Looking for the perfect beach stop in your California roadtrip? Dana Point, California may be it. And more.
This post is brought to you in partnership with Visit California.
Ever heard of Dana Point? Despite having been there 3 times now (in 4 years), I still think it is one of California’s best kept secrets. And in all honesty, one I am quite keen to keep that way. Why? Because it is what would and could be called a hidden gem which really delivers on the luxury travel front either as a nice weekend away from Los Angeles or San Diego, for example, but it also makes for a perfect stop on your Southern California road trip.
Where is Dana Point, California?
Dana Point California is located south of Newport and Laguna Beaches, in Orange County (under 15-30 minutes and under 20 miles) and about an hour’s north of San Diego, with no traffic. It is about 65 miles give or take.
As you may know, I have been to Newport Beach quite a few times, but more often than once, I chose to stay in Dana Point.
From Los Angeles, an ‘hour or so’ does it – just under 70 miles with no traffic.
Where to stay in Dana Point, CA?
On my 3 trips to the area in the last 4 summers (which should tell you something – we really quite liked it!), we stayed at the Monarch Beach Resort, which in its previous life, was the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort (and how it got on our radars years ago).
The hotel has been refurbished and it really ticks a lot of my boxes – nice rooms, excellent dining (more on that later), golf with a view (for Mr. O) and more.
Monarch Beach Resort has a great fitness offer (it comes with a Miraval Spa with inclusive fitness classes and its gym has 5 pelotons for guest use). These are things I wouldn’t really care about before I got on my ‘fitness journey‘ and on my last trip I actually stayed at the hotel on my own for 3 nights (as my husband had a conference in LA and had to move on). I would go on my own again and recommend anyone would too.
Rooms are large and well appointed and I do not think there’s one with a bad view (for a change) – they offer Miraval-branded toiletries and the hotel has its own Drybar (a huge plus on my books).
Service is absolutely top notch – we have commented on it throughout every stay. It doesn’t have a big brand but there is no need. They know what they are doing.
The pool and the beach at Monarch Beach Resort
The hotel is huge and I feel that the pool area is… a bit small. With so much space, there could be a bit more space between the sun loungers (I know American hotels like them side by side which I still do not understand).
I found some peace and quiet at the spa pool (which I feel should remain a secret!).
The hotel also has a shuttle to their private beach and beach club (open to hotel guests and Monarch Beach members only) which has been recently completely refurnished and it does look great.
The hotel has a complete beach set up and staff…. with chairs. I still do not get why the resistance for actual beach BEDS, but I have left this comment on my guest survey and even sent them links to examples of other California beach hotels who are doing this well – well, there are only 2: Hotel del Coronado in San Diego (see video above, beach beds are open to non hotel guests) and Malibu Beach Inn.
The beach is beautiful and you can walk for miles – and you can see the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel which is the other main hotel in the area on the photo below. We went there for dinner on a previous trip but thought it was in need of a facelift.
Some of the best places to eat in and around Dana Point
Whereas I am not one to usually stay in at the hotel and eat, exceptions are there to be made. As I mentioned previously, I found that the Beach Club at Monarch Beach Resort was lovely (but much preferred the regular menu than the brunch menu at weekends, where you can’t have one of their signature dishes.. the seafood bake).
We had to end up going on a Monday for this meal, which is absolutely worth a visit. Lunch for 2, $150 including a glass of wine.
The hotel also has an outpost of Bourbon Steak, Michael Mina’s upmarket micro chain – we have eaten here 3 times already (not all on the same trip!) and I have to say, it was here I had the absolute best steak of my life. The American Wagyu Tomahawk feeds 3 (with some leftovers), so don’t even flinch at the $275 price tag.
They have a good seafood selection and also wine, of course. Dinner for 2 with wine was ranged for us from $250 to $400 but again, I still remember what I ate each time. We have also discovered what must be of the best wines in terms of value for money – Ridge Three Valleys from Sonoma County (2017) for a mere $73. There aren’t many double digit wines on this menu and this was a very nice sommelier recommendation on our first visit. PS. I won’t tell you what happens with the fries.
Outside the hotel, we went to Waterman’s Wharf for lunch when we arrived. It was located at the wharf where our whale sightseeing cruise departed from and it really was quite nice.
We had a table by the water and particularly enjoyed watching the fisherman bring the catch of the day to and from the boats – something I never really noticed in California.
We shared a crab salad and lobster Mac and cheese and it cost $45.
Things to do in Dana Point
I like going to Dana Point to do very little, but this time, and in the name of research, I went on a dolphin and whale sightseeing boat trip. These boats depart regularly from Dana Wharf (and you can pre-book online to make life easier. Cost is $49 per person). We were kindly given a ‘speedy boarding’ pass, which actually meant we were the firsts ones to walk in and picked a spot we never left.
The trip lasted a couple of hours and we did see a lot of wonderful dolphins – but no whales, and that was fine by me.
What is near Dana Point?
Dana Point is under 20 minutes from Newport Beach, so we naturally found ourselves here for dining with friends (we had dinner at Fig & Olive ($200 for two including 2 glasses of wine) and drinks at Balboa Bay Resort and Lido House.
For shopping, one of my favourite stops is Corona del Mar – between the two locations where you will find the Williams Sonoma with probably the most beautiful car park in the world. Only in California, of course.
For all your other shopping needs, Fashion Island in Newport Beach will ensure there is nothing missing in your life.
Why you need to go to Dana Point, California
For us, it has become a ‘must stop’ in all our Southern California road trips, just like Greater Palm Springs and Beverly Hills. Why? Because of the beach and the hotel location. You can really unpack and stay for more than just a couple of nights and coming from Europe like most of my readers do, be a base to explore the OC area.
It gives you some good dining options in the area, decent shopping too and… pretty good sunsets.
Until the next time.
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Disclaimer and Fact box: our Dana Point California Road Trip was funded and sponsored by Visit California. I know California very well and they have asked me to share this in whichever way I saw fit. I would invite you to begin your California trip planning at their website, which actually is quite useful.
For more information about Dana Point, California visit their website.
We flew with British Airways to San Jose, and you can fly to California from London Heathrow from £1800 in business class. British Airways flies to Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose.
Monarch Beach Resort offers bedrooms from $399/night depending on season. Valet parking costs $55 per night (and self parking is not available!). The hotel charges a resort fee of $55.
We hired a car with Hertz. An SUV cost around $50/day.