Dana Point is a small beach town in between Laguna Beach and San Clemente. Most people stay in the more populated neighboring beach towns like Newport Beach or Laguna Beach, but Dana Point is a more laid-back luxury town best known for its surf culture, whale watching, and idyllic beaches.
One of the perks of living in Los Angeles is being within driving distance to so many road trip destinations from wine tasting in Paso Robles to the beaches of Orange County. I visited Dana Point twice during the last year and really enjoyed both trips. I enjoyed excellent meals, had some really cool experiences, and stayed at some of the most beautiful hotels in Orange County.
Here are the best things to do in Dana Point.
The best hotels in Dana Point
There are two 5-star luxury hotels located in Dana Point: Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach and The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. There are several other hotel options in the nearby beach towns but the two luxury hotels that are actually in Dana Point are great choices. I’ve stayed at both so I’ll explain some of the differences between the two.
Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach
The Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach is my top pick for luxury accommodations in Dana Point. I love this hotel and had a 5-star experience here. Everything from the room itself to the service and property amenities was excellent. If you are looking for a resort where you don’t have to leave the property, I highly recommend Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach. The upscale hotel is also home to Bourbon Steak by Chef Michael Mina.
I stayed in a Fireside Terrace Room equipped with an outdoor fire pit perfect for roasting s’mores or staying warm on a crisp winter evening. I also recommend the private Monarch Bay Beach Club for a romantic dinner overlooking the ocean (there is a complimentary shuttle that will take you there).
Pros: Spacious rooms, variety of dining options, beautiful pool, excellent service
Cons: The outdoor fire pits had to be turned on and off by staff which was inconvenient
Check rates at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
Recently renovated guest rooms and suites were unveiled earlier in March and are a nice upgrade from the outdated rooms. The modern design features a coastal-inspired color scheme, glass-enclosed walk-in showers, and updated furniture. This particular property also features a Club Lounge which also got a fresh new look. Guests who book a Club Level guest room can enjoy complimentary breakfast, snacks, desserts, as well as other exclusive perks.
I stayed in a ground floor room that featured a private outdoor fire pit and I loved using it at night (much easier to use than the one at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach room). 180blu is a popular spot for sunset drinks (see below) and if you’re looking to spend a day at the beach, the resort offers Beach Butlers which is really convenient.
Pros: A Club Level Lounge, newly renovated rooms, ground floor rooms with private fire pits, 180blu for drinks
Cons: Poolside food wasn’t great
Check rates at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
Things to do in Dana Point
Book a private cruise and watch the dolphin stampede
If you do nothing else on this list make sure you at least go see the dolphins. Dana Point has a high concentration of blue whales and dolphins so it’s one of the few places where you can spot both year-round. The two-hour private boat ride includes up to six guests on a 53-foot luxury boat called The Current that will take you just inches away from dolphin pods swimming alongside the boat. Here’s a clip of the dolphins from my trip.
This was one of the most magical things I’ve ever experienced on a boat because it was more than just a few dolphins — I’m talking about hundreds of dolphins surrounding the boat! It’s something you have to see and experience for yourself. It remains one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve had.
Book a private boat ride
Cost: $750 (including gratuity) for up to 6 guests
Book a group tour
Cost: $39 per adult
Have breakfast at Maison Dana Point
Do you ever go to a restaurant you love so much that before you leave you’re already thinking about when you’ll be going back? Well, that’s how I felt when I was eating the chévre toast at Maison Dana Point. I fell in love with the freshly-baked pastries and the dainty mismatched plates. The brunch menu is my dream breakfast menu: egg dishes for days, sweet and savory toast plates, and pastries they make in-house daily. The Euro-inspired cafe is the brainchild of chef Danielle, a self-taught chef passionate about sustainable and fresh food. And don’t be fooled by the fact that the restaurant is located in a strip mall — there is almost always a line.
Grab a green juice from Organic Tree Juice Bar
This cute juice bar inside the Dana Marina Plaza serves organic juices, coconut smoothies, herbal tea blends, and power lattes. They also have a small menu featuring healthy salads, sandwiches, and gourmet toasts. The cafe is perfect for a quick morning or afternoon bite and is just across the street from the harbor.
Have lunch at Coastal Kitchen
Coastal Kitchen reminds me a lot of the restaurants under Hillstone Restaurant Group. Quality food that is consistently good, excellent service, and great ambiance. The nautical-themed restaurant has a small outdoor patio with fire pits that face Pacific Coast Highway. During COVID, Coastal Kitchen converted a portion of the parking lot into outdoor seating to keep through the summer. Order the starter kale salad which tastes much better than it looks on the menu — it was so good we ended up ordering two! We also ordered the salmon and ahi tuna dishes and we practically licked our plates clean. The New American menu includes a variety of fish and steak dishes as well as burgers and salads. It’s the kind of restaurant that everyone will love.
Burn off some calories and walk around the corner to Blue Lantern Inn for some of the best views of the harbor.
Glasspar is a seafood-centric eatery where you can find almost everything under the sea. Popular dishes include oysters, yellowtail crudo, scallop ceviche, duck fat fries, and my personal favorite, the day boat scallops. The G3 cocktail made with lavender might be one of my favorite cocktails ever! The spacious outdoor patio is covered and can accommodate small and large groups and there are plenty of heaters to keep you warm from the ocean breeze. Bring the family or come with a group and enjoy some of the freshest seafood in town and don’t forget to check out the oyster bar while you’re there.
Take an outdoor yoga class with iHeartYoga
The beauty of living in Southern California is using the outdoors as your playground or in some cases, personal gym. Morning yoga is great but morning yoga outdoors with an ocean view is pretty hard to beat. iHeartYoga offers daily outdoor yoga classes at Lantern Bay Park in addition to their studio offerings. The popular classes are capped at 70 guests and tend to fill up pretty quickly so make sure to sign-up early and don’t forget your yoga mat and towel!
If you’re feeling like an extra workout, the Dana Point Stairs are close by, and while not as long as the Santa Monica Stairs, they’ll still give your calves a workout.
Hours: 8:30am and 10:30am everyday; sunset yoga at 5:30pm Monday-Thursday
Fee: $10 per person
Details: Register here
Have happy hour at Waterman’s Harbor
Some might consider Dana Point harbor the heartbeat of Dana Point. There are a ton of bustling seaside shops and restaurants here including Harbor Grill Restaurant and Gemmell’s but I dined at Waterman’s Harbor which is a great option for seafood and craft cocktails overlooking the sunset. Happy hour bites include fish tacos, truffle mac and cheese, coconut shrimp, ceviche, and a few tasty vegetarian options as well. For drinks, you can choose from house wine, sangria, beer, or cocktails. Happy hour is from 4-6 pm Monday thru Friday. Seating is first-come, first-serve so if you’re trying to catch the sunset, arrive early to snag one of the corner tables facing the harbor.
Take a cycling class at GritCycle
If you love SoulCycle, you’ll love GritCycle. The boutique cycling studio with several locations throughout Southern California offers 45-minute high-intensity, full-body cycling classes. The Monarch Beach studio is just a few minutes away from the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach hotel, inside the Monarch Bay Plaza. I love how spacious the studio is so you don’t feel cramped and sweaty on top of each other. For a challenging (but good) sweat sesh, take Amanda’s class.
Enjoy sunset cocktails at 180blu
Even if you’re not a hotel guest at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, 180blu is still worth visiting for the beautiful sunset views. The oceanfront terrace offers some of the best views of the coastline and it’s even better with a cocktail in hand. Thursday nights are the best time to visit so you can enjoy live entertainment from 4-7 pm. Seating is first-come, first-serve so make sure to arrive no later than 5 pm to beat the line. If you don’t get there in time, you might just miss the sunset!
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