Dana Point is a convenient stop between San Diego and Los Angeles. This coastal SoCal destination offers outdoor activities, and impressive culinary and shopping scenes, making it an ideal place to soak up the sand, sun and surf.
Dana Point was named after Richard Henry Dana, Jr. who was a lawyer, politician, abolitionist, and sailor. He also penned “The Seaman’s Friend”, a book which became the standard reference on the legal rights and responsibilities of sailors. Dana Point was originally a key port for ships involved in the hide trade coming from nearby San Juan Capistrano, a business which reached its peak in the 1830s and 1840s.
Dana Point’s historic core pays homage to its maritime roots. The downtown area is known as Lantern Village, where the streets are named after different colored lanterns. From Street of the Violet Lantern, to Blue Lantern, to Golden Lantern – where the harbor is located – each of these roadways is named after the lanterns used by ships hundreds of years ago to advertise their fares upon arrival in the Dana Point natural harbor.
The main shopping and dining districts of Dana Point are walkable and easy to explore on foot, pairing well with Dana Point’s mild climate. Temperatures average around the 70s (20s in Celsius) and include plenty of sunshine. In fact, temperatures rarely exceed 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26°C) or drop lower than 65°F (18°C).
Things to Do
Embark on a whale watching excursion at Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari (24440 Dana Point Harbor Drive), which is owned and operated by a husband and wife team. Captain Dave Anderson is coast guard-licensed, and his wife Gisele (“Mrs. Captain Dave”) is well known for her tasty brownies. For more than two decades, this duo has taken people out to explore the company of whales, dolphins, seals, and other marine life. Since Dana Point is branded the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World and a Whale Heritage Site, it’s a must-do activity to experience during the right season (blue whale season is May to November). Don’t forget to dress in layers and bring an extra coat as it can get unexpectedly cold and windy out on the water.
Those who are interested in getting out of the harbor in a different way can rent kayaks and SUPs with Pure Watersports (34671 Puerto Rico Place). There are also jet skis, spearfishing equipment, hobie stand-up paddleboards and INT surfboards available for hourly or daily rental. Renters can either take the equipment to a favorite beach and launch it themselves or pay a $5 fee for the Pure Watersports team to deliver the equipment to Doheny State Beach for them.
Launch onto the open ocean on a sailing excursion with Aventura Sailing (24707 Dana Drive). Since 1976, Aventura Sailing has offered the chance to explore the ocean on a skippered charter with sailing instruction included. Climb aboard a selection of sailboats ranging from 27 to 48 feet for a Pacific Ocean excursion or sailing lesson, or act as the skipper with the freedom to travel anywhere along the coast.
Where to Stay
For a cozy bed and breakfast experience, check into the Blue Lantern Inn (34343 Street of the Blue Lantern). This property sits up on the hill overlooking Baby Beach and Dana Point Harbor. The inn was built with careful attention to detail in 1990 by founder, Shelley Post. It features a New England style ambience, and guests can enjoy ocean views from nearly every room in the building. In the evening, the property’s signature wine and cheese mini-picnic is a neat indulgence to try at sunset, with a side of freshly baked cookies. In the morning, Blue Lantern Inn’s complimentary breakfast for two is delivered to the room.
Nestled on 175 lush acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean, The Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club (1 Monarch Beach Resort N.) features a private beach club, oceanfront golf, award-winning Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak restaurant and a Drybar hair salon all on resort grounds. The property features 76 specialized suites, including large, two-bedroom premium suites with sweeping ocean views. It can be either a family-friendly getaway or a romantic rendezvous.
The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel (1 Ritz Carlton Dr) is perched atop a seaside bluff with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean along miles of sandy beach. All 396 guest rooms are adorned with contemporary furnishings, luxe amenities and decor that reflects the beachside atmosphere of the property’s adjacent sand and sea. Those who want to recreate the endless summer feeling SoCal is known for can make their own s’mores on one of the outdoor fireplaces in the ground floor suites.
Restaurants and Cafes
For a casual but elegant happy hour with light bites and well-crafted cocktails, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel (1 Ritz Carlton Dr) is an ideal choice. This restaurant overlooks Dana Point’s Salt Creek Beach and diners can watch the surfers catch the waves. There’s lounge-like setting with high-top tables, as well as comfortable sofas. The menu offerings include a variety of tasty small plates, sweet treats, and a craft cocktail selection created by the property’s mixologists.
Harbor Grill (34499 Golden Lantern Street) specializes in fresh, regional seafood cuisine, fine steaks and fresh oysters, and is located in the heart of the beautiful Dana Point Marina. It’s an upscale setting where diners can enjoy a meal either in the restaurant’s cozy interior dining room, or outside on the Colorado garden terrace with views of harbor sails swaying in the wind. The restaurant features an impressive wine list and cocktail menu, creating a refined but enjoyable dining experience.
Harpoon Henry’s (34555 Golden Lantern) has been a Dana Point staple for over 44 years. This seafood restaurant is located at the Dana Point Harbor, and has stood the test of time. It’s a casual, harbor-side restaurant that offers a lively ambiance and friendly service with fresh seafood cuisine and views of the dozens of boats docked in the harbor. Visitors can try a taste of local favorites, including the wide variety of fish tacos and you can pair your meal with an ice-cold beverage such as a Mai Tai, Martini or refreshing margarita.
Events and Festivals
The Dana Point Festival of Whales (March) is beloved, annual festival that pays tribute to the annual migration of California gray whales past Dana Point. The festival typically includes activities and events for all ages, such as whale watching excursions, kids fishing clinics, the Dana Point Fine Arts Association Show, virtual tours and marine mammal lectures.
The Orange County California Wine Festival (August) takes place annually in late August, offering visitors the opportunity to attend multiple events that pay tribute to and explore the state’s impressive wine varieties. The Sunset Rare & Reserve Tasting will take place on Friday, August 27 in 2021 at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott, and the Beachside Wine Festival on August 28, 2021 will take place at Lantern Bay Park in Dana Point.
The Ohana Music Festival (September) held on Dana Point’s Doheny State Beach typically takes place each year in September. Over the course of three days, this beachside music festival has a diverse lineup of music artists from a variety of genres for visitors to enjoy under the California sunshine. Festival attendees can roam throughout the grassy area of Doheny State Beach, or explore the sands on the beach that line this Pacific Ocean destination.