Renowned as the “whale watching capital of the world” Dana Point, California is one of the most low-key and unpretentious of Southern California beach towns, and one that’s often overlooked. But it shouldn’t be. For San Diego residents, it’s only an hour-plus road trip to this sun-drenched Southern California treasure. There are so many things to do in Dana Point, you can easily fill a few weekend getaways in this beautiful SoCal town.
Mix one part water, one part sand, one part sun-soaked coastal charm, and you’ve captured the recipe for one of California’s most appealing seaside destinations. Dana Point, located in Orange County is beloved for its relaxed, embracing spirit and boundless ways to play. It has a vibe like no other coastal California town we’ve visited. It’s really that special. And who doesn’t love a town whose main streets are uniquely called “Golden Lantern, Blue Lantern, Violet Lantern” and more?
No matter how many times we’ve come, we’re always surprised at yet another “secret gem” we manage to discover. Here are just some of the ways you can tap into the magic of Dana Point.
Stay at Monarch Beach Resort
Dana Point’s accommodation choices range from perched seaside tents, throwback hotels, and charming inns to vacation rentals and luxury resorts. So, everyone can find something that fits their lifestyle and budget.
If you’re really looking to treat yourself (or the person you love), you’ll be delighted with a stay at the Monarch Beach Resort. Perched on 172 picturesque acres overlooking the azure waters of the Pacific, Monarch Beach Resort is aptly named for its butterfly-shaped bay. It exudes a classy casual elegance with a relaxed coastal ambiance. From the moment of arrival to the time of departure, guests are treated like royalty.
Accommodations here range from richly-appointed seaside guest rooms to suites with private balconies overlooking golf courses fronting the Pacific. Service here is impressive and impeccable. And our favorite things to do? Relaxing in the impressive infinity pool, hot tubs, or chilling in Adirondack chairs on secluded Monarch Beach. Go treat yourself to an unforgettable stay. Check rates at the Monarch Beach Resort here>>
Hit the Beach and Catch a Wave
Monarch is just one of Dana Point’s fabulous beaches. As a matter of fact, this coastal town’s 6.5 miles of beachfront are some of Southern California’s and the United States’ most beautiful.
Salt Creek Beach is a popular and favorite of local surfers. Doheny State Beach is one of the Beach Boys’ highlighted stretches of surf and sand featured in their hit song “Surfin’ USA,” and aptly known for its impressive surf.
We love Dana Strands Beach for its quiet more remote location and well-maintained paved walkway making it easy to access the beach. Baby Beach, also known as Dana Point Harbor Beach sports calm waters, picnic tables, and BBQ areas with gorgeous views of the harbor and nearby cliffs. Many four-season events are held at this premier location.
Also, check out this fun Pirate Sea Cave Tide Pool Walk at Dana Point and explore the beautiful Dana Point coastline.
Head Out for Some Whale Watching
Dana Point is the dolphin and whale-watching capital of the world. Which makes it the best location in Southern California to get up-close-and-personal with these massive sea mammals and diverse marine life. Dana Point is a designated Whale Heritage Site as established by the World Cetacean Alliance. It’s a fantastic location for a unique whale-watching safari, and one of our favorite SoCal points for exploration.
Departing from Dana Point Harbor, the only natural harbor in Southern California, boats head out to the open ocean in search of marine life.
Whale watching tours offer several different types and sizes of boats, from sail to power vessels. You can join public dolphin and whale watching tours daily, and custom private charters are available for those who prefer a more one-on-one experience. Read our full guide on Whale Watching in Dana Point here>>
Here are some of the most popular Whale Watching Cruises in Dana Point:
- Whale Watching Excursion in Dana Point
- Dana Point Whale Watching and Dolphin Watching Eco-Safari
- High Speed Zodiac Whale Watching Safari from Dana Point
- Family and Private Group Whale and Dolphin Watching
Take a Dana Point Harbor Cruise
Dana Point Harbor is so picturesque, you just have to get out on the water to experience all the beauty of this coastal delight. The harbor with its winding rows of moored vessels is so picturesque, especially at sunset, the golden hour of the day.
As a result, harbor cruises here are immensely popular and there are many types to choose from. We love the special event cruises held throughout the year, themed cruises like the OC Wine Cruises and Champagne Sunset, or its Live Music Event sails. Check for deals on Dana Point Harbor Cruises here>>
Attend a Seasonal Boat Event on the Harbor
Add in the celebration of amazing holiday events like Happy Harbor Days and the Annual Fiesta Boat Parade of Lights, and the 700,000 twinkling light displays all throughout the harbor and it makes for a magical evening you’ll never forget.
It’s so nice to be able to get out again and celebrate the holidays in person and Dana Point does a fantastic job of setting the festive mood. Read our full article on Holidays at the Harbor in Dana Point here>>
Explore Active Water Adventures
Come on in, the water’s fine! That is for enjoying active coastal water sports. And Dana Point Harbor certainly has a lot of options. Into stand-up paddle-boarding? Yep, you can do it here. Kayaking? You can do that too. And we absolutely love the calm, crystalline waters of the bay.
For those into a more thrilling adventure, you can take to the sky with Dana Point Parasailing. If you’ve never parasailed, I highly recommend it. It’s easy, requires no prior skill whatsoever, and it’s extremely exhilarating soaring high above the azure waters of Doheny State Beach.
Explore Maritime History at the Ocean Institute
One of the few sheltered harbors along the Orange County coast, Dana Point Harbor is homeport to a replica of Richard Dana’s historic ship, The Pilgrim, that once sailed into the area from Boston. Now designated a California Historic Landmark, the brig serves as a living nautical classroom of the Ocean Institute.
The Ocean Institute occupies one of the most amazing scenic spots in the Dana Point harbor. It offers visitors a place to explore and get immersed in the ocean’s underwater world with its in-depth marine science and maritime history. Each time we visit Dana Point, we have to stop at this stunning harbor destination.
Wine Tasting on the Harbor
What a phenomenal wine tasting experience we had at Frisby Cellars. Located in Dana Point Harbor, the multi-award-winning craft winery produces impressive lots from Paso Robles-sourced grapes. And the setting is incredibly warm and welcoming.
Visitors can choose from a list of wines varying from sparkling whites, delightful Chardonnay and Viognier, and more to impressive reds like Pinot Noir, Syrah, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. These are all so delightful, you’ll find it difficult to choose your favorites. I will add that my husband and I and our friends, all wine lovers, were very impressed with Frisby Cellars’ spectacular vintages.
Our wine expert, Bella was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the winery, the wines themselves, and even suggestions on pairing them with food.
The next time you’re in the harbor, make it a point to visit Frisby Cellars. You’ll be so glad you did!
Discover Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center
Located on the Dana Point Headlands and overlooking the harbor, Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center is a wonderful educational venue that celebrates the local treasures of the area’s land and sea. New and rotating exhibits share interesting historical and fascinating information about the area.
What we love most about the center are the hiking paths leading to a natural habitat and the opportunity to explore the local flora and fauna of the headlands. Enjoy the outdoors in such an amazingly picturesque southern California coastal wilderness surrounded by over 200 different native plants and animals is refreshing.
Yoga in the Park
Address: 25111 Park Lantern, Dana Point, CA 92629
For a relatively small town, Dana Point has some impressively beautiful parks with stunning views to boot.
One of the most popular and longest-running yoga classes takes place high on a hill overlooking Dana Point at Lantern Bay Park. I Heart Yoga sponsors yoga events each morning at 8:30 and 10:00 am and again at sunset.
Pines Park offers beautiful coastal vistas as well as playgrounds and grassy areas. The Park also sports picnic tables and barbeques scattered throughout the park, many shaded by pine trees. It’s a wonderful place for an afternoon picnic.
Dining in Dana Point
Yes, Dana Point is definitely a laid-back beach and harbor town. But dining here is not just charming local surf shacks. There are fine dining establishments too, and everything in between. Bottom line, there are a whole lot of venue options available.
Choosing where to dine will depend mostly on your favorite types of cuisine along and whether you prefer a more organic farm-to-table eatery or desired dining views. Restaurants here feature fresh seafood along with a never-ending list of internationally-inspired dishes.
Visitors can dine on the harbor, in town, or even on cliffside perches with dramatic views overlooking the picturesque harbor.
Read our full review on Dana Point Harbor restaurants here>>
Cruise to Catalina Island
Another Southern California gem is Santa Catalina Island, located just 43 miles off Dana Point.
This remote island paradise covers just 76 square miles and is accessible only by boat, plane or helicopter. Our favorite way of getting there is boarding a Catalina Express catamaran out of Dana Point Harbor.
It’s just a one-hour journey to this amazing escape. A surprising 88 percent of Catalina remains uninhabited, set aside as a nature conservancy to protect its rugged coastline, hidden coves, unspoiled beaches, rare plants, endangered species and threatened habitats.
Whether you travel to Catalina Island for a day or a weekend getaway, it’s an unforgettable experience and worth the trip! Check out all the fun things to do in Catalina here>>
I couldn’t resist taking home a wooden sign from one of Dana Point’s coastal boutique shops with the phrase “Life’s better at the beach.”
It’s simply put and utterly true, and it’s even better in a lovely beach town like Dana Point. There’s a whole lotta cool going on here, and you’ll want to get in on all the fun.
Of note: Common to the travel industry, the destination hosted some of the activities mentioned in this post. However, this does not influence my review.
12 Best Things to do in Dana Point, California – Pin for Later:
Last Updated on December 14, 2021 by sandiegoexplorer