Dana Point in southern California is the official start, or end, of the Pacific Coast Highway. The PCH starts at exit 79 from I-5, where California State Route 1 begins. The highway then takes you through part of Dana Point and then north along the coast towards Laguna Beach and the other California beach towns beyond.
Photo (c) Donna Dailey
There’s much more to Dana Point than just being the start of the road trip, however, and it’s well worth a night or two of anyone’s time. It’s probably best-known for its whale watching trips, and in particular its Festival of Whales.
The annual Festival of Whales takes place at Dana Point usually over two weekends in early/mid-March. It’s a great time to visit, but book your accommodation ahead. There are parades with huge inflatable whales, octopuses and other sea creatures that kids will love. There are races, lectures, hot rods on display, music, hikes, walking tours, art, movies, pancake breakfasts, BBQs, sand sculpting, rubber ducky races, and a whole lot more including, of course, lots of whale watching trips.
The Festival also coincides with Dana Point Restaurant Week, when there are some bargain and special meals to be had in the town’s eating places. If you’re coming in for the day from outside the town then there’s a regular shuttle service so you don’t have to get caught up in downtown traffic, and you can park and ride all day for free.
One of the Dana Point experiences you must on no account miss is a whale watching cruise with Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching. Prime season for grey whales is from about November to April, though it can vary a little from year to year depending on the conditions. Then from May to October, the blue whales start to be seen, making whale watching a year-round attraction at Dana Point. Read the account of our Dana Point Whale Watching trip, on a sunset cruise.
Photo (c) Donna Dailey
To the south side of the harbor is Doheny State Beach, the first part of a long stretch which goes all the way to San Clemente. It’s a very popular beach, with a campsite behind it that usually needs to be booked well in advance. It is consistently voted the Best Camping Site in the whole of Orange County, year after year. The beach does also normally have a very good Visitor Center, but at the time of writing it is closed for renovations, with no note of when it might re-open. It’s also a great location for anglers, and is considered one of the best surfing beaches in Southern California.
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To help you in choosing your Pacific Coast Highway hotel, guesthouse, inn, bed-and-breakfast, resort, motel or other accommodations, we've prepared our Pacific Coast Highway Hotels Guide. In it we do mini-reviews of accommodations along the Highway, from Seattle to San Diego, through Washington, Oregon, and California.
In all there are over 200 hotels listed, complete with 8 pages of color maps showing the towns where our recommended hotels can be found. There are both alphabetical and geographical indexes, helping you plan your journey.
We also include color photos of all the hotels that are our Personal Favorites. Here's the link to read more about our ebook guide to Pacific Coast Highway hotels.
The 2018 edition of our Hotels Guide is available for the Kindle, with maps and photos in color, if you have a color reader. You can buy it in the US Kindle Store and in the UK Kindle Store and around the world.
If you want a paperback edition of the 2016 guide with only black and white photos and black-and-white maps, it costs $6.99 at the US Amazon Book Store and £4.99 in the UK Amazon Store.