A vacation in Dana Point, California, a small city whose catch phrase is “Harboring the Good Life,” lives up to the hype. With seven miles of coastal cliffs, excellent surf, gorgeous beaches, and year round whale watching from one of the most beautiful man-made harbors in existence, a Dana Point vacation really does make life feel good.
Check out our Dana Point Travel Guide for the best beach spots, whale-watching excursions, Dana Point restaurants, and money-saving tips like booking Dana Point vacation rentals. We want our guide to be complete, so if you feel we missed something, let us know!
Head Out to Sea
Dana Point vacations should all begin with a trip to Dana Point Harbor. Dozens of shops and restaurants line the walkways, and you’ll see and hear seagulls and bask in the sun and salty sea breezes. Two marinas are ready to launch your own boat or a rental, or you can charter a boat for fishing with Dana Wharf Sportfishing for an afternoon of fun with your buddies or your kids. Reel in a big trophy fish to capture on film and then cook it up in your Dana Point vacation rental.
Sailing classes, yacht clubs, windsurfing, kayaking, jet skiing, picnic areas, and a baby beach are all available at the harbor, and cruises leave daily on sailboats, catamarans, and luxury ships, so if you’re looking to watch the sunset from the open ocean or view marine wildlife up close, your Dana Point vacation has you covered.
Hit the Beach
Gorgeous sand, good surf, tide pool discoveries, and great coastal scenery make Dana Point vacation beaches a must-do. Doheny State Beach boasts some of the best surfing and swimming in California; it features picnic tables and grills for use, and the low tide reveals pools for exploring. Salt Creek Beach is known for its awesome surf conditions due to its offshore reef, so bring a boogie or surf board and ride the waves, or just watch. For active beach goers, Capistrano Beach has volleyball and basketball courts and bicycling, and in summer you can buy snacks and rent fishing or beach gear from a stand right on the beach. And of course, as is a Southern California custom, don’t forget to work on your tan.
With excellent playing conditions, some of the best in Orange County, you might want to hit the greens at Monarch Beach Golf Links every day of your Dana Point vacation, and the St. Regis Monarch Beach resort has been ranked by Conde Nast’s readers as one of the top one hundred golf resorts in the world.
The Ocean Institute
This educational resource is a maritime history center and marine science institution. Visitors are welcome on weekends, and you and your family should make an effort to visit during your Dana Point vacation. View sea exhibits, tour tide pools, participate in hands-on activities in the labs, or take your marine education out to sea with a wildlife cruise or blue whale safari. You’ll set sail with Ocean Institute scientists, who will point out sea creatures, fish varieties, plankton, and even whales or dolphins. There is also a Pirate Adventure cruise where you and the kids can ride the waves aboard the tall ship Spirit.
The “Whale Watching Capital of the West,” Dana Point vacations feature year-round whale watching. Gray whales migrate past here from fall to spring, and blue whales during summer, which means your chances of spotting one—or many—is good in all seasons. Several companies are waiting to take you on excursions to see these underwater giants that are practically a guaranteed sight during your Dana Point vacation. For a naturalist’s take on whale watching, book your adventure with Captain Dave’s Whale and Dolphin Safari. Aventura Sailing offers luxury sailboat whale-watching trips so you can listen to the sea waves and hear the water rush off the backs of these majestic sea creatures just a few yards away. See whales glide, breach, and wave, or watch a pod of dolphins jump in your boat’s wake.
Fill Your Belly
Dana Point restaurants are up and coming on Orange County’s food radar, so get in on the action. Highly rated Brussels Bistro has a wide selection of authentic Belgian beer and fantastic fries, and Turk’s features kitschy decorations, strong drinks, and good, simple food. Order the fish and chips or a burger with a beer and enjoy the atmosphere. Visit Salt Creek Grille for seafood, or Stella’s Serious Italian Restaurant for Brooklyn-style pizza, yummy pasta, and a live saxophonist, both near your Dana Point vacation rental.
Dana Point restaurants hit a high note with Luciano’s. Honored by Zagat and countless food critics and associations, the cozy European decor and fireplace make it one of the most romantic restaurants in Orange County. They also boast excellent service, Thursday night wine tastings, and Northern Italian cuisine that will make you feel like you’ve traveled to Tuscany. Luciano’s is a must-try Dana Point restaurant.
If you can afford it, try one of the Dana Point restaurants at the Ritz-Carleton Hotel not too far from Dana Point vacation rentals. Splurge a little for a romantic dinner with ocean views, high tea, and finger sandwiches, or a Sunday brunch spread guaranteed to fill you up.
Fill Your Shopping Bags
Small shopping centers, independent boutiques, and a lack of chain stores categorize Dana Point shopping. Mariner’s Village, Mariner’s Alley, and Dana Wharf all feature rows of stores, mostly locally owned and operated, that sell wares you can’t find anywhere else. Killer Dana has great surf gear and accessories, Momilani’s Island offers Hawaiian goods like ukuleles, White Pelican has unique Native American jewelry and artwork from multiple tribes, and the Chocolate Soldier tempts shoppers with heavenly caramel and toffee in addition to delicious hand-crafted chocolate concoctions. Mille Fleurs is a local favorite for gift shopping. Customize a perfume, purchase silky pajamas, plush lounge wear or beautifully designed jewelry for someone you love during your Dana Point vacation.
There are plenty of events to choose from in planning your Dana Point vacation. The Festival of Whales takes place each March and attracts big crowds to celebrate these marine beauties with parades, street vendors, arts and crafts, events, activities, and live music. On Thanksgiving Day, Dana Point Harbor hosts a Turkey Trot, which brings thousands of people to watch and compete in the 5 or 10k race, and in September, the Tall Ship Festival gathers together the biggest collection of rigged sailing vessels in the West and features activities, tours, and fun for all. Avoid these times if you’d prefer a quieter Dana Point vacation, or come join in the community fun!
Most Dana Point vacation rentals will have the basic necessities like linens and towels, but double check before you arrive. Bring comfortable walking shoes for touring the harbor, boat shoes if you plan to fish or sail, and flip flops for the beach. Casual clothing is all that’s necessary for a Dana Point vacation, and even most Dana Point restaurants won’t bat an eye if you show up in shorts and sandals. Remember to bring a willingness to partake of the good life on your Dana Point vacation!
Lifeguard, information, fire, safety, and health services are all available for peace of mind during your Dana Point vacation. Locals are friendly and can point you in the direction of any service you might need, from where to buy a new swimsuit or to which locally grown fresh produce at the farmer’s market is the tastiest.
Because so many Dana Point vacation activities involve the unpredictable ocean, be sure to follow all instructions on signs or from your captains on any cruise you might take. Wear a life vest on all sea vessels. Tide pool rocks can be slippery, so use precaution and common sense when exploring the shoreline.
Dana Point vacation rentals are almost exactly halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. You can choose to fly into either city’s airport and then rent a car—we recommend a convertible—and head south or north on the famous Coast Highway to kick off your Dana Point vacation with tremendous views of rolling coastal hillsides and blue water.
Hotel rooms have no personality, and Dana Point vacation rentals offer all the style you could want on a Dana Point vacation. Choose from properties with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms if you’re traveling with family, or pick a cozy beach cottage for a romantic trip. Watch sunsets and sunrises from your private patio or balcony, and fall asleep listening to waves lap the shore and the breeze rustle the palms. A Dana Point vacation rental gives you the power to really experience the good life like a local in all aspects of your Dana Point vacation, for less cash than boring hotel rooms.