Humans aren’t the only ones who find the coastline of Orange County irresistible. According to one Dana Point local, it's no accident that whales and dolphins love it too.
“We have 10 different species of dolphins and whales that are here throughout the year,” says Giselle Anderson, co-owner of Captain Dave's Dana Point Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari. Part of the reason, she says, is a deep coastal canyon right off the harbor, which offers a veritable buffet of plankton and fish. “So we get some of the most outstanding populations of dolphins.”
In the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, Anderson and two other Orange County locals talk about the charms of "the O.C.”—many hidden in plain sight like that ocean canyon.
The small town of Dana Point, for instance, has been declared both a Whale Heritage Site and the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World, thanks to both sheer numbers and local efforts to protect the marine mammals. Anderson recommends taking a day cruise with one of two operators in town, including Captain Dave’s, to see migrating whales and dolphins who seem to put on a show. “People love seeing a dolphin stampede,” she says. “To see a thousand or more dolphins is common. We see them here once or twice a week.”
She recommends a few spots on land for great views too, like the nearby Laguna Cliffs Marriott or the Dana Point Headlands. “You can walk up on the top of the cliffs and watch for whales from there. It’s stunning.”
Another Orange County gem sits just east of Highway 1: The Ranch at Laguna Beach, a 97-room resort with a pool, spa, and nine-hole golf course. “We're inside this really amazing canyon on 87 acres of wilderness,” says Kurt Bjorkman, the resort’s general manager. You’re not too isolated, though—the surfing and sandy fun of Aliso Beach are just a short walk or golf cart ride away.
One part of the Laguna Beach resort’s natural beauty comes from its commitment to sustainability. Bjorkman tells Johnson about the resort’s biodynamic farm, as well as a unique recycling process that enhances the golf course. “We take every bottle that we use on property,” he says, “and we crush them and sift them through this cool system that turns it into bunker sand.”
Bjorkman offers more tips on playing outdoors around Laguna Beach, including mountain biking in Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park and paddling a kayak in one of the unique beach coves. “All of Laguna is a marine sanctuary,” he says, “So the kelp forests and marine life are teeming. Getting out on a kayak is super easy. If you put a mask on, lean down and look into the water—it's a whole other world.”
Orange County’s culinary scene offers its own mesmerizing experiences. Gretchen Kurz, the longtime dining critic at Orange Coast Magazine, tells Johnson that the area’s dining has become “deeper and wider” in recent years. She shares her favorite restaurants in towns such as Anaheim, Huntington Beach, and Orange, and even at shopping magnets like Irvine Spectrum Center.
Some of her go-to spots include the colorful Santo Remedio in Orange, which elevates any Taco Tuesday with “grander, larger, ambitious tacos.” Another surprise, she says, is the BluSky Restaurant & Bar, a Basque restaurant on the top floor of the Radisson Blu Anaheim. “Most people don't know that early on in Orange County, there were a lot of Basque people here,” she says. The menu offers classics such as Iberico pork, salt cod, and sausages. Plus, the 12th floor vistas are hard to beat. “You can actually see the Matterhorn in the distance, because it's not that far from Disneyland,” Kurz says. “And it has a beautiful view of the sunset.”