In the summer of 2018, I visited my friends, Courtni and Ryan, who were living outside of San Diego. Courtni is a traveling nurse. Her and her husband bought an RV not long before she was assigned to California. You can follow their travels at The.Traveling.Kind on Instagram.
Since I stayed with them in their RV and they were both working, my 4 Day Itinerary is not your typical vacation itinerary. We had to work around their work schedules, letting their pup out for a walk, and travel time from the RV park to our destination. All of this was fine by me. I’m in my 30s and enjoy a little down time on my adventures.
Luckily, Courtni and Ryan didn’t have Mon-Fri, 9 – 5 jobs. That flexibility allowed them more time to hang out and show me around. On days Courtni was working, Ryan would act as my tour guide. He showed me around Balboa Park. When Ryan was working, Courtni took over. For our day, Courtni and I went on a Day Trip to Dana Point.
Day Trip to Dana Point
Here are some of the activities you can do while spending a day in Dana Point.
(1) Walk Dana Point Bluff
Bluff Top Trail
Address: 34342 Street of the Amber Lantern, Dana Point, CA 92629
The short .2 mile Bluff Top Trail became a scenic trail in 1924 but was original the “hide trail” and used during the 19th century by hide traders. The trail was part of a grand plan for a hotel and neighborhood, with picnic areas and access to the beach below. With developments falling through and new ones being proposed, the trail was nearly closed to the public. The Dana Point Historical Society was formed in the 1980s and protected the Bluff Top Trail from privatization.
We parked on a street nearby and walked along the cliff, past the Arches, to a statue, and then made the trek back to the car.
Dana Point Arches
Address: 24606 Santa Clara Ave, Dana Point, CA 92629
Follow the cliffside walking path towards the Arches for more views of the Harbor.
The Arches are remnants of an Inn built in the 1930s by real estate mogul, S.H. Woodruff (established Hollywoodland, aka the location of the famous Hollywood sign). Woodruff’s Dana Point Inn was never completed and sold in 1939 after sitting empty. The Arches were originally going to be large windows overlooking the marina. You can read more about Dana Point and the Inn’s development here.
The Hide Drogher Statue
The statue represents the New England traders in the 1800s who would toss cow hides over the cliff in exchange for American-made good on the ships below. Confused about how this works or what the word drogher means? I was. The term “drogher” is Native American word “applied to slow and clumsy coast vessels.” And the life-size depiction of a trader tossing cowhides is a scene from a book. You can read more about the California Hide Trade and Dana Point here.
If you’re looking for another scenic view, head up to the Doris Walker Overlook at Heritage Park. It was too hot during our trip to Dana Point to make the walk up the hillside, so we went straight to the Marina.
(2) Dana Point Harbor and Marina
The Marina is surrounded by several parks. Bring games, a swim suit and beach towel, or a picnic and spend some of your day enjoying one of the many parks.
Harbor Point Park & Dana Cove Park
On the far north side, this cove was once popular among surfers for the “Killer Dana Waves”. Harbor Point offers trails up the cliff as well as access to the Conservation Area. The Dana Cove is a very small sliver of a park.
In this cove, you’ll see a full-sized replica of a merchantman brig. This original ship, The Pilgrim, was “immortalized by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. in his American seafaring classic novel Two Years Before the Mast” (see above). The Pilgrim hosts an “Open House” for the public on most Sundays.
Lantern Bay Park
Address: 25111 Park Lantern, Dana Point, CA 92629
Located on a clifftop, this grassy knoll offers ocean views. You’ll find shade, bocce ball, a playground, and public restrooms at this park.
This park sits in the middle of the marina stretch. It’s similar to Lantern Bay, but with less amenities.
Doheny State Park
Address: 25300 Dana Point Harbor Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629
Fee: Entrance fees are charged on vehicles only and range from $3/hr to $15/day use
This park runs along the beach on the south side of the marina. The park is divided by a channel, with camping on the south side and picnic areas with volleyball and other activities on the north.
On a hot summer day, this area was packed! Families were enjoying their day at the park, on their boat, paddle boarding, eating ice cream, and more. We avoided the masses by strolling over the marina bridge (Island Way) towards the statue of Richard Henry Dana. We watched pelicans and other marine life as we walked up and down the dock.
Here’s a tip: bring a reusable water bottle! They have refill stations!
(3) Shopping & Eating
Marina Parking Address: 25002 Del Prado, Dana Point, CA 92629
The Marina offers several restaurants and shops to choose from. It’s divided into 3 locations: The Wharf, Mariners Alley/Village, and the Island.
Since parking at the Marina was limited, we went across the road to the Dana Marina Plaza where more restaurants were located. We were starving, so we ate lunch before walking down to the Marina.
For diner-style breakfast and lunch cuisine, stop by RJ’s. It closes at 3 pm.
RJ’s was our first choice, but was very busy (probably a good sign) and we just couldn’t wait any longer so we went next door to Jimmy’s.
Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern
American style restaurant with a focus on seafood.
These shops and restaurants are located on the southern side of the marina. We walked down to this point, did some window shopping, then turned back. Lots of seafood restaurant options.
The Alley / Village
This is the heart of the Marina and where the majority or shops and restaurants are located. After the short walk from the Plaza to the Marina, we were sweating and in need of ice cream. We stopped into Scoop Deck, and in the same building was coffee!
Scoop Deck Ice Cream
After the short walk from the Plaza to the Harbor, we were sweating and in need of ice cream. And in the same building was coffee.
Coffee Importers serves more than just coffee and ice cream. From breakfast to lite lunch bites, you can fulfill all your needs here.
There are lots of other options from pizza to seafood to chocolate goodies. You will not go hungry.
The Island to the jetty across the bridge. The Yacht Club overlooks the cove on the north side of the Marina.
If you’re visiting on a Saturday, there is a Farmer’s Market in the Plaza parking lot, near the clock tower.
For a brochure of all things Dana Point, click here. Here are some other options of what to do and see during your visit.
Address: 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point, CA 92629
Fee: $10 / adult
While visiting Dana Point, stop in at the Ocean Institute. This is where you can learn more about the Pilgrim ship and California’s maritime history. There are 30 minute guided tours, weekend activities, and specialty tours (kayaking, tide pools, hikes) from which to choose. Those replica ships aren’t just for decoration either. You can sail them out to sea!
Strand Vista Park
Address: 34116 Selva Rd, Dana Point, CA 92629
Here, you’ll find a long stretch of beach, a park, a conservation area with trails, and the Strand Beach Funicular.
Salt Creek Beach
Address: 33333 Pacific Coast Hwy, Dana Point, CA 92629
Further up the coast you’ll find another beach and picnic option. It’s also a popular surfing spot. The Beach located behind the Ritz-Carlton, so you may be parking far away from the beach and walking past the hotel. If you find parking closer to the beach, there may be a small fee.
If you’re feeling lucky, try visiting Laguna Beach. We were not so lucky. First we tried to park near the Strand Beach Funicular, but that was a bust because we couldn’t figure out where to park. So we moved on to the Pirate Tower. Traffic was awful. We never found parking and spent nearly 30 minutes trying to turn around to head back to San Diego. It’s probably best to try early in the morning than in the afternoon when we attempted our visit. I live so you can learn.
Have you been to Dana Point? Share you’re favorite thing to do in the comments!