DANA POINT — This city, which was incorporated as the 28th city in Orange County on Jan. 1, encompasses some of the state's most valuable and beautiful beach front.
In addition to sweeping north to take in the Pacific shore section of Laguna Niguel, boundaries of the 7-week-old city extend south to include the ocean-front enclave of Capistrano Beach.
New lodgings, parks and other attractions have changed the look of Dana Point. More enticements for visitors are on the horizon.
Soon to break ground is a $300- to $400-million hotel and recreation complex, the Monarch Beach Resort, by Hawaii's mega-resort developer Chris Hemmeter.
sh Festival of Whales
The next three weekends include the 17th annual Festival of the Whales at Dana Point Harbor. Entertainment and such marine activities as whale-watch cruises are scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays from Saturday through March 11.
Get there from Los Angeles by driving south on Interstate 5 to the Pacific Coast Highway/California 1 off-ramp that curves back north. At the second stoplight, turn left on Dana Point Harbor Drive to the boat basin.
For a hilltop view of nearly 2,500 yachts and sailboats tied up in the harbor, drive right at the first street, Park Lantern, which climbs quickly to the new Lantern Bay Park. Its inviting lawn also attracts kite flyers, Frisbee tossers and picnickers.
The short street also leads to the 17-month-old Dana Point Resort, noted for its Cape Cod-style architecture. In addition to ocean views from most of its 350 rooms, the hotel features three tennis courts and a health club.
Champagne brunch is on Sunday (11 a.m. to 3 p.m) in the resort's restaurant, Watercolors. Open daily for meals. For reservations, call toll-free (800) 533-9748 or (714) 661-5000.
Room rates begin at $160, but through April 9 Dana Point Resort has a "Whale of a Time" package that costs $134 per couple for a one-night stay, two breakfasts and whale-watching tickets.
A left turn at Park Lantern leads into a popular coastal campground and picnic spot, Doheny Beach State Park.
Thirty-two of the 120 campsites are on the ocean front; reserve through Mistix ($12 a night, no hookups). Day-use entry for picnicking, fishing or surfing costs $4 per vehicle.
Farther along the harbor drive, turn left at Golden Lantern to reach restaurants and shops at the edge of the marina and the departure piers for whale-watch cruises aboard vessels of Dana Wharf Sportfishing.
Observation boats leave the harbor for 90-minute outings at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. every day. On weekends there are extra trips at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., except during the whale festival when tours depart every hour. Tickets cost $10; children under 12 and senior citizens are $6. Call (714) 496-5794.
Parasailing is the new sport at Dana Point Harbor. An innovative launch system lets riders take off (and land) from the tow boat so fliers don't get wet.
Children under 100 pounds can take a tandem ride. For eight minutes the cost is $38 per person. Call (714) 831-1850.
Another left turn from the harbor drive onto Island Way bridges the boat basin to the breakwater, where Dana Drive parallels the main channel. Look for the statue of Richard Henry Dana, the seagoing author of "Two Years Before the Mast" who is the new city's namesake.
Anchoring either end of Dana Drive are two restaurants with harbor views: Delaney's, which specializes in seafood, and Reuben's that is also Michael's Supper Club. On a bluff beyond the boat-turning basin are Cannons and the Chart House, two other restaurants that view the harbor.
At the far end of Dana Point Harbor Drive, visitors are welcome at Orange County Marine Institute, soon to be enlarged and renamed the Marine Institute at Dana Point Harbor. Sea creatures are on exhibit, along with a replica of Dana's sailing ship, the Pilgrim.
Tours of the 1830s-era square-rigger that's anchored in the harbor will be offered Feb. 26 and March 5 during the Festival of the Whales. Special lectures and whale-watch tours are planned by the institute early on festival Saturdays; call (714) 496-2744 for information.
An occasional visitor to the harbor is the state's official tall ship, the Californian, owned and operated by the Nautical Heritage Society. Its headquarters is a small but fascinating maritime museum at 24532 Del Prado.
Drive up the steep road at the end of the harbor, turn right on Green Lantern, then right on Pacific Coast Highway (which becomes one way) and look for a lighthouse-like building. Inside are high-seas memorabilia from the 1800s and models of historic sailing ships. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Sundays and Mondays.
A left turn on Coast Highway takes you north to Ritz-Carlton Drive and the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. From the resort's 150-foot-high site on the cliffs above the Pacific, people can keep an eye out for migrating gray whales.
Rooms at the Ritz, the only hotel in Southern California awarded Mobil's five stars and the Automobile Assn.'s five diamonds, begin at $185 a night and rise to $2,000 for the Presidential Suite. For reservations, call toll-free (800) 241-3333 or (714) 240-2000.
Other lodgings include the Marina Inn at the harbor and the Capistrano Bay Inn and Edgewater Inn across Coast Highway at Capistrano Beach. Call the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce for a list of accommodations and restaurants--(714) 496-1555.
Round trip from Los Angeles to Dana Point is 104 miles.