15 Things to Do in Dana Point, from Beer Tasting to Whale Watching

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Dana Point - A brick path surrounded by lush green foliage extends into the distance. The ocean surrounds the path and foliage. The sky is bright blue with few clouds.
Visit Dana Point

Dana Point is a small oceanside town in Orange County boasting more than six miles of beaches and coastal bluffs, plus the very cool distinction of being named the first Whale Heritage Site in the U.S. It is also known as Southern California’s original surf town with many early wave riders living or starting their businesses in Dana Point. Located just over an hour drive from Los Angeles, this beautiful spot is worth the drive for a relaxing and easy weekend escape with plenty to keep travelers entertained. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway or an active one on the water, here are the best things to do in Dana Point.

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Dana Point - A very large humpback whale jumps out of the ocean on its back.
Dolphin Safari

1. Go Whale Watching

The number one thing to do in the Whale Watching Capital of the World is of course to go on a whale watching tour. There are a few tour options from Dana Point, but Dana Wharf is the oldest whale watching company in Orange County and has garnered plenty or rave reviews since 1971. On the way to look for gray whales or humpback whales, there is also a good chance of encountering one or more of the four types of dolphins that typically hang around the area. Note: The best time to spot gray whales in Dana Point is between late November and mid-May.

Dana Point - The red roofs of the Marriott Laguna buildings that overlook greenery and the ocean.
Marriott Laguna

2. Stay on Top of the Cliffs at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa

There are quite a few lodging options in Dana Point, but for those looking for a bit of a splurge, consider Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa. The resort is a AAA Four Diamond resort perched—you guessed it—on top of the cliffs with a spectacular view of the harbor. It’s also located right in front of Lantern Bay Park and walking distance to the harbor and Doheny State Beach, making it a convenient location to set up camp while in the area. The outdoor pools use saline to reduce chlorine and the spa recently underwent a renovation using recycled and upcycled materials.

Dana Point - A view from the inside of a sea cave looking out onto the ocean.
Fiona Chandra

3. Visit a Secluded Sea Cave

One of the most unique hiking destinations in Dana Point is the sea cave, sometimes called the Pirate’s Cave. Hiking here should only be attempted during low tide as the cave cannot be accessed safely otherwise, and even then, hikers should be prepared to get a bit wet. There are a couple of conflicting directions on how to get to this cave, but the best way is to start at the beach behind the Ocean Institute. It’s not a long hike but almost the entire path consists of loose rubble so it’s important to wear the appropriate footwear. There are local guides who do guided walks to the cave for those who want to leave it to the pros.

Dana Point - A photograph of a delicately plated sea scallop served on a shell that has been placed on a dish with legs.
Kevin Marple

4. Eat at a Top Chef Restaurant at Outer Reef

One of the newest restaurants to open in Dana Point may be the best yet. Outer Reef is the first restaurant in California by Top Chef and James Beard semifinalist John Tesar, who made a name for himself with his steakhouses in Dallas. The restaurant’s menu is focused on seafood and there is a 1,000 gallon fish tank in the restaurant. Menu highlights include king crab “scampi” with parsley sauce, and live diver scallop with shallot brown butter and black truffles, and more.

Dana Point - A photograph of the harbor at Dana Point at twilight. There are lots of glowy lights and boats in the harbor.
Visit Dana Point

5. Explore Dana Point Harbor

Dana Point Harbor is not only the site of whale watching and yacht charter companies, but it also has a number of cute shops and restaurants worth exploring. Especially because right now, the harbor still retains the quaint atmosphere it had when it was built in the 1960s, but construction has recently started on the first phase of a $300 million revitalization project with more retail and restaurants coming in.

Dana Point - A photo of a kelp forest in the water at a beach in Dana Point.
DJ Mansfield

6. Go Scuba Diving

Dana Point is a good base to set off on scuba diving adventures to some of Southern California’s best dive sites. Deadman’s Reef offers a look at kelp forest and schools of fish that gather around the reef, while just five miles off Dana Harbor there is the A.C.E. wreck, a 58-foot vessel that sank in 2007 in a storm (thankfully the crew survived). Beach Cities Scuba offers boat dives and dive certification courses from a few Southern California locations, including Dana Point.

7. Shop for Art at Sawdust Arts & Craft Festival

The Sawdust Arts & Craft Festival has been going on since the 1960s, gathering over a hundred local artists to exhibit their arts and crafts. While the Sawdust Festival is not year-round, it does take place for five weeks at a time twice a year, so there are plenty of chances to check it out. It is always a great shopping experience with live music, art classes, food and drinks and the winter version is especially festive.

Dana Point - The rolling white waves of a beach in Dana Point. There is a cliff overlooking the beach with houses and building atop it.
Visit Dana Point

8. Spend a Day on the Beach

Dana Point has plenty of beach options for anyone who wants to spend the day picnicking by the beach. Doheny State Beach is perhaps the most popular, known for some of the best surfing in California. There are also bicycle, boogie boards and other equipment rentals available on this beach. Dana Strand Beach, usually called The Strand, is another popular sandy beach that is also a marine conservation area with tide pools that can be explored.

Dana Point - Dana Point - A brick path surrounded by lush green foliage extends into the distance. The ocean surrounds the path and foliage. The sky is bright blue with few clouds.
Visit Dana Point

9. Go for a Hike

One of the popular hiking spots in Dana Point is the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area. The area consists of four conservation parks with almost 60 acres of land and over 150 species of plants and animals native to the area. There are three miles of public trail system that takes hikers through coastal and beach access areas and scenic overlooks. Note that one trail, Dana Point Preserve Trail, is only open to the public on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in order to minimize impact on wildlife.

Dana Point - A couple wearing matching sun hats sit atop two paddle boards in the ocean.
Visit Dana Point

10. Go Out on the Water with a Kayak, SUP orJet Ski

Take advantage of being in a beach town to get out in the open sea. There are a few ways to do this, and some of the most popular ways are to take a kayak or stand-up paddleboard, with a couple of rental companies around Dana Point Harbor that also rents out jet skis for those looking for even bigger thrills.

Dana Point - A number of people dressed for the beach participate in yoga atop paddle boards.
Visit Dana Point

11. Yoga with an Ocean View

Sure, in this day and age pretty much every city has a yoga class somewhere, but how many can boast yoga classes with a view of the ocean? Or yoga on a stand-up paddleboard right on the ocean? iHeartYoga holds classes at Lantern Bay Park with a view of the ocean on a regular basis and they also hold paddle and yoga on a stand-up paddleboard out in the harbor on select dates.

12. Drink Local Brews at Station Craft Brewery

What is a California town without its own local brewery? Station Craft Brewery opened in Dana Point in the summer of 2021 and they have a full bar with a large food menu, but of course the focus is on the selection of craft beers. With almost 20 of their own beers on tap, plus a handful of cider and mead offerings from other breweries, guests can find everything from IPAs to Gose here with the option to build their own flights.

Dana Point - Two people are strapped into a parasail and glide above the ocean attached to a string.

13. Parasail Above the Pacific Ocean

Parasailing is a popular activity for tourists visiting beach towns for good reason. It is a thrill to be flying under a parachute towed by a speedboat 800 feet over the ocean, and lucky guests can sometimes spot dolphins and other sea creatures from above. The best part? There is no skill needed to go parasailing. The owner of Dana Point Parasail has more than 10 years of experience and opened his company here in 2015.

14. Tee Off at Monarch Beach Golf Links

There are only a handful of oceanfront golf courses in California, and Dana Point is home to one of them, the Monarch Beach Golf Links. The course is a par-70 championship course and has a great view of the Pacific Ocean. The golf course is associated with the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach, but they do offer tee times open to the general public. Not a golfer? They have group and individual classes available for those who want to learn.

Dana Point - A wooden sign in San Juan Capistrano has many paddles pointing in various directions. It is surrounded by cacti, a building, etc. The sky is a bright blue.
Fiona Chandra

15. Explore Neighboring San Juan Capistrano

About five miles inland from Dana Point is San Juan Capistrano, a charming small city founded in 1776 when the Spanish founded the Mission San Juan Capistrano. The proximity makes Dana Point a good base to also explore San Juan Capistrano for the day. Other than the Mission, there is Los Rios Historic district with cute boutiques, art galleries and more. The area is also home to one of the most acclaimed BBQ spots in Southern California right now, Heritage BBQ.

purewow author

Freelance PureWow Editor

Fiona Chandra is a freelance food and travel writer born in Indonesia and currently based in Los Angeles. She loves to explore different food and cultures in California and...