The southern end of California’s Highway 1 offers some gorgeous drama, like beach town and whale-watching mecca Dana Point. The town was named after Richard Henry Dana, who first arrived there on a trading ship circa 1835 and was entranced by the romantic cliff-lined area.
The town has been wooing whale- and dolphin-watchers and water lovers ever since, earning the designation of Dolphin & Whale Watching Capital of the World®. In the 1950s and '60s, the right-breaking waves that tended to form here could produce 4-metre surf breaks known as Killer Dana and Doheny. A few streets away, California’s first surf shop was opened in 1954 by Orange County local Hobie Alter.
Today, you’ll still find a Hobie Surf Shop, boutiques and restaurants along this stretch of Highway 1, as well as at nearby Salt Creek Beach, Baby Beach and Doheny State Beach. Otherwise, the town very much revolves around the harbour, which, when it opened in 1971, tamed Killer Dana. The quieter waters, though, created abundant options for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, angling and a lot of whale-watching.
Indeed, you can spot these giant mammals breaching and frolicking in the waves nearly year-round. Migrating grey whales can be seen from November to April, then blue whales from April to October, along with sightings of humpbacks, orcas, fin whales and minke whales. Take a paddleboard ride—the harbour’s waveless anchorage is especially kind to first-timers—and you might also spot pods of dolphins, sea lions and seals. Come during the Christmas season to double the viewings out on the water: one of the town’s biggest events of the year is December’s Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade of Lights.
Many of Dana Point’s hotels and restaurants sit on the cliffs above the harbour (like the Monarch Beach Resort and the Blue Lantern Inn) or on the water itself, such as Waterman’s Harbor where sustainable and locally sourced seafood is on offer, or The Harbor Grill, which serves mesquite-grilled fresh catches. For a classic view, wander along the Bluff Top Trail and, while looking out over the water for whales, see the statue honouring 19th-century hide droghers—tradesmen who literally tossed hides over the cliffs to the merchant ships anchored below. And if you’re looking for an ultra-deluxe experience, check in at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, a longtime Dana Point oceanfront institution.
From board shorts to mouse ears to designer clothes, what you wear in this sun-splashed corner of the state says everything about how you like to play. Whether it’s surf-perfect beaches or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns dotted with luxury yachts, “The O.C.” stands out as one of California’s—make that the country’s—most iconic destinations.
“Surfing is like golf. . . it keeps knocking you down. But when you stay with it and catch that wave. . . magic.” --actor Dennis Quaid
Shop at spectacular South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, or get the surfer look in Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, USA.
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