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Getaway Guide: Seaside Escape to Dana Point

Dana Point Header photo

With Bougainvillea-studded cliffs which dot the walking paths and ocean views which look down upon a beautiful harbor filled with maritime themed activities for all ages, Dana Point attracts visitors looking for a low-key Southern California beach vacation. Halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, the seaside city, with lodging options for every budget, is a convenient base for a myriad of activities and area attractions. Follow this guide for a truly relaxing getaway.

Dana Point photo The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
(credit: The Ritz-Carlton)

The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
One Ritz-Carlton Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 240-2000

As one of Southern California's most luxurious seaside resorts, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is easily one of the most photographable places in the area. With stunning views in a location that is rivaled to none, the location attracts visitors from around the world. Floor-to-ceiling windows at Raya, the resort's signature restaurant, provide full views of Salt Creek Beach, which in summer is a scene of teens, families, couples and The Ritz-Carlton beach butlers that take beach-going to another level. For families, the Eco-Adventure Center offers kids and adults opportunities to explore and learn about the coastal environment.

Dana Point photo Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa
(credit: Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort)

Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa
25135 Park Lantern
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 661-5000

Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa is a find for visitors that want an affordable beach vacation with upscale amenities. The resort, which sits on the cliffs above the Dana Point harbor, lies next to a park which is perfect for families that love playgrounds and a great option for locals who adore the views and walkway to the harbor and Doheny Beach. The horseshoe design of the grey-shingled resort means everyone has a view though it's hard to stay in the room once you discover the ocean views at OverVue Lounge, an indoor/outdoor hangout for morning coffee or a drink later in the day. The resort also has the area's only Splash Zone for kids, complete with a mini-surfboard so even the smallest guests can surf the waves.

Dana Point Whale Watching photo Barry Curtis Captain Dave's Dolphin & Whale Safari
(credit: Barry Curtis / Captain Dave's Dolphin &Whale Safari)

Whale and Dolphin Watching
Captain Dave's Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari
24440 Dana Point Harbor Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 488-2828

From grey whales in the winter to blue whales in the summer and a variety in between, Dana Point is the epicenter of whale watching on the West Coast. The waters are also home to playful mega-pods of common dolphins that can number more than a thousand. Captain Dave is a marine naturalist and professional filmmaker whose work is often seen on national TV. He and his crew are committed to finding the wildlife for their guests and always end trips with a sweet treat.

Dana Point photo Ocean Institute
(credit: Ocean Institute)

Ocean Institute
24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 496-2274

The Ocean Institute is an activity unique to Dana Point. The name sounds official but to school kids and summer camp attendees, the Ocean Institute is a magical place where science is fun, maritime history is hands-on and the staff loves what they do. The marine research and education facility is open to the public on the weekends with marine life tanks and experiments inside and marine life cruises and tall ship tours with hands-on crew participation outdoors. Pair an outing to the Ocean Institute with kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding on the calm waters next door at Baby Beach to make for a perfect day.

Dana Point Headlands photo[1]

Hiking the Headlands Trail
Nature Interpretive Center
34558 Scenic Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 542-4755

Three miles of connected trails crisscross the Dana Point Headlands providing sweeping coastline views and sounds of barking sea lions and the foghorn below. Begin the hike at the cozy Nature Interpretive Center which showcases exhibits about the natural history of the area. Make sure to bring water and sunscreen especially in summer though as it can get very hot.

Dana Point The Coffee Importers photo The Coffee Importers
(credit: The Coffee Importers)

The Coffee Importers
34531 Golden Lantern
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 493-7773

With a deli and ice cream shop, The Coffee Importers is a one-stop dining and snacking option in the harbor. Serving casual breakfast, lunch sandwiches and fresh squeezed juices, the deli is a local favorite where patrons eat outdoors with a view of the harbor. Afterwards, make sure to stroll next door to the espresso bar and Scoop Deck for coffee and ice cream.

Dana Point photo The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel180Blu
(credit: The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel)

180Blu at Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
One Ritz-Carlton Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 240-2000

180Blu patio bar at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is an impressive spot for a date or to just sit and soak up the huge ocean views. With one of the best coastline views in all of Orange County, sunsets here are incredible. With Catalina Island in the background, pelicans gliding above and surfers in the waves below and other stunning views, it's no wonder why Dana Point is a coveted coastal getaway. Light food and sushi are served outdoors or there's a full menu inside at Raya.

Dana Point Watermans Harbor photo Waterman's Harbor
(credit: Waterman's Harbor)

Waterman's Harbor
34661 Golden Lantern St.
Dana Point, CA 92629

The newest restaurant addition in the harbor sits near the Catalina Island Express office on the water. Locally-sourced seafood rules the menu but there are selections for land lovers too. The modern, fresh décor mirrors the menu and provides another reason to make a stop in the harbor. Open for dinner and weekend brunch.

Kristi Marcelle is a travel and lifestyle writer and regular contributor at Ciao Bambino and CBS Los Angeles. She loves planning travel adventures with her family, a good glass of wine at the whining hour and the Green Bay Packers. Follow her on Twitter @kristimarcelle.

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