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Playa for all kinds of play

Just beyond Dana Point Harbor, Doheny offers a long to-do list of fun activities, from camping and fishing to just lying out on the sand.

August 12, 2007|Scott Doggett | Special to The Times

Doheny State Beach has all the makings of paradise, SoCal style. An endless lapis sky. Beach wider than the 101 Freeway. Waves of surfable breaks. Lots of volleyball nets and barbecue grills. Myriad tables and acres of lawn for picnics and playing catch. And after every magical sunset, cool soft sand on which to pitch your tent and descend into sleep.

The park is an hour's drive south of downtown L.A., down the coast from Dana Point Harbor, and straddles San Juan Creek. It takes its name from oilman Edward L. Doheny, who in 1931 donated 41 acres of prime real estate to the state. Land acquisitions years later and a natural buildup of sand increased the size of the beach and the adjoining campground, picnic areas, bike trails and restrooms to more than 80 acres.

Along with a buoy-bordered patch of the Pacific, those acres are designated for surfing, volleyball, swimming, sunbathing, beachcombing, fishing, kayaking, kayak fishing, windsurfing, horseshoe tossing, bird-watching, scuba diving, biking, skating, picnicking, strolling, jogging and camping. In other words, Doheny State Beach has lots to do.

If you left your beach toys in your other car, don't fret. You can rent quite a few at the Snack Shack, between the beach and the first parking lot you'll come to. You'll find an assortment of bikes and surreys from $8 to $20 an hour (free helmet use), boogie boards ($8 an hour), beach chairs ($3 an hour), beach umbrellas ($3 an hour) and sand toys for Mikey ($2 an hour). The rental operation is open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

The Snack Shack also sells foot-long Polish sausages ($4.75), tri-tip sandwiches (also $4.75), snow cones ($3) and other killer foods from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends.

The park contains three visitor-use areas.

The one northwest of San Juan Creek has day-use picnic grounds with large grassy areas and tables. Clean restrooms and hot-water showers, a field of beach, the main lifeguard tower and a 700-car parking lot are conveniently close. The area also has a visitor center with aquariums, but it's closed now because of mold.

A campground with 122 spaces for tent and RV camping abuts the beach southeast of the creek, which reaches the ocean a couple of months a year but otherwise ends 100 yards or so short of it. At river's end is a wetland that's popular with great blue herons, ruby-crowned kinglets, northern pintails, common yellowthroats and other colorful birds. Bring binoculars if you are into bird-watching.

Each of the 122 campsites consists of a paved parking space, a fire ring with grill, a picnic table, a hedge of vegetation for privacy, and a dirt or sand area to pitch a tent, depending on whether you're on the beach or inland. There are 33 sandy campsites in all, and each is terrific. My faves are 75, 73, 59 and 45, because the vegetation beside them is a tad denser than at other sites. Sites 75 and 73 are closer to restrooms than 59 and 45, but the latter are closer to the Snack Shack. Visit, and click on "campsite layout" to see photos of the sites.

Doheny is so popular that summer campsite reservations tend to disappear seven or more months earlier. That said, cancellations are common. If you're making last-minute plans, call Reserve America at (800) 444-7275 to check. The closer to the desired date, the more likely you'll score a campsite. You can check availability online at

Farther southeast is another day-use beach with more than 500 parking spaces, several restrooms with flush toilets, beach showers, fire rings and seasonal lifeguard towers. The area attracts fewer people, so if you're seeking a little solitude under the sun, head there.

If you or your children will be playing in the ocean, Doheny's lifeguards would like to speak with you.

Grant Shubin, one of the park's eagle-eyed lifeguards, said lifeguards welcome the opportunity to warn visitors about such water hazards as a rip current, undertow or a sudden drop-off rather than have visitors learn about them the hard way.



Setting up camp


Doheny State Beach has 122 sites for car and RV campers. The 33 beachfront campsites run $35 a night from March 1 through Nov. 30; otherwise, it's $30 a night. The 89 inland campsites go for $25 or $20. Maximum eight people per site. One vehicle and a tow-in vehicle are included in the overnight fee; a second vehicle costs $10. There's one hike-and-bike campsite for $3 a night; one night only. Doheny's first group campsite is under construction. There's a dump station and water for RVs, but no campsite hookups. Day use runs $10 daily per vehicle. If a "Park Full" sign is posted, it's OK to park outside the park and arrive on foot.


The beach is less than two miles from Interstate 5 at 25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, CA 92629. Take Exit 79 toward Pacific Coast Highway, turn left on Dana Point Harbor Drive and follow the signs.


California State Parks, (800) 777-0369,; Doheny State Beach, (949) 496-6172,


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