When I first moved to California, I was the typical tourist. I wanted to visit Universal Studios, The Price is Right, Hollywood Blvd., San Diego Zoo, Santa Monica, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach. They were my “TV version” of California – the places I saw on a regular basis on TV shows and dreamed about experiencing my entire life. Now that I’m a local, though, I spend less time at those places and more time at the places I’ve come to know and love as a mother, a wife, an adventure seeker, and a beach lover. Dana Point has a regular spot in our weekly schedule. It’s situated on the beautiful Southern California coast, halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. It prides itself with nearly seven miles of coastal bluffs and rolling hills along the Pacific Ocean with its charming beaches and wild surfs. The city is home to the Dana Point Harbor, Captain Dave’s Whale Watching Safari, scrumptious food, and some of the best sunset views I’ve seen in my life. I’ve come up with a schedule for discovering the perfect day in Southern California’s Dana Point.
Morning – Drive Along California State Route 1
The PCH drive offers such stunning vistas that I often take that route even if it’s much longer to get to my destination. The ideal weather adds to the experience and it hardly ever rains.
10:00 a.m. Explore the Harbor
The Dana Point Harbor is dotted with one-of-a-kind boutiques that offer handcrafted treasures, special cards, art collectibles, designer perfumes, clothing, artisan chocolates, and specialty coffee and teas from around the world, and the free parking is just as much a treat as the chocolates. It’s an oddity in California and should get recognition.
The Harbor is also a popular destination for those who enjoy kayaking, jet skiing, outrigger canoes, and SUP. If you don’t have your own, you can rent them from any of vendors or just watch others enjoy the ocean from a unique perspective.
Families love Baby Beach, located at the west end of Dana Point Harbor. It’s a designated waveless swimming beach, perfect for young children. You can launch non-motorized, human powered watercrafts from the beach such as paddle boards, kayaks, and small non-motorized dinghies. There are picnic and bbq facilities, restrooms, showers and plenty of free parking.
12:00 p.m. Coffee Importers for a Casual Lunch
The seaside patio at Coffee Importers creates a relaxing ambiance for enjoying breakfast after an early morning walk, an afternoon pick me up, and a great lunch spot to catch up with friends and take in the fresh air and afternoon sun.
The portions are delicious, plentiful, and served with a smile. I ordered a Chicken Salad Sandwich on freshly baked bread, with lettuce, tomato, and onion, a bag of kettle cooked chips, and a large lemonade for under $10.
1:30 p.m – Whale Watching with Captain Dave
The #1 rated Orange County whale watching company, Captain Dave’s is the perfect way to spend the afternoon on the ocean while spotting marine life. Dana Point is Orange County’s best year round whale watching destination. With migrating Gray Whales from November through April and Blue Whales visiting from May through November, the harbor is uniquely close to the spots where these mammals are most often seen. Dolphins are guaranteed to be seen splashing in the wake of the boat and enjoying your company. Seals and birds are common sights as well.
5:30 p.m. Cocktails at 180blũ
180blũ is an oceanfront dining lounge featuring panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the blue skies across the horizon. Perched 150-feet above Salt Creek Beach, 180blũ is the perfect Southern California experience to enjoy refreshing hand-crafted beverages, small plates from Raya and a little slice of heaven on earth.
Blankets are handed out to guests on cooler evenings and fires are lit for warmth and light.
I’d suggest the Passion Fruit Mojito or any of the local red wines.
6:30 p.m. Dinner at Raya
Raya is a great restaurant concept by acclaimed Chef Richard Sandoval. Raya showcases Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine prepared with sustainable seafood, local produce, natural, and organic meat and Chef Richard Sandoval’s signature Latin flavors.
With resort casual dress, you could wear the same clothing all day.
8:30 p.m. IlluminOcean Tour
Dana Point is creating waves of excitement in Southern California this holiday season by showcasing 40 nights of holiday lights. The Dana Point Harbor will transform into the festive village to mingle and jingle, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of lights creatively sculpted into true wonders to see — grand creations like a towering 50-foot GlowMotion tree and Lightwave tunnels that stretch longer than a football field!
This is what one day at Dana Point looks like: