All the comforts of a seaside town, without the crowds.
Photo Courtesy of Visit Dana Point
Nestled between Laguna Beach and San Clemente, Dana Point is a small surf town in Orange County. The family-friendly beach community often gets overlooked by its more popular neighbors like Newport Beach, but if you’re looking for a destination that exudes laidback luxury then look no further than Dana Point. Only an hour's drive from both Los Angeles and San Diego, Dana Point offers all the amenities of a beach community but with fewer crowds.
A prime location for whale watching and dolphin sightings, as of earlier this year, Dana Point is now recognized as the first Whale Heritage Site in the Americas by the World Cetacean Alliance. Travelers can observe marine life in their natural habitats while supporting eco-conscious tour operators that respect the animals and provide safe and sustainable ways to observe them. And if you’re lucky (more often than not), you’ll see a dolphin stampede! It’s just one of the many reasons why Dana Point is such a cool place to visit. Here are 11 more reasons to drive to Dana Point that make it an ideal weekend getaway.
Photo Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club
Book a room at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach
The Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach (formerly called Monarch Beach Resort) is a coastal gem that boasts 400 guest rooms, seven dining options (including Bourbon Steak by Chef Michael Mina), three swimming pools, and an oceanfront 18-hole golf course so you’ll never want to leave the property. Perched on a seaside bluff, the dreamy luxury resort offers scenic ocean views and cozy corners with fire pits throughout the property. Book the Toast and Roast package which includes overnight stays at the resort, a $150 dining credit at the private Monarch Bay Beach Club, and a fireside Veuve Clicquot tasting that is best enjoyed during sunset hour.
How to book: Reserve a room here.
Have breakfast at Maison Cafe + Market
Maison in French means “home” and that’s exactly how you’ll feel when you dine here. Chances are there will be a long wait, especially on weekends, but trust us that it’s worth it. The breakfast menu is insanely good and features more variations of breakfast toast than you can possibly imagine. Beautifully plated breakfast items like gravlax toast and egg frittata arrive on cute, mismatched floral plates. If you don’t have time to wait in line pick up sweet and savory picnic items from the market, including healthy salads, pastries, and even chocolate chip cookie dough to bake at home. Look out for the opening of their second Dana Point outpost, Giana Bakery + Provisions, opening very soon.
How to book: Reservations can be made by calling (949) 218-8431
and are only accepted 24 hours in advance.
Dana Wharf Whale Watch
Watch the dolphin stampede
Dana Point is known as the “Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World” which means getting a good view of these wondrous marine mammals is a must. And in case you didn’t pay attention in biology class, dolphins are a type of whale, and Dana Point offers some of the most epic dolphin spottings. Book a two-hour boat ride on The Current
, a 53-foot luxury boat that cruises around the harbor and not only promises glimpses of whales and California sea lions sunbathing but even more impressive is the dolphin stampede that happens (almost) year-round. You’ll get a front-row seat to a mesmerizing show with dozens of dolphin pods jumping for joy and slapping the water, putting on quite the entertaining show.
Photo Courtesy of Visit Dana Point
Do yoga in the park with an ocean view
iHeartYoga has a physical studio location, but what you really want to book is the 60-minute outdoor yoga class in the park with magnificent ocean views. The popular yoga class offered at Lantern Bay Park in the morning or during sunset hour is only $10 per class (or free for iHeartYoga members) and requires advanced booking. Classes are capped at 70 guests and tend to fill up so make sure to book early. For an added workout, look for the sweaty fitness enthusiasts going up and down the set of stairs in the park.
How to book: Reserve online here
Coastal Kitchen | Photo Courtesy of Visit Dana Point
Have lunch at Coastal Kitchen
Coastal Kitchen serves elevated California cuisine right in the heart of Dana Point. The Cal fresh-inspired menu includes dishes like New England clam chowder, ahi tuna salad, crab cakes, and a kale salad dressed in a delicious peanut vinaigrette that’s so good you might just order two. Tons of booth seating and nautical themed decor line the restaurant’s interior space and small front patio. During the pandemic, the restaurant converted part of their parking lot into an outdoor seating area with umbrellas, heat lamps, and string lights and the new setup will remain throughout the summer.
How to book: Reserve a table here or order pick-up online here.
Rent an electric bike and ride around the harbor
Head to EZ Green Bikes and rent an electric bike and ride down to the harbor to enjoy a bike ride with beautiful ocean views. Regular bikes are also available but you’ll want to choose the electric bikes because there are steep hills that will give your quads a killer workout. Ride along the beach path which can take you all the way down to San Clemente.
How to book: Call (949) 661-2761
to rent a bike.
Photo Courtesy of Glasspar
Have fresh seafood at Glasspar
Glasspar, named after a vintage boat company, is the kind of restaurant you’ll want to visit more than once so you can try everything on the menu. Seafood lovers will love this place for the seasonal menu that includes almost every kind of fish and crustacean under the sea. Standout dishes include the hamachi crudo, charred Spanish octopus, day boat scallops, poke tacos, and a raw bar with a variety of oysters. Wash it all down with one of their ten California beers on tap or try one of their house cocktails like the G3, served in a coupe and made with lavender syrup and gin giving it a beautiful purple hue. The spacious restaurant has a large covered outdoor patio with plenty of heaters and fire pits to keep you warm and toasty throughout the evening.
How to book: Make a reservation here.
Hang out at Salt Creek Beach
Salt Creek Beach is a great place to spend a sunny afternoon. The beach is popular amongst pro surfers creating some of the best-left breaks, but you’ll also spot a number of unique sea creatures in the tidepools (look but don’t touch!). If you prefer to stay dry, bring blankets and picnic in the grassy area at Bluff Park which still offers ocean views.
Have happy hour at Waterman’s Harbor
Dana Point Harbor is the crown jewel of Dana Point with small boutiques, plenty of sea activities, and waterfront restaurants like Waterman’s Harbor. Grab a seat on the second floor of the restaurant and admire the fancy yachts and skilled paddleboarders in the harbor while sipping on $8 cocktails or house sangria. The happy hour menu includes bites like coconut shrimp, fish tacos, ceviche, oysters, and sliders so there’s plenty to eat too. Happy hour is offered from 4–6 pm Monday through Friday.
How to book: Seating is first-come, first-served.
Sip on craft beer at Station Craft Brewery and Kitchen
This new brewery opened its doors earlier this year and is considered a full-service elevated brewery located in Dana Point’s Lantern District. Standard gastropub fare like burgers, chicken tenders, and dips pair well with the beer menu that nods to the local neighborhood with many of the draft beers named after local streets, landmarks, and city icons. Don’t forget to finish off with the fried Oreos for dessert!How to book
: Reserve a table here
Go on a garden tour with Ocean Institute
The Ocean Institute offers several virtual and in-person ways to explore the natural habitats of Dana Point, such as a two-hour tide pool excursion in search of sea critters, and a guided kayaking tour to learn the history of the Harbor. On Sundays, you can book the Native Garden Tour, which will teach you about California’s native plants and how they are used by animals and people. Tickets are $10 for a one-hour tour.
How to book: Reserve your spot here.
Article courtesy of Leila Najafi previously published on Thrillist.com
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