Dana Point sits on the cliffs about halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. The convenient location, plus gorgeous beaches, great restaurants, and a huge variety of entertainment and activities, makes it perfect for a day trip or weekend getaway. Book a whale watching cruise, visit the Ocean Institute, or just sit by the beach and enjoy the casual surf-town feel. Tide pools, ocean-front art classes, and fishing lessons will keep the younger ones happy; and there is sailing, parasailing, and stand-up paddleboarding for older kids.
Every beach town has a different feel: Dana Point is relaxed and welcoming. Read on to discover just why it's the perfect day trip (or weekend getaway) for LA families.
Baby Beach is perfect for the littlest swimmers. Photo courtesy of Dana Point Harbor
Things To Do with Kids in Dana Point at the Beach
Wheel Fun Rentals rents surreys, beach cruisers, hybrid bikes, boogie boards, and paddleboards. Or keep it simple and just swim, body surf, and build sandcastles.
2. Take tiny swimmers to Baby Beach
Baby Beach offers calm waters for little swimmers; for added peace of mind for parents, lifeguards are on duty during summer. Stay all day and eat at the picnic and BBQ area or head to the adjacent Dana Point Harbor for a meal at one of the restaurants or poling around the shops.
3. Learn to sail
Take family sailing lessons, or sign up the kids for a summer sailing camp at Westwind Sailing.
4. Hang ten with surfing lessons
Dana Point beaches are ideal for learning to surf. Girl in the Curl gives surfing lessons for ages 5 years to adult.
5. Explore Tidepools and a Pirate Cave
Explore Pirate’s Cave (at low tide only) near the Ocean Institute. It's an easy walk punctuated by mysterious caves and beautiful views. Then for more beach explorations, discover sea creatures at the tidepools at Salt Creek Beach. (The beach has bathrooms, showers, concessions, and rentals.)
Bring the kids to the Ocean Institute for the day, summer camp, or one of the fabulous family programs. This ocean science and maritime history center makes learning about life under (and over) the sea lots of fun. They also host one of the most fabulous festivals in all of SoCal (more on that, below).
7. Reel ‘em in and learn to fish
Sign up the crew for a Kids Fishing Clinic at Dana Wharf Sportfishing. Young anglers line up dockside to learn hands-on fishing techniques from the experts.
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Get artfully inspired aboard the Wylands Whale & Dolphin Adventure. Photo courtesy of DanaWharf.com
Arts and Sports for Kids in Dana Point
8. Get a ride to the sand on the funicular
The Strand Beach Funicular Cable Car is a fun mini lift down to the beach. And so much easier than toting all your gear. (The funicular is not yet operating as of July 1, 2021. But we couldn't not include it, as it's something kids adore when it is up and running!)
9. Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley
Take a ride on Dana Point Trolley which runs from Memorial Day – Labor Day.
10. Hit the links
Schedule a tee time at Monarch Beach Golf Links and enroll the kids at Junior Golf Camp.
11. Play Picasso
Drop by KidCreate Studio to create some art in the art workshops—one-time workshop classes for kids that educate and entertain. You can also drop kids off for up to 3 hours of guilt-free "me-time!" for a date night or stroll on the beach.
12. Art Lessons in the Wild
Create your own work-of-art aboard a Dana Wharf vessel Wylands Whale & Dolphin Adventure, available January through April.
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Watching dolphins! Photo courtesy of Visit Dana Point
Outdoor Events and Festivals in Dana Point
13. Cinema under the stars at Movies in the Park
Everybody loves Movies in the Park, so stick around in the summer after a day at the beach. Movies are screened Fridays in June at Lantern Bay Park.
14. Dance the night away with Concerts in the Park
If you'd rather be dancing, then Concerts in the Park are held on Sundays in July at Sea Terrace Park.
Doheny State Beach’s Independence Day Fireworks takes place every 4th of July at 9pm. They are launched from a barge off the coastline, and it's spectacular to watch the fireworks over the ocean.
16. Share the Aloha spirit at the Ohana Festival
The Ohana Festival takes place in September at Doheny State Beach. The celebration includes live music, food, storytelling, sandcastle contests, and much more.
17. Ahoy Matey! Pirates abound at the Tall Ships Festival
The Tall Ships Festival is the most fun pirate fest in the world. Truly. No decisions have been made about the fest for 2021, which is usually held in September at the Ocean Institute.
A trip to a beach town isn't complete without fabulous fish tacos. Photo courtesy of The Shwack
Places To Eat and Shop with Kids in Dana Point
Stop in The Wee Loft toy shop for puzzles, sand toys, puppets, and more. You'll have to drag kids out, but once you're perusing the awesome selection of outdoor toys, you may not want to leave, either.
19. Try not to fill up on guacamole at The Shwack
Fish tacos and jalapeno bites for mom and dad; grilled cheese and burgers for the kids. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served on the patio near the water. In other words, heaven.
Dine in at Maison Café and Market for classic foods kids love and complex flavors for parents. Or stop in the market for grab-and-go meals that mean you don't have to pack your beach picnic before leaving home.
21. Savor some Kung Pao chicken
The Little Kitchen Asian Café is a tiny tucked-away spot with a solid menu of delicious Asian dishes. It's a great place to order a selection of appetizers and salads for a different kind of beach picnic.
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The Family Pool at the Waldorf has a splash pad. Photo courtesy of Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club
Places to Stay in Dana Point with Kids
There's so much to do, you may find you need more than a day to relax and play in Dana Point. These are our favorite spots to spend the night, all of which have a little something extra for families.
If you can splurge, this would be our pick. Not only is it spectacularly gorgeous, situated along the coast, but the Ritz is incredibly kid (and dog!) friendly. Grab a s'mores kit for the fire pits at night, and during the day the kids can play and arrange adventures at the Eco-Adventure Center, and through Ritz Kids there are toys, baby gear, events, and services available for kids of all ages from babies to teens.
The totally private Beach Club at the Waldorf has an oceanfront bar and restaurant; gear for surfing, paddleboarding, and more (with expert instruction); and chair, umbrella, and towel service. It's a staycation that will have you dreaming of a return visit. Then back at the hotel, the Family Pool is not only graduated so it's safe for all swimmers, there's a sprayground right next to it.
Speaking of spraygrounds, the Del Mar Pool & Kids Splash Zone at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott means you'll want to book an extra night in Dana Point just to enjoy the hotel. With fountains, surfboards, and water cannon for kids right next to lounge chairs with ocean views for parents, there's something for everyone here.
Looking for something a little more rustic? (And less pricey...) Doheny Beach State Park has camping by the beach and was named "Best Camp Site" eighteen years in a row by The Orange County Register. (It also made our own list of the best campgrounds in the LA area!)