The Easygoing Spirit and Lure of Dana Point, O.C.’s Original Surf Town

Unwind in the OC’s original surf town.

Dana Point feels worlds away from the nonstop buzz of Los Angeles. The small Orange County beach town steeped in Southern California surf culture is as laid back as it gets. Locals joke about flip-flops being the only footwear you really need—and that attitude extends to the unfussy, easygoing spirit of its luxurious five-star resorts that embrace the community’s good livin’, sunset chasing, wave riding ethos.

Photo by MILKOVĂŤ on Unsplash

Marquee brands like Hobie Surfboards and Surfer magazine originated in Dana Point back in the late 1950s and 1960s. It’s also where legendary surf filmmaker Bruce Brown lived in the early days of his career. That iconic poster from The Endless Summer movie? It was based on a photo shot at Salt Creek Beach. The film itself was credited with bringing surf culture into the mainstream, inspiring fashion trends and growing the sport’s profile worldwide.

You certainly don’t need to be a surfer to enjoy Dana Point’s many charms. These days, it’s all about slowing down, being outdoors and getting out on the water. Pausing to watch the sun drop into the Pacific is a nightly event. The soothing beauty of the colorful sunset “show” is reason alone to visit this coastal gem, where you can see Catalina Island on a clear day. Dana Point’s easy-breezy nature even extends to logistics. Everything seems to be a seven-minute, traffic-free drive away, whether you’re catching a shuttle to the beach or venturing to the harbor.

Photo: Visit Dana Point

STAY

The Monarch Beach Resort is a not-so-little slice of heaven perched on a hillside above the north end of Salt Creek Beach. The expansive grounds include lush, Mediterranean-inspired gardens, a challenging 6,600-yard golf course, a gloriously huge swimming pool, and a walking path leading down to the beach. Spacious, airy guest rooms have private balconies welcoming in the fresh ocean breezes, plus gigantic bathrooms with separate soaking tubs and showers, and the most comfortable plush beds.

The resort’s Miraval Life in Balance Spa was created by the same team behind the flagship Miraval destination spa in Arizona. In addition to a full suite of spa treatments, the spa’s fitness program includes a robust lineup of classes. Yogis can choose from aerial, beach, hatha, flow, and yin classes. Cardio dance, water aerobics, barre, Pilates, spin, and TRX circuits are also on the fitness schedule. The mindfulness options are just as solid with guided beach hikes, meditation for sleep, crystal reiki chakra balancing, and sound healing sessions. Even the beauty services are top-notch between the Deborah Lippman Nail Salon and Drybar.

One of the property’s best-kept secrets is the completely refurbished Monarch Bay Beach Club. Resort guests receive exclusive access to the private members’ club, where a fully outfitted beach experience awaits, bar and restaurant included.

 Start your Monarch mornings with breakfast at indoor-outdoor AVEO Table + Bar. Everything on the menu is very fresh and the avocado toast is downright addictive. For an elevated twist on the classic American steakhouse, dinner at Bourbon Steak on property is a must. Don’t let the name fool you—they’ve got plenty of delectable options for pescatarians and vegetarians too.

Top spots to watch the sunset with a libation in hand include the terrace of Monarch Beach Resort’s lobby bar, as well as the Monarch Bay Beach Club’s dining room and bar. Get a different angle at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel’s 180blũ, which sits atop a bluff on the opposite end of Salt Creek Beach. If you’re seeking more substantial fare, the elegant Raya restaurant at the Ritz has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the popular surf break. Chart House is another stellar viewpoint for dinner with sweeping ocean views of the harbor and Doheny State Beach.

Photo by Daniel Salcius on Unsplash

PLAY

A major hub of activity, Dana Point Harbor is the gateway to adventures at sea and charters to Catalina Island. Take a whale watching cruise, rent kayaks or paddleboards, try parasailing, go sportfishing, or head out on a sunset wine cruise. Dana Wharf even offers “Yacht Yoga,” a vinyasa flow on the water with sunrise and sunset sessions.

If you’re traveling with kids, the Ocean Institute will surely be a highlight. The interactive educational facility teaches visitors about the marine ecosystem and lets you see jellyfish, sharks, starfish, eels and more sea creatures up close. All ages will enjoy the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center. The intimate, unassuming museum houses the world’s most authoritative archive of surfing artifacts, surfboards, memorabilia, photography, video, periodical and scholarly works.

Mission San Juan Capistrano Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

Delve further into California history at the photogenic Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776. The beautifully preserved mission and its gorgeous grounds showcase the region’s early days through displays, Native American Indian artifacts, and plein air art exhibitions.

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