Destination California: Dana Point

Destination California

In this week’s installment of Destination California, Wendy Burch gets right to the point—Dana Point, that is.

Dana Point is a gorgeous city in Orange County, known as one of the best surfing areas in Southern California. The city is home to the lively Dana Point Harbor, one of O.C.’s few public harbors. Unlike some of the other harbor cities in Southern California, Dana Point has an open and almost rural feel that gives this destination a real distinction.

Area visitors can embark on a wide variety of water sporting adventures from the harbor including surfing, sailing, paddle boarding and parasailing; but this place is most famous for just watching.

Wendy and her son Brady have been whale watching with Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching before, but they were interested to see how the excursion would be different in the time of COVID-19.

“We were ready to get back to business. We say ‘whale come back’ for a reason,” said Donna Kalez, owner and operator of the company.

Dana Wharf Sport Fishing and Whale Watching has been taking out day-trippers for nearly 50 years. Because of their overwhelming popularity, their fleet pretty much operates at full-capacity every day of the week. Now, with COVID-19 restrictions in place, they are running just as many excursions, but with half the passengers on board.

“We are doing it like we always have, but with 50% capacity and people are absolutely loving it,” Kalez said.

On the afternoon our KTLA crew was aboard, they spotted one whale, just a few miles offshore. The Burchs said it was fantastic seeing a really big fin, but they had the most fun when they navigated toward a whole pod of dolphins. Passengers were smiling under their face coverings while the dolphins darted in front of the boat and swam alongside, showing off their aquatic acrobatics.

Of course, all of the ocean air can really work up an appetite. Luckily, Dana Point provides plenty of options in all price ranges. If you are looking for the place with the freshest catch, head to Jon’s Fish Market. Located just a stone’s throw from where you get off of the whale watching boat, Jon’s Fish Market is legendary around these parts. It’s family owned and operated.

“Since 1980, we have been catching fish in our own back yard, processing it right here and grilling it on our grill,” owner Shala O’Keefe said. Wendy can attest to the freshness of the fish. Brady was holding a giant California crab one minute, and about an hour later, his mom was eating it!

If you are an early riser looking for a great breakfast spot, follow the Dana Point locals to a place called Stacks Pancake House. What they are dishing up in this seaside town in absolutely mouth-watering. The restaurant, which is overseen by married duo Mixon and Ovita Tanuwidjaja, blends the couple’s Japanese and Hawaiian cultural traditions into unique fusion fare options, including the restaurant’s signature banana macadamia nut pancakes served with coconut syrup. Other creative breakfasts include options like Japanese fried rice omelets and Oreo cookies and cream waffles.

If you are looking for something to stretch in Dana Point other than your waistline, then take a deep breath and sign up for one of iHeartYoga’s classes held outdoors on the South Lawn on Lantern Bay Park. The instructors worked with the city to give people space without losing their sense of Zen. The class is capped at 45 participants and mats are spaced out 15 feet apart.

“There is no better place to do yoga during COVID that right here,” owner Elsa Stuart said. “Practicing outside with fresh air in your lungs, breathing deeply while overlooking the ocean is super magical, and something you don’t get every day.”

When it comes to spending the night in Dana Point, there are plenty of affordable options right on the beach. Wendy suggests you check out the reasonable rates at the Beachfront Inn & Suites, the Best Western’s Inn-By-The-Sea or the Capistrano Surfside Inn.

If you would like to escape somewhere all-inclusive, look no further than the Monarch Beach Resort. This place has its own private beach club and a golf course right on the property. Wendy recommends you look into the lower level rooms with the fire pits.

“The key to our success when you came here you never have to leave,” said Vice President Ian Pullan.

The Monarch Resort also lived up to its reputation of attention to detail in welcoming guests back after being closed during the safer-at-home orders.

“As we went thru every step of the guest journey, we wanted to make sure eliminated touch points but added special touches,” Pullan said.

When the sun sets on your stay at Dana Point, Wendy suggests you take in the view at 180 Blu. The terrace restaurant at The Ritz Carlton Resort sits high atop the bluff, offering a majestic panoramic perspective of Salt Creek State Beach. She suggests you reserve a socially distanced table around sunset, because there is something special about sipping a salt-rimmed cocktail while overlooking the ocean.

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