If you’re ready for a weekend full of outdoor adventure, then Dana Point is definitely the place to be. Located an hour south of Los Angeles and 90 minutes north of San Diego, this seaside town is well known for its expansive ocean views, bustling harbor, and endless water activities. And after an active day enjoying the fresh sea air, you’ll want to try one of Dana Point’s many excellent restaurants.
Dana Point lies at the southern tip of Orange County and stretches along 6.5 miles of oceanfront. Steep cliffs rise from the sandy beaches, providing dramatic daytime views and stunning sunset vistas. This is a great day-trip destination, but with so much to see and do, it’s even better enjoyed as a weekend getaway.
Things To Do In Dana Point
If you’re coming to Dana Point, plan to spend most of your time outdoors. And whether you like to be in or out of the water, you’ll find plenty to do.
Hit The Beach
You could definitely spend an entire day relaxing on the sand at one of Dana Point’s six beaches. But choosing one won’t be easy!
Doheny State Beach is the city’s best-known spot for sunbathing, swimming, and surfing. It’s also an ideal spot for a larger gathering, since there are 170 picnic tables and 99 barbecue grills available. If you really can’t get enough of the beach, then make reservations to camp at Doheny.
Salt Creek Beach is a favorite destination for surfers, since a small offshore reef creates some of the best swells in Southern California. But even if you’re not a surfer, this is a lovely place to spend the day. The park above the beach is one of the best sunset-viewing spots in all of Orange County. Pack a picnic and grab your loved one for a truly romantic evening.
If you’re traveling with the grandkids, head to Baby Beach. Nestled between the Dana Point Harbor and the Ocean Institute, it boasts the calmest water you’ll find. With a roped-off section for swimming, it’s a great place to steer clear of the kayakers and paddleboarders.
Learn About The Ocean
To better appreciate the ocean and its marine life, check out the Ocean Institute, located in Dana Point Harbor. This highly regarded institution offers children and adults hands-on experiences and marine science, environmental education, and maritime history programs. Each year, more than 100,000 visitors take advantage of the interactive exhibits and special programs offered.
Docked next to the institute is the tall ship Spirit of Dana Point, a replica of a 1770s privateer schooner used during the American Revolution. Schedule a guided tour and learn about life at sea during the 18th century, as well as the history of Dana Point.
The Ocean Institute is open to the public on weekends and select holidays.
Marvel At The World’s Largest Mammals
Dana Point is known as the dolphin- and whale-watching capital of the world, so this is one activity you won’t want to miss. If you’re here between November and April, you can expect to see gray whales during their annual migration south. Each year, up to 25,000 gray whales make the 12,000-mile trip from the cold waters of the Arctic to the warmer waters of Mexico. From May through November, blue whales, the largest mammals on Earth, can be seen. Spotting one is quite a treat! Along the way, you may also see dolphins, harbor seals, and sea lions.
Float Above The Water
Try getting a bird’s-eye view of the ocean by parasailing. Dana Point Parasailing offers visitors the chance to sit beneath a parachute while floating 800 feet above the water. The ride may be short -- just about 10 minutes -- but the memories will last a lifetime. If you’re enjoying a romantic weekend away, be sure to ask for a tandem ride to enjoy the lovely views of Doheny State Beach together.
Hike The Headlands
Nature lovers should definitely save time for a hike at the Dana Point Headlands, 60 acres of protected land along the coast. This unique area is home to Southern coastal bluff scrub, mixed chaparral, and coastal sage scrub. In fact, 150 plant and animal species native to Southern California are protected here. Several miles of trails wind through the headlands, providing expansive views of the ocean.
To learn more, check out the Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center. Inside, you’ll find educational exhibits about the birds, native plants, and endangered species protected at this preserve. The nature center’s patio is also a good place to watch for migrating whales. Bring your own binoculars, or borrow a pair from the center’s staff.
Roll Through Town
With 275 days of sunshine in Dana Point each year, it’s almost always a good day to explore on two wheels. Start in Doheny State Park and head south to the San Clemente Pier, enjoying ocean views the whole way. Before returning to Dana Point, grab a drink or lunch on the pier. Or explore the Monarch Beach Golf Links and Salt Creek Beach. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at Salt Creek Park while watching the surfers below.
Synaptic Cycles rents fat-tire electric bikes, which make long rides much easier. They deliver the bikes to your hotel or Airbnb and pick them up when you’re done. You can rent by the hour or the whole day, depending on how much of the area you want to explore.
Best Restaurants In Dana Point
You won’t leave Dana Point hungry. Instead, the tough part will be deciding where to eat! Keep in mind that this is a popular destination for many Orange County residents, so reservations are recommended.
Start your day like the locals do at The Coffee Importers, located at the harbor. This family-owned cafe serves espresso drinks, bagels, and breakfast sandwiches. If you’re coming later in the day, you can choose from a large selection of deli sandwiches.
Positioned on the edge of Dana Point Harbor, Waterman’s Harbor offers tasty food and lovely views. Dine on fresh seafood for lunch or dinner while watching the boats sail by. Their cocktail menu is extensive and creative, with selections like the Super Bloody Mary or Sassy Senorita. If you can’t make it for lunch or dinner, try brunch instead.
For mesquite-grilled seafood, head to Harbor Grill. Try the Pacific swordfish with lemon tarragon butter or the Caribbean spiced mahi mahi. If you’re really hungry, try the Surf and Turf, a filet mignon and an Australian lobster tail. If you’re here on a Sunday, definitely make reservations for the Champagne breakfast, and order a bottomless mimosa.
Casanova Ristorante is a local secret serving up Italian classics like osso bucco, spaghetti alla Bolognese, and veal marsala. Don’t let the strip-mall location fool you -- this place has seriously good food and an extensive wine list.
If you prefer French cuisine, then make a reservation at Gemmell’s Restaurant. Chef-owner Byron Gemmel wants guests to experience a bit of European charm in Southern California. His classic French dishes include chicken and mushroom crepes, pate de canard, and cassolette d’escargots.
Best Hotels In Dana Point
In Dana Point, you’ll find hotels to fit any budget. The DoubleTree Suites is conveniently located across the street from Doheny State Beach. Their large rooms make any stay comfortable. Located above the water, this is the ideal place to splurge on an oceanview room or the Pacific Suite with a fireplace and luxury bathroom.
For a real splurge, book a room at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. Perched on a bluff overlooking Salt Creek Beach, this resort offers gourmet dining, a spa, and endless ocean views. Next door is the Monarch Beach Golf Links, a Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course.
The recently renovated Laguna Cliffs Marriott is located on a hilltop with expansive views of Dana Point and the Pacific Ocean. Surrounding the hotel are large, green lawns perfect for an evening stroll. Enjoy dinner at the OverVue Lounge and Deck, or spend time relaxing at the spa.
For something more reasonably priced -- but still near the water -- head to the Dana Point Marina Inn, the only hotel located at the harbor. You'll enjoy watching the wide variety of boats and yachts headed out to sea. Upgrade to a balcony room for the best views, day and night.
What To Know Before You Go
There’s no bad time to visit Dana Point. Summer will be busy, so if your schedule allows, try visiting in winter, spring, or fall instead. If you’re really fascinated by whales, try visiting in March for the Festival of Whales. And while restaurants and hotels here can be pricey, many of the activities here are free or low cost, making this a terrific weekend getaway.