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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham

Dana Point, California Photowalk

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

Place. Small beach town in Orange County that has a prominent place in the history of surfing. SoCal's first surf shop opened there in the 1950s.

Where. Just south of Laguna Beach, north of San Clemente, about an hour and 15 minute drive from Los Angeles or San Diego.

Postcards. The expansive harbor, surf and beach life, historic lanterns in town, tidepools and the statue of Richard Dana, the town's namesake.


Dana Point Photowalk

Our Dana Point Photowalk has 15 stops. We walk through the tidepools by the side of the Ocean Institute to Doheny State Beach, and then its back in the car for visits to the Ritz-Carlton, Salt Creek Beach and the birthplace of California surfing, at the former original Hobie’s surf shop.

Dana Point Photowalk

1. Park at the Ocean Institute, and then walk to the water, and just north of the Institute, you’ll see the rocky beach, and depending upon the tides, plenty of tidepools. This is a great place for selfies, slow shutter long exposures for dreamy water and HDR photos.

2. The Ocean Institute is worth stepping inside for learning about local marine life, getting that shot of a colorful starfish or eel, (who knows if you’ll find one in the sand?) and access to Photowalk stop no. 3 Address: 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr. Admission prices ranges from $5-10.

3: Walking out onto the Pilgrim boat is part of your tour admission. It’s a replica of an 1800’s era merchantman brig used by the author/explorer Richard Henry Dana, the founder of Dana Point. Dana described the boat in his classic novel Two Years Before the Mast. Photo tips: Selfies, but be careful of the many background distractions. You don’t want poles coming out of your head. Enjoy getting shots of the many replicas, like old cannons and wheels.

4: Walk over and buy your whale/dolphin watch tickets on the harbor and return later for your voyage. You can’t come to the “whale watching” capitol of the west and not go out! Whales are easier to find in the winter, but dolphins are plentiful year-round. 24440 Dana Point Harbor Drive.

5: Take pictures of the boats on the harbor. Photo tips: make good use of the reflections in the water, and find a boat with a memorable saying. Look for fun details. Boat owners seem to love to offer cute monikers for their yachts, like B’s Knees and Chasing Tail.

6: If you’re going to come to Dana Point, why not walk across the harbor bridge and pay your respects to the statue of explorer/author Richard Henry Dana? You couldn’t do such a thing in Newport, Laguna or Huntington Beach. It’s quite rare to visit a town in California named after someone. Los Angeles? Ventura? Malibu? Photo tip: selfies are hard here, due to how high above ground the statue is. Why not just use as an establishing shot? Address: 24300-24698 Dana Dr

7: No photo tip here, but we all get hungry, right? The local institution Coffee Importers is beloved for their exotic coffees, multiple varieties of bagels and ice cream. The perfect stop for lunch. 34531 Golden Lantern.

8: Now it’s time to go on the water and see the dolphins and whales. On our recent trip, we easily saw 500 or so dolphins on the side of Capt. Dave’s boat. You will see them. Whales are more seasonal, even though Capt. Dave does say the blue whale periodically swims through Dana as well. Photo tips: keep your fingers down on the shutter for as long as you can once the dolphins arrive, because the minute you take it off, they’ll probably jump in the air. You can always edit later. (For my recent trip, I snapped 1,000 photos of them.) For smartphone users, use BURST mode, which will let you shoot hundreds of photos in a sequence. Just keep your finger down, again on the shutter. Our friend Grayden J. Fanning, who does photography for Capt. Dave, shared a great tip with us. Look for when the dolphins are swimming along by the side of the boat. “If you click the shutter when they’re in the air, you’ll miss the show, because by the time you click, it will be back in the water. So if you click it right before it jumps, then you’ll get the shot.”

9: Now jump back in the car and drive up the hill to the Dana Points Headlands for a killer view of the area.  This is highly recommended. (It’s free.) There are hikes atop the mountain as well, and just a great place to get an overview of the area. The official title is the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area, 34558 Scenic Dr. Photo tips: wide shots, panorama views, portraits of your subject with the city behind him/her. 

10: Doheny State Beach, one of two popular surfing spots in town. Doheny is favored by surfers who prefer less active, softer waves. This little stretch of sand put on the map by the Beach Boys in “Surfin’ USA.” Photo tips: A great spot for surfing shots. 25300 Dana Point Harbor Dr,

All over Manhattan And down Doheny Way

Everybody’s gone surfin’ Surfin’ U.S. A.

11: One of two ultra-swanky resorts in Dana Point, the Monarch Beach Resort is right around the corner from Ritz-Carlton. Even if you can’t afford to stay there, you can walk in and dream. Check out the giant pool and golf course, and if you can handle the long hike, walk down to the private like, but public access beach on the property. One Monarch Beach Resort.

12: The public access beach right next to the Ritz-Carlton is easier to get to–there’s a parking lot, but more importantly, beyond the amazing pool and grounds, the Ritz is high above the cliffs, overlooking Salt Creek Beach and the ocean. Photo tips: locals unanimously told me this was the best spot in for a killer sunset. I checked out other locations, and indeed, the sun sets in perfect position here to still bring in some land mass. At other areas, the sun was blocked. Remember that for sunsets, be there at least 15 minutes before the sun goes down, and wait around while afterwards, as you usually get some great colors in the sky afterwards. One Ritz-Carlton Drive.

13: Just down the path from the Ritz is Salt Creek Beach, where you might find some aggressive surfing and shots of people having a great time in the water.

14: Selfie alert! The tunnel from the parking lot to Salt Creek Beach is the best selfie spot in town.

15: End your day at Taco Surf, which is more than just a great Mexican restaurant. The building its in is the location of the former Hobie’s Surf Shop, which is the first surf shop to come to Southern California, back in 1954. So, you can see that beyond being a whale/dolphin watch capital, Dana Point was also the birthplace of Southern California surfing. Photo tip: selfie in front of historic building. Or, your basic food shot.

As a bonus, when you’ve finished the Photowalk, drive down the coast a few miles to San Clemente, to the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, for a fascinating look at the birth of surfing. 110 Calle Iglesia San Clemente, CA 92672

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