Dana Point is the ideal spot for travelers looking to visit Southern California with their gorgeous beaches, access to the local SoCal theme parks, water sports (including the popular Dana Point sportfishing) and family-friendly activities. Not to mention all the incredible Dana Point restaurants.
The Ultimate Guide to Dana Point- including the Best Dana Point restaurants and activities
*This is a sponsored post with Visit Dana Point. Thank you for supporting GM.
Dana Point is located in Orange County, CA making it incredibly easy to get to. By air, you have your choice between 6 major airports including John Wayne, LAX, Ontario, Long Beach, San Diego and Palm Springs. Those who prefer to travel by train or bus will be happy to note that both Amtrak and Metrolink service nearby San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. Or, like we did, you can simply drive in on the 5 freeway or Pacific Coast Highway.
Once you arrive in Dana Point getting here and there around town is simple. Our favorite mode of transportation during the summer is the FREE Summer Trolley Service that runs through Labor Day.
You can also ride the Metrolink or hop on an OC Bus through the OCTA. Uber, Lyft, and Taxis are also available. And of course driving along the coast whether in your car or a rental is always a good idea.
Dana Point Restaurants
There are many Dana Point restaurants that are simply amazing, offering sweeping views of the ocean, award-winning chefs, and diverse offerings. Whether you are looking for a 5-star steak restaurant, an organic juice bar, fresh seafood, or a juicy burger you will have no problem finding it in Dana Point.
Here are some of our Favorite Dana Point Restaurants (listed in no particular order)
- AVEO Table + Bar- we love the breakfast buffet, gorgeous views, and craft cocktails
- Coffee Importers- fantastic coffee located in the Harbor + they serve excellent ice cream in their adjoining ice cream shop.
- Raya- if you are looking for a memorable experience the views and service at Raya (located inside the Ritz) can’t be beaten! They are kid-friendly too.
- Genkai Japanese Restaurant- a local recommended this tiny hole in the wall sushi joint. They have delicious rolls.
- Coastal Kitchen- al fresco dining, excellent service, a creative menu- what more could you ask for? Try their crab cakes.
- The Shwack Beach Grill- great coffee in the am, delicious tacos and drinks. They also have a super cheap kids menu.
- enoSTEAK- an intimate setting, pasture-raised beef, and excellent wine selection. This is best for a date night without the kids.
- Salt Creek Grille- an easy spot for the whole family. Make sure to order their iron skillet cornbread as soon as you sit down.
- Luciana’s Ristorante- I’m a sucker for authentic Italian so Luciana’s truly hit the spot.
- Beach Harbor Pizza- after a long day on the water nothing hits the spot like a good pizza. My fav is the Thai Chicken.
- Craft House- you’ll find great craft brews and handcrafted cocktails here. They just won an award for their delicious corn appetizer.
- Stack’s Pancake House- banana macadamia nut pancakes with coconut syrup, nuf’ said!
Check out our YouTube Video for an inside peek at Dana Point.
Things To Do
With 4 gorgeous beaches, access to the harbor, incredible hiking trails, parks, shopping and world-class spas you won’t find yourself short on things to do in Dana Point CA.
- Doheny State Beach- the largest of the Dana Point beaches (62-acres) with 1-mile of gorgeous coastline. Here you can swim, surf, rent bikes (we loved Wheel Fun Bike Rentals), go tide-pooling, camp and/ or enjoy a picnic. They also had a full snack bar, volleyball courts and more.
- Salt Creek Beach- is popular with surfers but is also a great place to swim, check out the tidepools and sunbathe. It is located next to the Ritz (guests there will enjoy the golf cart that drives them down the hill). There is a snack bar, showers, restrooms, a massive grass area with basketball courts, walking trails, and picnic tables. The only downside is it is quite a walk from the parking lot down to the beach and it is pretty steep.
- Strands Beach- another popular spot with surfers but we really enjoyed the fun (FREE) funicular that takes you down to the beach from the parking lot above, the clean restrooms and showers were also a plus. There was also a nice jogging path above near the parking lot.
- Baby Beach- families with little ones will love Baby Beach. For one the parking lot is mere steps from the water. The sand is powder soft. You can rent some fun water toys there. And, it had restrooms, showers, and picnic areas.
Popular Dana Point Attractions
- Ocean Institute- an excellent place to visit with kids is the Ocean Institute in Dana Point. This non-profit marine science center in Dana Point Harbor is a great spot for kids to learn about the Pacific Ocean’s sea life. My kids have visited on field trips over the years but it was awesome to see how much they offered the public as well. There are fun interactive exhibits (kids love the touch tanks), educational opportunities (incl. squid dissections), and you can tour a tall ship on the weekends. Just make sure to check their site before you go as the hours are limited.
- Whale Watching Trips- hopping on a boat for a whale watching tour is something the whole family will love. We toured with Dana Wharf Whale Watching and came across several large pods of common dolphin + several California Sea Lions on our tour. It was a gorgeous day and a really relaxing experience. I was pleased to find a snack bar with soda, hot dogs, candy and chips (cocktails too) and restrooms onboard. I heard from close friends that Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale also offers great family tours.
- Watersports- the ocean is an awesome playground for families. Whether you choose to kayak, SUP, jet ski, or charter a boat you can be sure you’ll have a great time on the water. We chose to rent Seadoo’s on our recent visit and we had a blast! In fact, we had the entire area to ourselves. That is definitely an advantage to a mid-week visit.
- Biking- I loved that the Laguna Cliffs Resort offered guests 2 complimentary bikes with their stay as there were so many wonderful bike paths all over Dana Point. Or for a fun twist rent a surrey bike or a chopper like we did at Doheny Beach.
- Hiking- there are some great trails in and around Dana Point. We enjoyed hiking in Aliso & Wood Canyons Regional Park.
- Dana Point Sea Caves- during low tide you can access the Dana Point Sea Caves located near the Ocean Institute. Pack shoes though bc the rocks are sharp.
- Visit the Castle Tower- in nearby Laguna, there is a beach called Victoria Beach famous for the Victorian La Tour Tower built in the 1920’s. Ella thought it was reminiscent of Rapunzel’s tower and was pretty excited. Be sure to check the tide calendar and be sure you head down there at low tide or the tower will not be reachable.
- Go Shopping- what I love most about shopping in Dana Point is that it’s not super commercial but rather a ton of independent boutique shops and upscale specialty shops offering unique gifts, clothing, chocolates, art and more. Ella and I enjoyed strolling through the shops at the Dana Wharf and also at the Monarch Bay Plaza.
- Dana Point Sportfishing- Dana Point is also a super popular spot among fishermen. In fact, thousands of fisherman travel specifically to Dana Point to go sportfishing each year. There are several options for the varying skill levels starting from novice to advance in Dana Point. Whether you are looking to charter your own boat or head out on a guided tour you will find the Dana Point Sportfishing experience you are looking for here.
Where to Stay
Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa
Perched on a hill above the Dana Point Wharf is the seaside resort known as Laguna Cliffs Marriott. With views of the Pacific Ocean, two heated family pools, a fun splash park for the kids, mini golf on the lawn, and a full spa this resort will make both parents and kids alike very happy. Laguna Cliffs also offer some fun events like Movie Nights, Live Steel Drum Bands, Pizza Making and more.
We stayed here on a recent visit and had an amazing time. We ordered room service one morning which the kids thought was such a treat! I love how little things like that can really help create special family vacation memories.
Monarch Beach Resort
The Monarch Beach Resorts is one of my favorite hotels of all time. The expansive 172-acre grounds are immaculate and yet the vibes are still laid back which is my kind of luxury. The staff here treats you as if they have known you forever, the rooms are well-appointed with plenty of luxurious amenities, the pools are beautiful and the food is top-notch. I also love that they are so welcoming to children too.
On our most recent visit, we dined at their AVEO Table + Bar for breakfast. They have an extensive spread at their daily breakfast buffet offering everything from freshly squeezed juices, pastries, egg dishes and pancakes to fresh made omelets and more. The kids are priced so you can’t turn it down and Ella truly enjoyed splurging. The rest of us were watching our waistlines so we ordered off of their lighter fare menu and everything was delicious. I mean check out my Avocado Toast- YUM!
The DoubleTree Suites at Doheny Beach
The DoubleTree is right across the street from the Pacific Ocean making it a popular hotel with the surf crowd. They recently went through a major renovation and the resort looks amazing. Each of the rooms is a suite and there are multi-room options as well as pet-friendly rooms for those looking to bring their dog.
Of course, we love that you receive one of their famous chocolate chip walnut cookies upon check in (they are seriously THE BEST!) and the rooftop bar is an awesome place to hang out and watch the sunset.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna
If you are looking for something more polished and swanky you can’t go wrong with the Ritz-Carlton. The sumptuous property sits on a cliff above Salt Creek Beach offering sweeping views of the ocean. In fact, I don’t think you can find a more beautiful view while dining than at their restaurant Raya. We have stayed her on several occasions and can attest to their incredible service and awesome kids programs. If you visit during the summer your family can enjoy Dive In Movies and Beach Butler service. Just be warned once you have a beach butler you will never want to go to the beach without one again- ha!
Something most don’t realize is that The Marketplace inside the Ritz has some divine treats. Ella loves the candy bar, but I prefer a magic bar heated up and served with a scoop of freshly made vanilla bean ice cream. It’s soooo good! They also have some really fun old-fashioned sodas and sparkling waters too.
Copy Our Exact Itinerary
- 11am Check In (your room may not be ready but you can store your bags)
- 12pm Grab Lunch at Genkai Sushi
- 2pm Tour the Dana Point Wharf to get familiar and check out the tours available
- 4pm Head to the hotel (your room should be ready now) and enjoy the pool
- 6pm Head to Coastal Kitchen for Dinner (My personal favorite Dana Point Restaurant)
- 8pm Catch Sunset at Strands Beach
- 8am Enjoy breakfast at Monarch Beach Resort’s AVEO
- 9am Hang Out and Play Lawn Games as you walk around the gorgeous property at Monarch
- 10am- Whale Watching Tour
- 1pm- Grab Lunch at ??? Pizza
- 2pm- Walk through the shops at the Dana Point Wharf (an iced coffee or ice cream is a good idea too!)
- 4pm- Head to Doheny Beach and rent a Surrey Bike
- 7pm- Dinner at Chart House
- 9pm- Late night Jacuzzi Run
- 8am Breakfast at Stack’s Pancake House
- 10am Rent Seadoos
- 12pm Grab a smoothie from Jamba Juice
- Head to next door to Laguna’s Victoria Beach and see the famous La Tour Tower
- Head Home (Ruby’s Diner is there if you need a bite to eat or want to try one of their delicious shakes)
*Additional sample itineraries are available from Visit Dana Point
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