Dana Point is often overlooked by road trippers in favor of its splashier and more famous neighbors like San Juan Capistrano, or Laguna Beach. But travelers should not overlook this charming seaside town which offers fantastic beaches, nature walks and an annual Festival of Whales that has become a “must see” among the whale watching set.
Festival of Whales
Every year the California Gray Whales make the journey from Alaska to Mexico from December through March. Dana Point’s Headland’s cliffs are thought to be a landmark for this migration and each day during the peak season, between 40 and 50 whales are believed to pass the point each day. March 1-2 and March 8-9, 2014 is the 43rd annual Festival of Whales honoring this migration. Music, food, car shows and, of course, whale watching, are just a few of the events planned for this year’s event. For a complete list, visit the event’s website.
Doheny State Beach
A protected beach in the State park system, Doheny State Beach includes a 62-acre park with overnight and day camping facilities. The day use fee is $15 to park for a car, so if you are just going for a short time, loop around and use the public parking near the north side of the beach. That lot has hourly meters. Surfing is restricted to the north end of the beach. Picnic areas and volleyball nets are also set up all year. Campers need to reserve spots, and you can do that online through the park service website. It’s a beautiful area, and the walk along the beach even when the skies are moody is well worth your time.
I love the marinas, so I happily drove through the area to take in the sights of Dana Point Harbor. Visitors can enjoy the shopping and dining (with some incredible views), or head out for sailing, paddle boarding and surf lessons. Visitors can even bring grilling supplies and enjoy the table and BBQ spots that are scattered along the water.
There are four parks that make up the system: Harbor Point Park, Headlands Conservation Park, Hilltop Park and South Strands Biological Open Space. The 200-foot cliffs of Headlands is the recommended spot for catching the whale migration. A public trail system links all the parks and open spaces of the system, and is a perfect for people looking for pedestrian trails, as well as scenic overlooks. Visitors can access the trails from Dana Strand Road, or Green Latern, and trails are open from 7am until sunset daily.
The Pilgrim and the Ocean Institute
If you are intrigued by marine life, and are in Dana Point over the weekend, be sure to stop by the Ocean Institute. Visitors can learn about hundreds of marine animals. The Ocean Institute is becoming quite well-known for educating students on marine science, the environment and maritime history. As part of that program, visitors may also want to explore the tall ships housed there—the most famous of which is The Pilgrim. The Pilgrim “is a full size replica of the hide brig immortalized by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. in his American seafaring classic novel Two Years Before the Mast.” The ship not only acts as a living history program for students, but it acts as a venue for a wide variety of dramatic and musical performances during the summer.