What to Eat, Drink, Do and Sea in this Seaside Paradise Nestled Between Los Angeles and San Diego
Dana Point, California is smack dab in-between the bustling metropolises of San Diego and Los Angeles, making it a convenient getaway from both big cities for a relaxing weekend. This laid-back coastal SoCal destination offers an abundance of outdoor activities and a robust culinary scene, as well as ample shopping opportunities — making it an ideal place to soak up the sand, sun and surf for a weekend escape.
Dana Point was originally a key port for ships involved in the hide trade coming from nearby San Juan Capistrano, a business that reached its peak in the 1830s and 1840s. The city gets its name from Richard Henry Dana, Jr. who was a lawyer, politician, abolitionist, and sailor. He authored “The Seaman’s Friend,” which was a book that became the standard reference on the legal rights and responsibilities of sailors!
Dana Point’s historic core downtown area pays homage to its maritime roots. This area is known as Lantern Village, and each street here is named after a different colored lantern. For example, there’s Street of the Violet Lantern, Blue Lantern, and Golden Lantern – and Golden Lantern leads down to where the harbor is located. These roadways are named after the lanterns that were used by ships hundreds of years ago to advertise their fares upon arrival in the Dana Point natural harbor.
The city has a mild Mediterranean-style climate with temperatures averaging around the 70s. There’s plenty of sunshine, and since it’s tucked into a neat little cove area between San Clemente to the north and San Juan Capistrano to the South, it’s protected from the elements, and temperatures rarely exceed 79 degrees or drop lower than 65.
The best thing about Dana Point (in my opinion) is that the main shopping, harbor, and dining districts of Dana Point are walkable and easy to explore on foot which means once you’re there, you don’t necessarily need to use a car. Here’s how to spend a few days exploring this seaside city.
Things to Do
Embark on a Whale Watching Excursion at Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari
Captain Dave’s is a locally owned and operated business run by a dynamic duo husband and wife team.
Captain Dave Anderson is coast guard-licensed, and his wife Gisele (“Mrs. Captain Dave”) oversees the rest of the business ventures and makes their signature tasty brownies. For more than two decades, the pair have taken locals and visitors alike out to sea to explore the diverse marine life including whales, dolphins, seals, and more.
Since Dana Point is branded the “Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World,” and it’s also a Whale Heritage Site, going whale watching in Dana Point is a must-do activity during the right season (blue whale season is May to November). Be sure to dress in layers and bring an extra coat out on the boat, as it can get unexpectedly cold and windy out on the water. I was wearing my winter jacket and a sweater!
Hang out at the Dana Point Harbor
The Dana Point Harbor offers visitors a variety of shopping dining, and boating opportunities. This love mural was center stage during our February visit, and “stole my heart,” you could say…
SUpping and Surfing with Pure Watersports
Those who are interested in getting out of the harbor in a different way can rent kayaks and SUPs with Pure Watersports.
This watersports mecca offers toys like jet skis, spearfishing equipment, Hobie stand-up paddleboards, and INT surfboards that you can rent either daily or by hour. Take the equipment to your favorite beach (Baby Beach nearby is perfect!), and launch it yourself. Or, you can pay a $5 fee for the Pure Watersports team to deliver the equipment to Doheny State Beach for you, if your car doesn’t exactly have the capabilities to support such SUP equipment on board (like my Toyota Yaris hatchback…).
Sailing Excursions with Aventura Sailing
One of the most peaceful ways to spend sunset is to plan an open ocean on a sailing excursion with Aventura Sailing.
Since 1976, this local business has offered sea lovers the chance to explore the ocean on a skippered charter with sailing instruction included.
They offer a selection of sailboats ranging from 27 to 48 feet for a Pacific Ocean excursion or sailing lesson, or they can just act as the skipper with the freedom to travel anywhere along the coast which is what we did when we sailed around the harbor and into the ocean before anchoring at Baby Beach for sundown and some bubbly.
Where to Stay
Enjoy a cozy bed and breakfast experience at the Blue Lantern Inn
This beautiful B&B property, Blue Lantern Inn was named for its location on Street of the Blue Lantern.
It’s perched upon a hill overlooking Baby Beach and the Dana Point Harbor. The inn was built with careful attention to detail in 1990 by founder, Shelley Post. It features a New England-style ambiance, and guests can enjoy ocean views from nearly every room in the building.
Every evening, the property hosts a signature wine and cheese mini-picnic for guests to indulgence in and watch the sunset. In the morning, Blue Lantern Inn’s complimentary breakfast for two is delivered to the room. It’s the perfect place to spend a relaxing and romantic getaway in Dana Point.
Have a Lavish Getaway at Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club
The Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club features a private beach club, oceanfront golf, award-winning Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak restaurant and a Drybar hair salon all on resort grounds.
Nestled on 175 enormously spacious and lush landscaped acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean, there are 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. If you’re into roasting marshmallows, be sure to book a suite on the ground floor suite which comes with a terrace and a firepit perfect for crafting marshmallow concoctions.
Enjoy Unbeatable Ocean Sights at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel
The luxurious Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel is perched atop a seaside bluff with panoramic views overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the miles of sandy beach, below.
The 396 guest rooms on-site are furnished with a contemporary design, lavish amenities, and decorations that reflect the beachy environment of the local sand and sea.
Restaurants, Cafes and Coffee Shops
Try The Harbor Grill’s Famously Fresh Seafood
Visit Harbor Grill for a taste of fresh and regional seafood cuisine and fine steaks and fresh oysters.
This restaurant sits in a location that’s right in the heart of the idyllic Dana Point Marina. This upscale setting offers diners the chance to enjoy a meal either inside a cozy dining room, or outside on the Colorado garden terrace which offers views of the harbor and the boats going by. There’s an impressive wine list and a robust cocktail menu in addition to the high quality food, creating a polished and pleasant dining experience.
Fish Tacos are a Must at the Casual and Crafty Harpoon Henry’s
Harpoon Henry’s has been a Dana Point staple for over 44 years.
This spot has given locals and visitors a place to enjoy fresh seafood cuisine and views of the dozens of boats docked in the harbor with a lively atmosphere and a feeling of community. The casual, harbor-side restaurant is located at the Dana Point Harbor and has stood the test of time as a spot to grab tasty fish tacos paired with quality, ice-cold beverages like a Mai Tai, Martini, or refreshing margarita.
It’s not a Good Morning Without Good Coffee
One of my favorite spots in Dana Point is J.C. Beans.
Here, coffee fiends like me will find amazing coffee and espresso drinks, freshly baked goodies like croissants, cinnamon rolls, and cookies. There’s a formal cafe, and attached to it is a well-known Drive-Thru that’s perfect for grabbing a coffee to go for heading to the beach. The shop has an eclectic ambiance that includes a cozy fireplace and walls decorated with local art and used books. There’s also a dog-friendly patio to bring along furry family members.
Have a suggestion for a rooftop bar I didn’t include, or want to visit a new one together?! Reach out, below:
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