For an genuine California surfer expertise, go to this underappreciated gem

Dana Level, California, lies close to the southernmost tip of Orange County, so it’s comprehensible how this scenic coastal metropolis feels far faraway from OC’s extra central and extra well-known vacationer points of interest. However when you’ve ever needed to check out OC’s favourite sport, you must head down right here. (And no, we’re not speaking about purchasing!)

Browsing will not be native to California, nevertheless it’s positively a part of Dana Level’s lifeblood. Whether or not you’re an aspiring professional surfer searching for a brand new spot to experience some epic waves otherwise you’re a hodad who’s by no means climbed onto a surfboard earlier than, you will have loads of good causes to hit the seaside at Dana Level. From Dana Level’s outstanding vary of waves to the town’s distinguished place in browsing historical past, it’s all the time a good suggestion to go well with up and produce your board down right here for an superior seaside trip. 

Right here’s some historic background on Dana Level

Andrew Davey/The Guide

A couple of century earlier than the primary “watermen” started using the native waves, the extremely acclaimed creator, legal professional, and civil rights activist Richard Henry Dana landed right here as a younger sailor after which memorialized it as “essentially the most romantic spot on the coast” in his memoir, Two Years Earlier than the Mast. Quick-forward to 1954, when Hobart “Hobie” Alter and Grubby Clark opened their very first Hobie surf store on Pacific Coast Freeway (or PCH) in Dana Level. Years earlier than manufacturers like Van’s, Quiksilver, and Hurley caught their huge breaks, Hobie modified the sport with its devoted surf store and its revolutionary polyurethane foam-based boards.

In 1966, native filmmaker Bruce Brown actually put Dana Level and the remainder of the Orange County coast on the map along with his documentary The Infinite Summer time. The identical yr, native surfers suffered an enormous loss with the legendary “Killer Dana” waves off Doheny State Seashore being killed off with the event of Dana Level Harbor. But whereas one famed seaside turned to mush, one other took off: OC surfers turned very stoked with the right swells at Salt Creek Seashore to the north. Doheny has since develop into the go-to spot for groms and kooks (as in, browsing novices) to be taught the game, whereas Salt Creek is a favourite of knowledgeable surfers. 

Why Dana Level?

Picture by Andrew Davey

Rising up in Orange County, I used to be pretty aware of Dana Level. However because it’s located about 32 miles south of the extra well-known “Surf Metropolis USA” Huntington Seashore, 34 miles south of Disneyland, and straight south of the uniquely charming inventive and cultural hub of Laguna Seashore, Dana Level feels completely different. 

Locals joke about this facet of OC being completely different as a result of the San Diego TV and radio station indicators typically come in additional clearly than these for the Los Angeles stations, however the distinction goes deeper. Although some elements of Dana Level really feel as stereotypically suburban as the remainder of South Orange County, there are many hidden treasures lurking beneath all these red-tile roofs. 

After I grew up and moved away from OC, I actually started to higher recognize extra of what I had left behind — together with Dana Level. Beneath, we’ll take you on the last word tour of OC’s best-kept coastal secrets and techniques, together with some locations and companies that I didn’t even learn about till very lately!

The place can we surf — or just benefit from the seaside in Dana Level?

What’s good about Dana Level is that for being a reasonably compact metropolis, it presents all kinds of seashores. Whether or not you’re into huge waves or chill vibes, Dana Level has the proper seaside for you. From north to south, listed below are Dana Level’s seaside areas. 

Salt Creek Seashore

Andrew Davey/The Guide

Should you want huge and gnarly waves, then Salt Creek’s the browsing seaside for you. Its small offshore reef makes for maybe one of the best left swells in all of Southern California. You possibly can simply spend the day fulfilling your Infinite Summer time fantasy carving your approach alongside some really epic waves. Any hodads who’re touring with you may benefit from the scenic tidepools on the south facet of The Ritz-Carlton (by Strand Seashore), grassy knolls on the bluff which can be excellent for picnics, basketball courts, a concession stand, and extra. When you come to Salt Creek, you’ll see why it might be South County locals’ favourite seaside.

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Strand Seashore and the Dana Level Headlands

It’s in all probability not a good suggestion to surf on the Headlands, however it is a nice seaside for tidepooling. For higher browsing, head north of the Headlands to Strand Seashore. Like Capo Seashore, you in all probability received’t run into enormous crowds right here, however at Strand Seashore, you’re more likely to seek out rad swells for nice browsing. 

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Doheny Seashore

Andrew Davey/The Guide

As talked about earlier, Doheny’s as soon as world-famous “Killer Dana” waves went away with the development of Dana Level Harbor in 1966. On the intense facet, the now-gentle waves make this an ideal seaside for groms, SUP lovers, and ocean swimmers. In the meantime, landlubbers will recognize the prime birdwatching at San Juan Creek, hike and bike trails, seaside volleyball, and ocean fishing alternatives right here.

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Capistrano Seashore

Andrew Davey/The Guide

Capistrano (or Capo) Seashore tends to have slender stretches of sand, nevertheless it’s nice for surfers who need daybreak patrol with most peace and quiet. For shubies preferring dry land, Capo Seashore is a main fishing location. Plus, this seaside has good areas for SUP and swimming. 

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What’s it wish to surf right here?

Andrew Davey/The Guide

Lengthy story quick, you’re in for fairly the experience! I had the good fortune of getting instructors from Lady within the Curl who had been extremely useful and supportive. Should you’re a real novice, don’t count on a straightforward experience into the water, however because you’ll in all probability have your surf lesson at Doheny like I did, you received’t have to fret about getting caught in a monster wave which you can’t deal with.

I all the time felt like I used to be in nice palms, and it was positively reassuring that our instructors hopped into the water with us and guided us by way of the method. Certain, I fell off the board a number of occasions, however I regularly crawled again on. In the end, I truly discovered learn how to keep on the board and experience some “kiddie waves” all the way in which to shore!

Upon conclusion of our surf lesson, I used to be sore throughout and felt like I’d survived the last word health club exercise. All in all, it was a particularly rewarding expertise, and I’d completely be all the way down to strive it once more. 

What else is there to do in Dana Level?

Whether or not you’re searching for extra stuff to do after daybreak patrol otherwise you’re searching for actions that your non-surfing journey companions will get pleasure from, right here’s a useful cheat sheet of further issues to do out and in of the water. 

Dana Level Harbor

Andrew Davey

As South Orange County’s solely harbor and actually, the one public harbor between Newport Seashore and Oceanside Dana Level Harbor has served because the place to sail away, paddle alongside, cruise by way of the scenic parks, store the boutiques, and easily stroll the walkways. You’ll discover loads of shops over right here that may hook you up with no matter it’s essential to get on the water. I particularly appreciated Pure Watersports’ provide of kayaks that helped me get paddling by way of the harbor. Should you want to remain on dry land, you will have your alternative of eating places and outlets with nice views.

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Aliso and Wooden Canyons Regional Park

Andrew Davey/The Guide

Should you’re within the temper to exit into the wild with out getting moist, right here’s your superb resolution. Nestled within the canyons that separate close by Laguna Seashore from Aliso Viejo, Laguna Niguel, and Dana Level, this county park presents almost 4,000 acres of wilderness lands and pure open area nice for mountain climbing, mountain biking, and even equestrian use. 

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San Juan Capistrano

Andrew Davey/The Guide

About 5 and a half miles north of Dana Level Harbor, San Juan Capistrano’s historic downtown presents a vigorous antidote to the notion that Orange County has no soul. Not solely will you discover the historic mission the swallows used to flock to each March, however you’ll additionally discover the native Amtrak and Metrolink prepare station, the Los Rios district that’s chock stuffed with century-plus-old houses (a few of which are actually boutiques and cafes), artwork galleries, and extra. 

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Browsing Heritage & Cultural Heart

Andrew Davey/The Guide

As they clarify so nicely themselves, “The Browsing Heritage and Tradition Heart (SHACC) exists on the intersection of browsing’s previous, current and future.” Nicknamed “The Smithsonian of Browsing” for its in depth assortment of vintage surfboards, traditional surf pictures, and wonderful surf artwork, you’ll get a fuller really feel of surf tradition and its particular relationship with Southern California at SHACC in close by San Clemente.

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Shops at San Clemente

Andrew Davey/The Guide

Additionally in San Clemente, this outlet mall is absolutely stocked with greater than 60 manufacturers to buy. Whilst you’ll discover loads of the same old suspects that pop up in outlet malls throughout the nation, you’ll additionally uncover some native favorites, together with Hurley, Solar Diego, and the Asada Cantina restaurant. I notably love popping into Solar Diego to replenish on wanted seaside provides.

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The place do you have to keep in Dana Level?

Heads up: Dana Level motels might be costly, because you’re coming proper right here to the coast. You may discover some good offers on trip leases by way of Airbnb and Vrbo, however needless to say houses right here additionally are inclined to lease at increased charges than houses a bit of farther inland in Laguna Niguel and San Juan Capistrano. With that mentioned, listed below are some nice motels that work nicely while you need full service and nice ocean views.

Greatest in worth: Doubletree Suites by Hilton Doheny Seashore

The DoubleTree Suites Doheny Seashore in Dana Level, California Hilton Lodges & Resorts

Should you’re planning to go sightseeing past Dana Level, this Doubletree Suites makes for a fantastic OC base camp with its quick access to the I-5 Freeway and the San Juan Capistrano prepare station. This Doubletree comes geared up with a health middle, a pool, an on-site restaurant, and a enterprise middle. All rooms are suites with ample dwelling area, 55-inch flat-screen TVs, mini fridges, and each normal and couch beds. 

  • Nearest airport: John Wayne – Orange County
  • Time: 25–40 minutes by automobile
  • Distance: 25 miles

Greatest for getting away from all of it: Capistrano Surfside Inn

Andrew Davey/The Guide

If you need more room inside and outside, it’s exhausting to beat the Capistrano Surfside Inn. It’s an all-suite lodge with condo-style suites beginning out at at the least 660 sq. ft, and so they all function full kitchens and eating area, full loos, queen measurement beds and couch sleepers, and air con. Even higher, this lodge is true throughout Coast Freeway from Doheny.

  • Nearest airport: John Wayne – Orange County
  • Time: 25–40 minutes by automobile
  • Distance: 25 miles

Greatest central location: Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa

Marriott Worldwide

If informal luxurious is your type of jam, you’ll love jamming on the Laguna Cliffs Marriott. Perched proper above Dana Level Harbor, it’s proper in between Doheny and Salt Creek seashores. Plus, it’s proper in the course of all of the outlets and eating places by the harbor. All their rooms and suites have undergone a $25 million renovation, so you may relaxation assured that yours can have a 55-inch LCD TV, a cushty sitting/working area, a marble rest room, air con, and hardwood flooring. This Marriott additionally has two eating places, an on-site spa, surfboard leases, a 24-hour health middle, and strolling and jogging trails.

  • Nearest airport: John Wayne – Orange County
  • Time: 25–40 minutes by automobile
  • Distance: 25 miles

Greatest in fashion: Waldorf Astoria Monarch Seashore Resort & Membership

Hilton Lodges & Resorts

Although this resort has operated underneath a number of manufacturers over the past 20 years, it might have lastly reached its highest kind as a (Hilton) Waldorf Astoria. This AAA 5 Diamond lodge has all of the facilities you count on a top-tier resort to have. Plus, all visitors have entry to the non-public Monarch Bay Seashore Membership, which supplies browsing and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) classes, browsing and SUP gear, chair-umbrella-towel service, an indoor-outdoor bar, and an on-site and beachside restaurant. Again on the resort, Waldorf has 4 extra eating places, a model new Waldorf Astoria spa, and the Monarch Seashore Golf Hyperlinks.

  • Nearest airport: John Wayne – Orange County
  • Time: 30–50 minutes by automobile
  • Distance: 21 miles

Greatest-in-classic luxurious: The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Andrew Davey/The Guide

Should you’ve all the time dreamed of staying proper by certainly one of California’s most scenic browsing seashores, all of your desires will come true at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. It’s perched straight above Salt Creek Seashore, it’s a brief stroll from Strands Seashore and the Headlands, and the Laguna Seashore Trolley stops right here and can take you to all of Laguna’s lovely seashores to the north. They provide their very own SoCal Surf Expertise that features a non-public two-hour surf session with all mandatory gear included, in addition to SUP and kayak classes at Dana Level Harbor, tennis and pickleball clinics, a full-service spa, three eating places, and ample convention and assembly areas. All of The Ritz-Carlton’s rooms and suites supply next-level luxurious, however you may need a tough time staying in your room with the seaside simply steps away. 

  • Nearest airport: John Wayne – Orange County
  • Time: 30–50 minutes by automobile
  • Distance: 27 miles

The place are you able to eat in Dana Level?

What about Dana Level eating places? Whereas Dana Level might lack the abundance of avant garde meals halls and multi-ethnic hole-in-the-wall strip malls that make North Orange County’s eating scene so dynamically thrilling, that doesn’t imply you’ll go hungry or bored down right here.

Moderately, Dana Level has an fascinating mixture of tastefully upscale — what passes as formal eating in Southern California — and much more informal native favorites. As a rule of thumb, the eating places in and close to the Ritz-Carlton and the Waldorf-Astoria in Monarch Seashore are typically fancier, and also you’re extra more likely to discover cheaper simple, breezy, beachy fare by the harbor and in Capo Seashore. 

Worth Key

  • $ = budget-friendly or low-cost 
  • $$= common 
  • $$$= costly 

Rosetta Espresso Brewing Firm

Rosetta Espresso Brewing Firm/Fb

Tucked away in a automobile wash between PCH and the I-5 Freeway, Rosetta serves up a few of OC’s finest third wave espresso alongside nice customer support and a “secret menu” of sunshine nibbles. Rosetta particularly is useful when you want a fast breakfast earlier than hitting the street on a day journey to Anaheim, San Diego, or elsewhere. 

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The Espresso Importers 

Andrew Davey/The Guide

Tucked deep inside Dana Level Harbor’s Mariner’s Village, The Espresso Importers is ideal for a fast snack, a leisurely breakfast or lunch, or a scenic refreshment to get pleasure from virtually any time of day. For meals, there’s no dangerous choice, however I’m particularly a fan of the tomato bisque and grilled cheese sandwich. For drinks, they haven’t solely a big selection of nice espresso drinks, but in addition juices and smoothies.

  • Greatest for: All-day meals and snacks 
  • $$

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Glasspar

Andrew Davey/The Guide

Should you’re up for a correctly refined but classically “California Informal” dinner close to the harbor, Glasspar is able to seat you for fairly the culinary expertise. You’ll discover loads of traditional American seafood dishes, however you’ll additionally discover a enjoyable California modern twist that retains your style buds engaged. I used to be actually blown away by the daring but enjoyable flavors of the shrimp pappardelle, and the ceviche is nice when you’re extra within the temper for gentle nibbles.

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Station Craft Brewery + Kitchen

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Situated proper on PCH within the Lantern District, Station Craft makes a few of the finest craft beers you’ll discover this facet of Camp Pendleton. The Black Dahlia Lager, a collaboration with Delahunt Brewing, has lusciously candy notes of bittersweet chocolate and clean espresso, whereas the Skyhopping West Coast IPA is recent, fruity, and surprisingly approachable. For meals, their seasonal menu all the time has loads of choices that elevate bar meals to scrumptious new heights. 

  • Greatest for: Lunch and dinner 
  • $$

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Stella’s

Andrew Davey/The Guide

Whereas the Monarch Bay Plaza strip mall on the north finish of Dana Level has loads of good eating choices, we’re notably a fan of Stella’s Severe Italian by the Gelson’s (very upscale) grocery retailer. Just like the purchasing middle it’s nestled in, Stella’s feels stylish, however not stuffy. We particularly love their eggplant parmigiana; it’s completely cooked and abundantly tacky with an herbaceously scrumptious marinara sauce. Nonetheless, you actually can’t go incorrect with any of their pastas. When you’ve got sufficient room for dessert, order the tiramisu and thank us later. Should you’re ingesting the good things, they’ve a superb wine checklist and a strong cocktail menu.

  • Greatest for: Lunch and dinner 
  • $$$

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Raya

Andrew Davey/The Guide

At Raya, Chef Richard Sandoval pays homage to Latin American delicacies in a stunningly scenic area with impeccable fashion. Raya makes use of the best native produce, premium meats, and sustainably sourced seafood for his or her dishes. You’ll discover some meaty favorites like filet mignon on the menu. You’ll additionally spot some vegan-friendly choices. Come for the spectacular ocean view, and keep for the amazingly delectable comida. 

  • Greatest for: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner 
  • $$$

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Strive the following pointers for a greater journey

Transportation 

Andrew Davey/The Guide

As we beforehand mentioned in our Orange County journey information, mass transit choices are restricted down right here. San Juan Capistrano does have an Amtrak and Metrolink prepare station, and San Clemente has prepare stations however please test the prepare schedules earlier than you go to. As of early 2023, native transit companies are repairing and stabilizing prepare tracks in San Clemente and Del Mar which will have an effect on prepare service by way of April. OC Bus does have just a few buses working in and thru Dana Level, however definitely not as many as you’ll discover in additional densely populated cities like Irvine and Anaheim. 

Should you can drive, you’ll in all probability have a neater time getting all over the place you need to go in Dana Level and all through South County. Simply needless to say I-5 is the one freeway for this a part of OC, and site visitors can get heavy throughout weekday rush hour and on huge vacation weekends. The SR-73 toll street goes from close by Laguna Niguel to John Wayne Airport and Costa Mesa, however you’ll need to pay to make use of it. 

Climate

Andrew Davey/The Guide

Should you’re in any respect aware of California, you’ve in all probability heard of microclimates. Dana Level climate positively suits this invoice, as does the remainder of Orange County. The thermostat might hit 90 levels Fahrenheit in Anaheim on a scorching day, however it might very nicely nonetheless be a cool 75 down in Dana Level. It’s all the time a good suggestion to pack varied layers of clothes earlier than touring right here, then put together so as to add and/or subtract layers relying on the place you’re going. 

Should you’re coming throughout the winter season, it’s in all probability a good suggestion to pack at the least one pair of pants and a few gentle jackets and/or sweaters in case it will get a bit frosty throughout your journey. Should you’re planning to leap within the water, you might have considered trying a wetsuit when you’re delicate to colder ocean water. 

Correct etiquette

Should you’re planning to leap within the water throughout your journey, please don’t get in the way in which of different surfers. Even when you’re swimming, bodysurfing, or SUP’ing, it’s finest to keep away from surfers who’re attempting to catch waves — and attempting to not run into you. 

On land, please clear up after your self on the seaside. The very last thing the Pacific Ocean wants is much more air pollution. Should you can, attempt to keep away from bringing any disposable plastic straws, wrappers, or containers to the seaside. Should you don’t have any higher alternate options, at the least just be sure you safely get rid of any plastics and different rubbish away from locations that native wildlife can entry. 

Ultimate ideas

Andrew Davey/The Guide

Dana Level presents a pleasing respite from the hustle and bustle you see elsewhere on this nook of California. Regardless when you’re right here for a fast weekend escape or an extended expedition, there’s a lot right here so that you can expertise and revel in. Whether or not you favor a day of carving it up within the open ocean, carving your approach by way of the path to find some distinctive pure magnificence, or carving into one of the best pizza you’ve had in a very long time, it’s all the time a good suggestion to plan your superb seaside trip and carve a while out for Dana Level.

For extra nice concepts for future journey plans, take a look at the 20 finest nationwide parks to discover, Lake Tahoe’s finest out of doors journey spots, our useful information to Canada’s “hidden gem” wine nations, the unlucky draw back of touring with Airbnb, and our ideas for surviving these turbulent occasions for air journey. Wherever you resolve to go subsequent, we hope you benefit from the experience.

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