steven Weinberg and Colonel Willard A. Buhl, is connected to nearby Strands Vista Park and is open to the public each day of the year between sunrise and sunset. Each Veterans Day, the City of Dana Point and the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization rededicate the monument in honor of the service of American veterans. A lit concrete path meanders throughout the lovely park, which is dotted with benches for sitting and observing the nearby Pacific Ocean shoreline.
Pacific Coast Hwy & Selva Road, Dana Point, CA 92629, website
21.Heritage Park Dana Point
Heritage Park Dana Point is a beautiful blufftop park located directly overlooking Dana Point Harbor, adjacent to the spacious Lantern Bay Park. The park offers amazing views of the harbor and the nearby Pacific Ocean shoreline, with plenty of hillside space for stretching out with picnic blankets or rolling down the hillside with young ones. Parking is offered at both the harbor below the park or the street areas above the park. Visitors can access the park via a steep public staircase or an ADA-accessible winding sidewalk that meanders up the park's length. A dog park area offers space for four-legged friends to run and play throughout the year.
34400 Old Golden Lantern, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-248-3530
© Luciana's Ristorante
Luciana's Ristorante is an award-winning Dana Point restaurant housed within a restored historic home in the city's downtown district, serving up delicious Italian fare for more than three decades. The restaurant has been acclaimed by international publications such as Zagat as one of the nation's top Italian restaurants and has been awarded the prestigious Southern California Restaurant Writers Gold Medal each year since 1996 for its stellar cuisine offerings. Classic and innovative Italian fare is served up throughout the week, including entrees such as lasagna di melanzane, vitello alla parmigiana, scaloppine Genovese, and tagliata-style flat iron steaks. Diners can complement all meals with selections from the restaurant's impressive wine list, which has been awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
24312 Del Prado, Dana Point, CA 92629, website, Phone: 949-661-6500
Catalina Express is the best way to travel in style to the lovely resort locale of Catalina Island, which is home to the picturesque oceanfront towns of Avalon and Two Harbors. The passenger ferry service has been offering daily excursions since 1981, operating a full fleet of eight high-speed luxury vessels today. Up to 30 trips are offered per day during the ferry's peak season, embarking from Dana Point Harbor, Long Beach, and San Pedro. In all, more than one million passengers travel aboard the fleet each year, making it one of the region's most trusted methods of transportation. All trips last approximately one hour, showcasing the region's scenic Pacific coastline while traveling. For an additional fee, passengers can upgrade to luxury accommodations within several boats' Commodore and Captain's Lounges.
385 E. Swinford Street, Second Floor, San Pedro, CA 90731, website, Phone: 800-613-1212
23 Best Things to Do in Dana Point, CA
- Salt Creek Beach, Photo: steheap/Fotolia.com
- Dana Point Harbor, Photo: Newport Coast Media/Fotolia.com
- The Ocean Institute, Photo: The Ocean Institute
- Dana Point Parasail, Photo: Evgenia/Fotolia.com
- Doheny State Beach, Photo: leahpoquette/Fotolia.com
- Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center, Photo: steffstarr/Fotolia.com
- Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safaris, Photo: Michael/Fotolia.com
- Stacks Pancake House, Photo: Stacks Pancake House
- Baby Beach, Photo: Newport Coast Media/Fotolia.com
- Pines Park, Photo: Fotolia.com
- The Pilgrim, Photo: Don/Fotolia.com
- Monarch Beach Golf Links, Photo: Alexstar/Fotolia.com
- The Eco-Adventure Center at The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, Photo: ADMIRAL BENBOW/Fotolia.com
- Sea Canyon Park, Photo: MNStudio/Fotolia.com
- The Hide Drogher, Photo: City of Dana Point
- Synaptic Cycles Bicycle Rentals, Photo: Oleg/Fotolia.com
- Dana Point Farmers Market, Photo: Tupungato/Fotolia.com
- Lantern Bay Park, Photo: ant/Fotolia.com
- Capistrano Beach Park, Photo: steheap/Fotolia.com
- Veterans Memorial Park, Photo: David Prahl/Fotolia.com
- Heritage Park Dana Point, Photo: GCapture/Fotolia.com
- Luciana's Ristorante, Photo: Luciana's Ristorante
- Catalina Express, Photo: zvirni/Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: mandritoiu/Fotolia.com