The southern origin of California’s Highway One offers some gorgeous drama, like beach town Dana Point. It 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-watchers and water lovers ever since. In the 1950s and 60s, the right-breaking waves that tended to form here could produce 12-foot surf breaks known as Killer Dana and Doheny. A few blocks 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 eateries along this stretch of Highway 1, as well as nearby Salt Creek Beach, Baby Beach, and Doheny State Beach. Otherwise, the town very much revolves around the harbor, which, when it opened in 1971, tamed Killer Dana. The quieter waters, though, created abundant options for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, sports fishing, and a lot of whale-watching.
Indeed, you can spot giant mammals breaching and frolicking in the waves nearly year-round. “We see the migrating grey whale from November through April,” says Kim Tilly, a spokesperson for Dana Point Harbor. “Then we start to see the blue whales from April through October, along with sightings of humpbacks, orcas, fin whales, and minke whales.” Take a paddleboard ride—the harbor’s waveless anchorage is especially kind to first-timers—and you might also spot pods of dolphins, sea lions, and seals. Come during the holiday 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 eateries sit on cliffs above the harbor (like the Monarch Beach Resort and the Blue Lantern Inn) or on the water itself, such as the sustainable and locally sourced seafood offered at Waterman’s Harbor, or the mesquite-grilled fresh catches at The Harbor Grill. For a classic view, stroll along the Bluff Top Trail and, while looking out over the water for whales, check out the statue honoring 19th-century hide droghers—tradesmen who literally tossed hides over the cliffs to merchant ships anchored below.
Whether it’s manicured beach towns or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns and luxury yachts, “The OC” stands out as one of the state’s most iconic destinations. The always-amazing Disneyland Resort, roughly a 1-hour drive south of L.A. and 2 hours north of San Diego, continues to be one of the best-loved theme parks in the world, while Knott’s Berry Farms and other OC attractions amp up the fun meter.
“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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