Though Orange County is home to a seemingly endless list of attractions, landmarks, theme parks, shopping, and more, sometimes a break from the noise and concrete jungle is a necessary breath of fresh air. Situated in southern Orange County, past all the hustle and bustle of cities like Irvine and Costa Mesa, is Dana Point. Offering laid-back and easy going beach town vibes, this unique city has plenty to offer, while still maintaining a calm and relaxing energy. Learn about marine life, or find the perfect surfing spot, in beautiful Dana Point!
Where is Dana Point?
Dana Point is located roughly 25 miles south from the John Wayne Airport in southern Orange County. Right between Laguna Beach and San Clemente, Dana Point is home to one of the few harbors along the Orange County coast and some of the best destination spots for surfing.
What is Dana Point Known For?
Dana Point is Southern California’s original surf town and offers a laid-back surf culture, classic of a small beach town, as well as one of the best beaches in Orange County. However, Dana Point’s surfing history and sandy shore aren’t all that it’s known for. Dana Point is also known as the dolphin and whale watching capital of the world! In fact, Dana Point holds an annual Festival of Whales during the Gray Whale migration in the spring. While there are peak times during the year to see whales migrate, whale watching tours occur year-round.
5 Things to Do in Dana Point
1. Whale Watching
Why not start with what Dana Point is known for? Dana Point offers some of the best whale watching around! Two of the top whale watching tours in Dana Point are through Captain Dave’s and Dana Wharf. While it’s highly unlikely you won’t see anything on your tour, Captain Dave’s offers a guarantee that if you don’t see any dolphins or whales, you can return within a year of your excursion for a free trip! However, again, it’s highly unlikely you’ll come back to shore without seeing any whales or dolphins. While both of these crews boast whale sightings year-round, one of the main times to go during the year is during the Gray Whale migration. This generally happens between November and April, but in March, Dana Point holds the Festival of Whales celebration. So not only can you go out and see the Gray whales migrating, but you can join in the festivities! Don’t forget to check out the trip logs to get a feel of what types of marine life have been spotted before you go!
2. Deep Sea Fishing
If watching marine life doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as catching fish straight from the ocean, you’re in luck. Many of the places that offer whale watching also have deep sea fishing excursions. Dana Wharf and Dana Point Sportfishing are the top deep sea fishing charters in Dana Point to check out. Unlike whale watching, deep sea fishing tours offer a variety of trips to choose from. For a shorter excursion, you can choose the half day or twilight trip. If you’re more adventurous, there are ¾ day, all day, and overnight fishing trips. You can also follow their websites to see what types of fish you’ll generally see each month and what they’re daily fishing counts are.
3. Explore The Beaches
Dana Point doesn’t just offer one main beach to visit. It houses multiple beaches to check out for surfing, relaxing, and soaking up the sun and salty air. Starting in the northern part of Dana Point is Salt Creek Beach. It’s a steep walk to the parking lot, but other than that, it’s a beautifully picturesque beach popular for surfing and many tide pools at low tide. It’s also plenty wide, so you’re sure to find a comfortable spot to lay out. Moving down the coast, Strand Beach is another popular surfing beach, which butts up against the Dana POint Headlands Conservation Area and Nature Interpretive Center. This area offers beautiful nature trails, amazing views, and is home to over 150 species of plants and animals. You can also visit the Dana Point Caves from here – an easy hike to the famous pirate sea caves, only accessible at low tide. Lastly, there is Doheny State Beach just south of there, which offers camping, a 3-5 mile loop along the coast, and, of course, more prime surfing. With plenty of beaches and parks along the coast, you’ll have endless beautiful views to explore!
4. Ocean Institute and The Pilgrim
The Ocean Institute offers a hands-on experience to learn about marine life and nature to visitors of all ages. Located on the 2.4 acres of beachfront, the Ocean Institute has state-of-the-art teaching labs, a seaside learning center, 2 historic ships, and a research vessel to learn all about California’s maritime history and the local marine environment.
The Ocean Institute is also home to The Pilgrim – a full-sized replica of one of the historic merchantman brigs. When you think of historic tall ships with many, billowing sails, this is it! Most Sundays, The Pilgrim has an open house for the public to come aboard and learn all about the unique nautical heritage, sea lore, and even a hands-on experience in raising the sails. You can also catch her in action during her annual goodwill sail along the coast!
5. Dana Point Farmers Market
Enjoy fresh produce for local farms! Located at La Plaza Park near the clock tower, the Dana Point Farmers Market is held every Saturday morning throughout the year from 9am-1pm. You can find quality seasonal fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, baked goods, as well as honey, dips, and fresh flowers. You’ll certainly be able to find an amazing assortment of food, beverages, and homegrown products from a variety of local vendors! Plus, every 2nd Saturday of the month, local arts and crafts vendors join the market scene, so you can shop local, handmade treasures while you shop for tasty treats.