Heading West Part X: Dana Point, California

Bill & Denise Semion
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Finally, We Reach the Coast

Seven weeks on the road, driving more than 3,300 miles from Michigan to the California Coast, with stops to see caverns, hoodoos, Joshua trees, and metal dinosaurs. Took a spectacular Verde Canyon train ride and overnighted in quirky Quartzsite in Arizona. Ate barbecue in Texas and saw traditional Mexican dances and horseback riding skills at the San Antonia Stock Show and Rodeo. This is what traveling in our 2015.5 Unity Murphy Bed “Lucky Us” is all about. Seeing new things, trying new foods, and, yes, changing plans occasionally. Be sure to read the other parts of our Heading West series.

If you’ve been following the trek we took in winter 2022, you know that in addition to some amazing adventures, we faced freezing temps, windstorms, cold fronts, and more. Now, we’ve landed at Doheny Beach State Park in Dana Point, California, one of our favorites on the Pacific Seaboard. It’s not remote. The sites are small, and the campground road is tight, but the location is spectacular. Once you discover Dana Point, you’ll want to return. California State Route 1, known as the Pacific Coast Highway, starts here, which makes Doheny State Park a good starting or ending point for your trek along the coast.

Our site was just a short walk to the beach. Please note this site is long enough for our RV, with another site behind us.

Just 65 miles south of Los Angeles and 65 miles north of San Diego, Dana Point Harbor is where you can surf, kayak, stand-up paddle board, hike the shore, and more. There are also tour boats that take you to whale watching year-round. Doheny Beach State Park is centered amid the action, just a short bike ride (or drive) to the harbor. Do you want to watch surfers? Check. Walk to the beach? Check. Pedal the bike path? Check. Paddle a kayak? Check. Eat fresh seafood? Check. Watch stunning sunsets? Check. We’ve stayed here several times, and each time we drive to Cali, we stay a few days more.

Remember that beige lifeguard station and beach area? A heavy rainstorm filled drought-dry San Juan Creek the next day until it overflowed and took out part of the beach.
The campground can be seen to the right of the turquoise lifeguard tower at the far end of the beach. On this day, we could walk all the way to the harbor. Please note the large, beige lifeguard station to the left.

It’s a bike ride or a drive to the pier near the Ocean Institute for this view of Dana Point. Be sure to hike along the shore during low tide to Dana Point Caves. Look for the beach stairs near the pier and the Institute.
It’s easy to spend the day exploring the harbor and beach. This is near the pier.

A whale-watching tour always provides more than watching whales–the scenery alone is worth the trip. We saw a blue whale, a rare sighting, on a tour in 2010. We weren’t as lucky this time.

Catch this stunning view of San Juan Rocks, which makes up Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area, on a whale-watching tour.
Homes line the dramatic coast.

We saw plenty of dolphins and a few whales on our last trip. Here, Bill checks out the dolphins. One is coming up quickly next to the boat.

Nearby, see historic Mission San Juan Capistrano, established more than 200 years ago and considered the birthplace of Orange County, just 12 miles from the park. Today, it celebrates California’s Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and European heritage and is known as the “Jewel of California Missions.” Just nine miles up CA 1 is Laguna Beach, with its fashionable stores and art shops. It’s also home to Pageant of the Masters, an unusual form of live theater.

We planned to stay three nights on this visit to enjoy the beach and the amenities. Since we’ve already been to most of the major attractions before, this time, we rested, recharged, and relaxed before we headed up the coast on California State Route 1.

When You Go

You might get lucky and get a last-minute opening for a campsite, but typically, you’ll need to make reservations six months in advance at Doheny Beach State Park. Be mindful of high and low tides when venturing out when it rains.

Next, we’ll show you sights and sites, as in campgrounds, along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Bill & Denise Semion

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