Discover + Explore Dana Point
OC’s Authentic Beach Town is Getting a Facelift
By Nicole Lindstrom
Richard Henry Dana Jr. called Dana Point, "the most romantic spot in California," it's a hidden gem. From Doheny State Beach to Dana Point Harbor along the cliffs of The Headlands and its stunning views, this beach town is full of treasures missed by the pirates of old and adored by surfers of today.
Dana Point’s true colors are best shown on a warm summer day. It’s pink sunsets, salty sea breeze, and the town's traditions make it a must go see and do on your summer bucket list. Here are some adventures that I highly recommend:
Music in Dana Point
Long before the school bells ring that school is out for summer, Dana Point and its parks start rocking festival season in the spring. (www.ohanafest.com )
One of the best ways to enjoy live music is via the City of Dana Point's concerts in the park, which are held on Sunday's at Sea Terrace Park. (www.danapoint.org) There's also OC Parks annual August concert at Bluff Park at Salt Creek with Orange County’s very own LIT performing at the beach on August 29th. Want to experience a boat ride and music? Dana Wharf’s boat “The Dana Pride” rocks an amazing harbor cruise every Saturday night starting in June from 8-9:30 p.m. with Classic Rock, Reggae, and Yacht Rock bands from Orange County. (www.danawharf.com/dana-pride)
Enjoy a cocktail, music, and a sunset coasting along the shores of Dana Point Harbor. If you are a local and you don’t want to drive home, there are several options to stay in Dana Point and turn your night of music into a staycation. For a bit more than the cost of Uber, you can enjoy a beautiful Harbor View and a short walk from the concert action with a stay at Dana Point Marina Inn. (www.danapointmarinainn.com ) Pet-friendly, free guest parking, and an easy walk to restaurants and shops make for a great stay.
The Dana Point Trolley
The City of Dana Point offers a free trolley system that starts Friday, May 24th and runs until Labor Day. (www.dptrolley.com) Their app provides real-time locations and wait times via Dana Point Trolley for Android or iPhone users. Some of my favorite adventures with my kids include the trolley. One way we enjoy the trolley is by hiking and ending with lunch in the harbor. We start by parking at the Nature Interpretive Center and walk The Dana Point Conservation Area down to Strands Beach. This hike is relatively simple, but the view is the perfect photo opp where you can see all the way to Long Beach and down to Cotton’s Point in San Clemente. It’s an entirely unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean.
We love taking our time listening to seals and depending on the time of the year, you can see whales. Once outside of the Headland’s area, it’s a short walk to the stairs leading to Strands Beach where we walk alongside of the beach admiring the gorgeous homes. At the end of the walkway, we head up the hill to ride the Funicular to the top and catch a ride on the Trolley at Selva Road and PCH down to the Harbor where we grab lunch at Jimmy’s Famous Tavern. After lunch, we take the much-welcomed trolley ride back to our car. It’s almost a full day adventure. Another fun date night idea is to Uber down to Dana Point and ride the trolley north on PCH to the Lantern District. Here are some spots to try:
Craft House- Chef Blake was born and raised in South Orange County. His menu reflects the local spirit of Dana Point with his seasonal dishes and desserts. They offer lovely craft cocktails and beer along with a bountiful wine list. Cozy up to the bar for social hour, weekday specials and an impressive Sunday Brunch. Cocktail musts: The Sangria, Farmer’s Market Margarita, and The Florist. (www.eatatcrafthouse.com)
Coastal Kitchen- Walk through their breezy doors, and you will wish that you could transport the décor to your home. Designed locally by Tuvalu, their nautical themed restaurant is light and bright. Their service is wonderfully paired with their menu along with their beautifully crafted drinks. The desserts are divine! Must sample all three: Smore’s Pie, Key Lime Pie, and the Hot Fudge Sundae. (www.coastalkitchendanapoint.com)
Killer Dana- Established in 1991 this store named after the big surf break that broke at Dana Point Cove that was famous before the harbor was developed (my stepfather still talks about those days) is family owned and operated by second and third generations of employees. Come in and check out their wide away of boards shorts, swimsuits, and surfboards in their Boardroom. (www.kdsurfshop.com)
Hobie- Hobie Alter the surfing legend, opened his first shop here in Dana Point in 1954. His Surfboard Factory is part of the thread of Dana Point’s Surfing History. Dana Point recently has memorialized him with a statue at PCH and Dana Point Harbor Drive. Hobie is full of all things surf and sand. Grab one of their logo backpack beach chairs and a surf brush. You set for summer at the beach. (www.hobiesurfshop.com)
Hennessey’s- Outdoor patio, chill atmosphere, and pub-like restaurant makes for a must stop. Their offer a great breakfast, happy hour, and live music. Stop for a round of drinks with friends by the fire. (www.hennesseystavern.com)
Dana Point Harbor
A summer day in Dana Point is not complete without having spent a day in Dana Point Harbor. Pack up your beach chair and umbrella and grab sandwiches at Tudor and Spunky’s. Picnic at the beach with a Teresa’s Special or the founder Tom Blake’s special sandwich called USC Forever (Bologna and Cheese) a nod to UCLA. Take Cove Road down to Baby Beach where you can spend the day here Paddleboarding (rentals available at Westwind Sailing), building sand castles, Fishing, and enjoying the sails. No waves make for an easy day to picnic on the beach. If you haven’t had the treat of witnessing fireworks at the beach Dana Point Harbor puts on a wonderfully patriotic fireworks extravaganza from a barge offshore on July Dana Point is known as the Whale Capital of the West. Take a day trip out on the pristine waters outside of the harbor and enjoy your chance of seeing various species of Whales throughout the year. Charters and cruises are available for whale excursions. Though Whale is season migration is on it’s high in the winter and early spring with Gray and Blue Whales (Dana Point celebrates this with The Festival of Whales), you will still be able to see different Marine Mammals out on the waters of Dana Point. (www.danawharf.com or www.dolphinsafari.com)
In early September, Dana Point Harbor welcomes the Toshiba Tallships Festival at The Ocean Institute. This weekend event is full of historical Tallships from all over the United States. Watch a Pirate cannon battle, a Parade of Sails, or hang out with Mermaids at this time-honored Dana Point tradition. September 7th-9th. (www.ocean-institute.org)
Here are some more great Harbor spots:
Coffee Importers: Jim Miller proudly owns and operates Coffee Importers and The Scoop Deck Ice Cream Shop. His following is vast and his patio is always full of breakfast eaters, coffee drinkers, and their Hawaiian based Lappert’s ice cream on a warm summer day is what the season is all about. (www.coffeeimporters.com)
Golden Galleon: Overlooking the waters edge and beautiful boats docked at Dana Wharf, this clothing boutique is quaint, and everything a girl could want. Its beachy and bohemian style is the perfect pair for warmer weather. (949.493.8521)
Wind and Sea: This restaurant is a long established tradition. Situated at the end of the harbor overlooking the island and Doheny this cornerstone restaurant is a one of a kind oceanfront view perfect for the sunset or watching Parasailing boats. Happy hour and the daily fresh catch selection are local favorites. (www.windandsearestaurants.com)
Turks: Surfing legends, movie memorabilia, and a great burger with beer make this Bar Restaurant at a fun stop on a hot summer day. Pull up a stool and enjoy a cocktail harbor side. (949.496-9028)
Not only does Dana Point pride itself for hosting great music but also, they put on a wonderfully patriotic 4th of July. Dana Point Harbor Association lights off their fireworks on the 4th right off the island for all to see.
Enjoying the Outdoors:
We can’t explore Dana Point without mentioning the outdoors. There are so many outdoor activities to enjoy - hikes, walks, and camping to Yoga in the Park to name a few. The best memories that I have are camping at Doheny State Park. It's the perfect introduction to camping. It isn’t roughing it too much, and it's right there at the beach. If an overnighter is not your thing, line up early for a day camping spot at the south end of the park and be first in line to snag a fire pit.
With all that sun, Dana Point’s perfect ocean breeze allows for just about anything outdoors to be the ideal setting on a summer day. Here are some ideas for getting your outdoor activity fix while exploring the town:
Yoga in the Park: IHeart Yoga is one of the largest yoga communities in Orange County. You can join them for yoga outdoors at Lantern Bay Park or in their studio. Bring your mat and find some OM on the grass overlooking the harbor. They also offer Stand Up Paddle Boarding and Yoga too! Or take a stroll around the harbor to the island and run the stairs to take in the view and some history Dana Point history Bluff Top Trail. See the Hide Drougher Statue and the concrete arches memorializing the Dana Point Inn that never came to be. It’s a breathtaking and definitely Instagram worthy. (www.iheartyoga.org)
Dana Point truly is “The Endless Summer." It's why Bruce Brown built offices in town to work on his film in 1964. Though it will continue to grow, its history is embedded in this beach town, and it is why it’s a favorite amongst locals and travelers alike.
For more information about Dana Point: