Dana Point remains an overlooked treasure in Southern California. While the state is known for its fast-paced cities and thrilling attractions, Dana Point is where you go for a more relaxed pace of travel. You can walk along the beaches that surround the quaint village that has sprung up around them.
A Brief History
The first surfboards to be mass-produced from foam, Hobie Surfboards, were made in Dana Point, making it the original California surf town. When surfers first started coming here, it was just a hidden beach with great surfing. However, when the iconic surf documentary The Endless Summer revealed Dana Point to the world, the secret was very much out. Although Dana Point is no longer a secret for surfers, it is still a secret for most Orange County tourists.
Dana Point, Today
Since then, Dana Point has developed from a 1950s teenage surf hangout to a beach city with equal parts resort glitz and laid-back charm. All of your favorite seaside activities are done better here, such as kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing, and boating. With fewer visitors than its SoCal counterparts, Dana Point is an oasis of calm. It’s no wonder that it’s known for its spas and yoga classes.
Although the flocks of swallows aren’t coming to the San Juan Capistrano Mission in great numbers anymore, migratory whales can be seen just off the coast in Dana Point. Boats leave from Dana Point Harbor and these gentle giants are usually out splashing around. If you get lucky, you can even see grey whales from the pier at Dana Point Harbor. On a clear day, you can see Catalina Island from Dana Point. This is also the port where the ferry to Catalina departs. A trip to the Island is a California classic.
Magnificent beachfront hotels like the Monarch Beach Resort and the Ritz-Carlton Nigel Laguna draw luxury travelers from around the world. The Monarch is home to a private beach club, a gold medal awarded golf course, and the award-winning Miraval Spa Life in Balance Spa. While it may be at the southern end of Orange County, Anaheim to Dana point is a quick 35 miles away. Dana point also makes a great jump-off for visiting San Diego, which is only about an hour away.
Just on the other side of Anaheim’s Harbor Boulevard lies Garden Grove. Garden Grove is a vibrant Southern California city in the middle of all the action.
There are many great surf towns on the Orange County coast, but few are as famous as Huntington Beach. In fact, Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City USA, hosts the annual Vans US Open of Surfing.
A trip to Orange County isn’t complete without a visit to Laguna Beach. Laguna is a refined upscale beach city, regularly listed as one of the most desirable places to live in the United States. It’s the Hollywood star residents and their ocean-view mansions that have earned this area’s nickname, “The Gold Coast.”
From strolling around Balboa Island grabbing a frozen banana to basking in the seaside charm, Newport Beach is Orange County’s most family-friendly beach city.
City of Orange
Just across the Santa Ana River is the City of Orange, a unique piece of city planning. The center of the city is situated around a roundabout and is shaped like, you guessed it, an orange! The circle surrounds Plaza Park, which is the heart of Orange and the site of the annual Orange International Street Fair.
While Orange County is one of the most urbanized parts of California, San Clemente is where the development takes a little break. Here, the Pacific Coast Highway enters a long stretch of emptiness and the traffic of I-5 becomes a bit more relaxed. The beaches here are less crowded, have great surfing, are relatively quiet and many feature seaside campsites.
Seal Beach is the first taste of Orange County that travelers get when they are driving down the coast. Just off the Pacific Coast Highway, visitors can catch a glance at the iconic wooden Seal Beach Pier and head straight to Main Street, which features dozens of shops and eateries along a picturesque strip that’s just a few blocks long.