Lacking the bling of Newport and the art legacy of Laguna, Dana Point is the often-overlooked stepsister along the Orange County coast. Which is a shame.
Its unpretentious charm and ocean-oriented character have much to offer ― quiet tidepools, a busy marina, a sportfishing wharf, and the family-friendly Ocean Institute, where you can explore all things salty, from sailing to plankton.
Getting out on the water with a kayak or aboard a wildlife cruise is easy, and in September, the weather and water are still warm and the crowds are nonexistent - the perfect time to check out the life aquatic.
Dana Point is midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. From I-5, take Pacific Coast Hwy./State 1 exit, go north to Dana Point Harbor Dr., turn left, and follow signs to the harbor. For more information, contact the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce (949/496-1555).
The largest gathering of tall ships on the West Coast, the Tall Ships Festival (Sep 8-9; $10, $8 ages 3-12; Ocean Institute, 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr.; 949/496-2274) includes cannon battles, living-history demonstrations, sea-chantey concerts, and public tours.
Marine Wildlife Cruise Ocean Institute scientists lead excursions along the coast aboard the RV Sea Explorer to discover the wonders of sea life. INFO: 1-3:30 most Sun (call for dates); $35, $22 ages 4-12 (no children under 4), reservations required; 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr.; 949/496-2274.
Ocean Education Center On weekends, the Ocean Institute invites the public to explore its aquariums, experience working marine labs demonstrating water cycles, and board the square-rigged Pilgrim to learn knot-tying and sea chanteys. INFO: 10-3 Sat-Sun (Pilgrim open 10-2:30 Sun); $6, $4 ages 3-12, including Pilgrim admission; 949/496-2274
Kayaking Rent a kayak and poke around the harbor. INFO: UP Sports Kayak trailer, 34451 Ensenada Place, next to Baby Beach; from $20 per hour; 949/443-5161.EAT
Cannons Seafood Grill All things from the sea at the casual blufftop restaurant with panoramic views. Live jazz on the terrace Sunday afternoons (4-7). INFO: $$$; 34344 Green Lantern St.; 949/496-6146.
Jon's Fish Market Fish and chips on the wharf; inexpensive and very fresh fare. INFO: $; 34665 Golden Lantern St.; 949/496-2807.