A Day Trip to Orange County’s Dana Point Harbor

Given how much I love to travel and explore, would you believe I didn’t travel much when I was young? Our family trips were usually local like Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm. Somewhere we did go for weekend stays was Dana Point. I’d get so excited when my mom said we’d be going for an overnight along the California coast. I can recall a sweet shop that introduced me to my love of bubble gum ice cream, buying snacks “past bedtime” at a grocery store and that I packed a little Minnie Mouse toy I loved.

I’ve been wanting to visit Dana Point and see if it’d changed, or if I even remembered anything. Lucky for me my girl, Melanie (from LA Explorer) invited me along to spend the day on the Dana Point harbor. I was floored to see how much I’ve been missing! From the Ocean Institute to their fabulous cuisine, Dana Point is a must-see gem in South Orange County.

The Ocean Institute

We began our afternoon at the Ocean Institute; a place that left me in awe. Since 1977, the Institute has been teaching children about marine science, outdoor education and maritime history. With over 100,000 visitors annually, I loved the fact that the Institute’s main focus is education. Unlike popular attractions (think Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific or the San Diego Zoo) that will assist with school tours, the Institute is a learning institution that does allow the general public to visit.

We met with Dr. Wendy Marshall, Vice President of Education, for an intimate and fascinating tour of the entire Institute’s grounds. We got to touch starfishes, snap some pictures of jelly fishes and learn just how vital places like the Ocean Institute are for the communities. One of the most touching things Dr. Wendy shared with us was when we got a glimpse of the cabins and rooms kids utilize for over night camps often hosted. Some have never seen the ocean, yet right outside their door at the Institute, they will see it from their patio each morning as they gather for breakfast.

In addition to the great learning opportunities that await you at the Institute, they also have a gorgeous gift shop. This gives visitors the chance to give back directly to supporting this beautiful education center all while getting yourself a quality trinket. Even Dr. Wendy said it’s her go-to for that last minute gift!

A pirate ship at the Ocean Institute! (c) Mary Farah
One of the stunning views from the Institute. (c) Mary Farah
Lunch at Harbor Grill

After a lovely tour at the Institute, we were ready for some lunch. We headed over to Dana Point favorite, Harbor Grill, and enjoyed a delicious meal by the water. Greeted right away by Beverly, one of the grill’s team members for nearly 30 years, the bistro was enjoying a laid back weekday as they geared up for dinnertime and the locals coming by for the bar and drinks. Known for some of the best seafood in the area, all fish is prepared on their mesquite grill in an open kitchen, just in-case you want to get a glimpse of the grill in action.

I was thrilled when Beverly brought me a gluten-free menu. With a great selection of the menu available to me, it was extremely difficult in deciding on the perfect lunch. I at last chose the grilled mahi mahi as I was eager to try their mango BBQ sauce. It didn’t disappoint, nor did my side of fruit and rice. While we felt full and had a kayak reservation to get to, Beverly was able to talk us into desserts. Having not had a chocolate cake in a while, I’m glad she did.

Their flourless chocolate lava cake with a dollop of whipped cream on the side and a berry drizzle turned out to be the highlight of my meal. Dense on the outside, gooey in the middle, I enjoyed this send-off so much, that even a lady stopped me on my way out to ask what I was saying was so good. I guess it was no secret I loved and devoured it.

It was #NationalOysterDay and the Grill gave us complimentary oysters! (c) Mary Farah
Mahi mahi lunch. (c) Mary Farah
Flourless chocolate lava cake. (c) Mary Farah
Let’s Take a Kayak on the Harbor

Yes, you read right. I’d never kayaked in my life but when Melanie asked me if I’d join, I thought, why not? Turns out, there was nothing to be afraid of and I loved it. The Dana Point Harbor was nice and small, which eased any thoughts of getting drowned out to sea with no return. Paddle boarders, boats and fellow kayak-ers all were enjoying the gorgeous day despite some wind which made us decide to keep it a short time.

We were in good hands at Capo Beach Waterfront Rentals. They also have lockers for your bags, as well as nifty phone protectors you can use while in the kayak. Although I did use one, I was too nervous to balance both my oar and phone to sap some pictures. A highlight of our time was encountering 2 seals having some fun in the water.

Arriving to kayak with Capo Rentals. (c) Mary Farah
Beautiful time hanging along the harbor after kayaking. (c) Mary Farah
Visit Dana Point

Melanie and I have already discussed a return visit to Dana Point. Whether we check out a whale watching tour or cruise at the Ocean Institute, or visit for lunch and another kayak adventure, I know I’m in.

Thank you so much to Dana Point Harbor and Melanie for inviting me along for a wonderful day at the water! xo