Dana Point Harbor has been attracting mariners and visitors alike since the 1800s. The town is named after Richard Henry Dana who visited this area in 1835 aboard the trading ship Pilgrim and declared the cliff-lined cove “the only romantic spot in California.” The Harbor’s name comes from this adventure-seeking sailor and also for San Juan Point, which locals refer to as the Headlands, a landmark for both sailors and migrating whales.
The Harbor boasts a rich maritime history and while it was quite the adventure for 19th century travelers to reach area shores, it is now easily accessible for sailors and visitors. The adventures now lie in the many land and water activities that are available within the two marinas and its environs. The Harbor is considered a small-boat harbor and provides both permanent and guest slips for more than 2,500 boats.
The marina features a fuel dock, bait barge, boating services and boat brokers. It acts as a central hub with more than 25 unique shops and 15 restaurants that cater to every taste. The Harbor’s eateries offer fine dining and casual eats along with an ocean breeze. The boating and water-based activities can get visitors out into open water within five minutes and include charters, music cruises, sportsfishing, marine mammal adventures and whale watching.
Dana Point is considered the “Whale Capital of the West” in large part for its year-round whale watching — the gray whale migration in the winter and the blue whale sightings in the summer. Dana Point Harbor is owned and operated by the County of Orange. OC Dana Point Harbor oversees the Harbor and partners with OC Parks. Guests will find fantastic public picnic and barbecue areas, grassy open expanses, a public pier and the local’s favorite, Baby Beach. Baby Beach is a wave-free swim area where children and their parents can enjoy the water.
Kayakers and stand-up paddlers also launch near the beach and appreciate the wake-free waters of the marina. The 4-mile circumference of the Harbor draws outdoor enthusiasts to stroll, jog and even cycle dockside, next to the rows of sailboats, motorboats and yachts. Accessibility to Dana Point Harbor’s many amenities is made trouble free with ample, free parking. The Harbor also features the Ocean Institute, a marine-education facility.
The non-profit has become nationally known for its hands-on marine science, environmental and ocean education as well as its maritime history programs. Open to the public on weekends, the Institute owns and operates two tall ships, the Spirit of Dana Point and the brig Pilgrim, a full-size replica of the ship that brought Richard Henry Dana to these shores. Just behind the Institute are the tide pools where visitors can get an up-close view of South Orange County’s many different species of marine life. The Harbor plays host to some of the region’s most beloved events, including the Festival of Whales in March, the In-Water Boat Show in May, the 4th of July Extravaganza, the Toshiba Tall Ships Festival in September, the Turkey Trot in November and the Boat Parade of Lights in December as well as neighboring events at Lantern and Heritage parks and Doheny State Beach. Dana Point Harbor is also considered the gateway to Doheny State Beach Park, which offers camping, picnicking, swimming, surfing, bicycling and more. It is easy to see why so many set sail for this historic, romantic and adventurous Harbor.