The Pilgrim Boat & Ocean Institute in Dana Point

One of Dana Point’s claims to fame is the Tall Ships Festival that happens every year, and that brings in some large old boats to the harbor. If you don’t get a chance to see them during that weekend though, the Pilgrim Boat sits in the harbor right next to the Ocean Institute, and you can tour both the institute and boat for the same price on most Sundays. Here is all the information so you can check out this fun historic spot.

Details

  • $10 for adults
  • Pilgrim is only open on Sundays, but the Ocean Institute is open daily
  • Location: 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629

Getting There

The Ocean Institute is located on the north side of the harbor near Baby Beach, a popular family beach without any real waves. There is a parking lot right next to the institute that you can park in, but that can be busy during the summer.

The Ocean Institute

This is a great spot for families as there are a half dozen or so exhibits that kids can see and interact with. During the day they even have demonstrations that include feedings and dissections.

There are four main buildings that you can visit, but note that this is not a traditional aquarium with all of the fish you would see at something like the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

The main attraction was the touch pool that had sea slugs and starfish you could touch. It was fun to feel the different types of starfish and see the differences.

In one of the other buildings, they had a larger tank that housed some sting rays and small sharks. You could pet these animals as well, assuming they swam up and let you touch them.

It was a lot of fun to explore this small area, and the best part was that access to the Pilgrim Boat came with the fee we paid.

The Pilgrim

When our tour was ready to start, we made our way back to the entrance and met up with the tour guide who took us over to visit the Pilgrim.

The tour was about 30 minutes, and we walked all around the boat itself, including walking below to see the deck and learning about how the crew lived.

I didn’t know much about this era, so it was fascinating to hear more, especially since the tour was only 30 minutes and didn’t go on and on.

If you go on a Sunday, do make sure you take a tour of the boat. Times change each week, so the best way to figure out when the tours are is to go in on a Sunday when they open and ask.

If you are in the area and looking for a hike, check out the Dana Point sea caves hike which leaves from behind the institute and which you can learn more about here.

Let me know what you think about this spot if you go in the comments and find more places in Dana Point to explore here.

Dana Point Tall Ships Festival: Participating in a Cannon Battle

Dana Point is a small coastal town in Orange County and once a year it has a half dozen tall ships descend on its harbor for the annual Tall Ships Festival. I saw the fliers for this when I was down in Dana Point a few weeks ago to write this post and added it to my list to go back and see. I am glad I did as I participated in the cannon battle and it was 10 times better than I anticipated it being. Here is all the information so you can have this awesome experience next year.

Details

  • $45 to ride on the escort boat in the cannon battle, $70 to ride on one of the actual ships.
  • This price included access to the festival which let you walk on the boats and go to the Ocean Institute
  • Location: 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629

The festival is put on yearly by the Ocean Institute and while there was a decent amount of people it was not difficult to get around and see everything. You did have to park about a mile and a half away though and take a shuttle to the lot since there was no parking there.

The festival has all of the things you would expect like live music, food, and vendors selling their arts and crafts.

I went right to the Ocean Institute though so I could get on board the boats and check them out.

It was late in the day so I only got to walk onto three of the boats before they closed them off but I picked the three oldest and it was a lot of fun to see them up close.

You could even look inside the boats and take pictures with the ship’s wheel.

After getting off the boat they were getting them ready to take out on the ocean and you could see people climbing up to take down the sails. I would not like to have that job.

Cannon Battles

From there we got in line to board the escort boat, which is the only one with a motor, I chose this boat because it just goes around the whole event so you can see all of the boats instead of just staying on one.

It would be cool to be on a boat with a cannon though so maybe I will do that next year.

Our boat slowly crawled out of the harbor with the other tall ships before making it into the open ocean.

From here we just started following the tall ships around and watching them as they shot fake canons at each other.

It was a lot of fun though because they shot us a few times too so you really got a feel for the cannon’s power.

I took way more pictures and videos than I planned to, but how often do you get to have such a fun experience like this?

Here is a video I made of my time at the festival.

After an hour and a half, we got back to the dock and were let off the boat. It was a great time and one that I plan to do again next year. If you do not live near Dana Point, there are other Tall Ships Festivals around California that you can visit as well. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Dana Point Tall Ships Festival: Participating in a Cannon Battle

Dana Point is a small coastal town in Orange County and once a year it has a half dozen tall ships descend on its harbor for the annual Tall Ships Festival. I saw the fliers for this when I was down in Dana Point a few weeks ago to write this post and added it to my list to go back and see. I am glad I did as I participated in the cannon battle and it was 10 times better than I anticipated it being. Here is all the information so you can have this awesome experience next year.

Details

  • $45 to ride on the escort boat in the cannon battle, $70 to ride on one of the actual ships.
  • This price included access to the festival which let you walk on the boats and go to the Ocean Institute
  • Location: 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629

The festival is put on yearly by the Ocean Institute and while there was a decent amount of people it was not difficult to get around and see everything. You did have to park about a mile and a half away though and take a shuttle to the lot since there was no parking there.

The festival has all of the things you would expect like live music, food, and vendors selling their arts and crafts.

I went right to the Ocean Institute though so I could get on board the boats and check them out.

It was late in the day so I only got to walk onto three of the boats before they closed them off but I picked the three oldest and it was a lot of fun to see them up close.

You could even look inside the boats and take pictures with the ship’s wheel.

After getting off the boat they were getting them ready to take out on the ocean and you could see people climbing up to take down the sails. I would not like to have that job.

Cannon Battles

From there we got in line to board the escort boat, which is the only one with a motor, I chose this boat because it just goes around the whole event so you can see all of the boats instead of just staying on one.

It would be cool to be on a boat with a cannon though so maybe I will do that next year.

Our boat slowly crawled out of the harbor with the other tall ships before making it into the open ocean.

From here we just started following the tall ships around and watching them as they shot fake canons at each other.

It was a lot of fun though because they shot us a few times too so you really got a feel for the cannon’s power.

I took way more pictures and videos than I planned to, but how often do you get to have such a fun experience like this?

Here is a video I made of my time at the festival.

After an hour and a half, we got back to the dock and were let off the boat. It was a great time and one that I plan to do again next year. If you do not live near Dana Point, there are other Tall Ships Festivals around California that you can visit as well. Let me know what you think in the comments.

24 Hours in Dana Point: Exploring Caves, Beaches, Ships, Restaurants & Resorts

Nestled in between Laguna Beach and San Clemente, right on the outskirts of Orange County, Dana Point is a great beach community that is worth taking the time to explore. What I like about Dana Point most is that it feels more relaxed than many of its other coastal counterparts like Newport and Huntington Beach. The city has a lot of great eateries, the beaches are vast and beautiful, and there are adventures to be had for the whole family. Here is how I recommend you spend 24 hours in Dana Point.

Breakfast – Stack’s Pancake House

Dana Point is one of those cities that has a ton of restaurant options; there are a few spots that truly stand out though. For breakfast, Stacks is the place to be. It will be busy, so know that going in, but the walk up and order restaurant has some of the best pancakes in Orange County.

For my money, it doesn’t get better than the banana macadamia nut pancakes (there are other options too), which has a huge flavor, especially when you combine them with the coconut sauce provided to go on top. You can have a stack for $5 – $10, depending on how many you want, and I doubt you will leave disappointed.

Ocean Institute

After lunch head over to the Ocean Institute, which is a great spot for kids but which can be fun for adults as well. They have a few tanks where you can pet everything from starfish to small sharks and classes where they dissect things like cow eyes and sea creatures. It’s especially fun for families, but make sure to go on a Sunday when you can tour the Pilgrim boat. The price of doing so gets you into the institute as well, so it is a win win.

The Pilgrim

Dana Point is known for the Tall Ships Festival which happens every fall and which brings dozens of fancy old boats to the harbor. During the rest of the year though The Pilgrim, a boat from the 1940’s is docked in the port and can be toured most Sundays.

I got a chance to take the 30-minute tour, and it was fun and informative.

Pirate’s Cave

While you are at the Ocean Institute and the Pilgrim, take the short 1.2 mile round trip hike out to Pirate’s Cave. I only recommend doing this during low tide though as it can be more sketchy when the water is coming in.

The hike takes you out to a big sea cave below the Dana Point Headlands. You can even walk into it and explore. Read all about doing it here.

Brunch – Monarch Beach Resort

If you are in Dana Point on a Sunday and are looking to get your brunch on, then look no further than the Monarch Beach Resort. The brunch here is pricey at around $75 a person, but it includes everything from sushi, crab legs and oysters, to omelet bars and a chocolate fountain. I was incredibly impressed with the options available, and the service was next level as well.

Lunch – Shwack Beach Grill

If you are not visiting on a Sunday, or don’t want to spend money on brunch, head over to Shwack Beach Grill and get one of their popular burgers. This place is a Dana Point staple, and rightfully so, as the food is flavorful and well priced. I won’t tell you what to order as there are a ton of good options, but if you like queso and they have the shrimp queso on the menu, then that is an excellent choice.

Afternoon Option 1 – Jet Ski

After lunch, consider renting a jet ski and getting out on the water.   I rented a Jet Ski from Pure Watersports Dana Point, and it was a fun experience right in the harbor. Once we got past the no wake zone, we had 45 minutes to hit the gas and race around the ocean. I have never jet skied on the open ocean before so it was a blast for me, and the price was right, $95 for a weekday AM rental (more for the afternoon).

Option 2 – Sit by a Beach

In Dana Point, as in most of the Orange County coastal cities, the beaches are one of the main draws. There are a bunch of famous beaches in the Dana Point, but these three are my favorites.

Strands Beach

Strands Beach is one of the largest in the city, and it has a big parking lot which makes it easier to visit during the summer. One of the unique things about this beach is that it has a funicular, which is like a sideways moving elevator that takes you down closer to the beach and skips all of the stairs.

While it is pretty slow and the line to use it is often long, the experience is one-of-a-kind as I am not aware of another beach that has one of these.

Baby Beach

If you are visiting with a young family, then Baby Beach is your best option. This beach is in the harbor and pretty sheltered from the waves, making it an excellent choice for families with small children. It’s also a favorite spot for SUP and kayaking.

Salt Creek Beach

Sitting in the shadow of the Ritz Carlton, this beach is probably my personal favorite. It has a large area of sand, with cliffs on the north and south side. It’s a popular surfing beach, and it can be fun just to go there and watch the surfers while the sun is setting.

If you are staying at the Ritz Carlton like we were, then this is the beach you will probably visit most while you are there. But even if you don’t stay at the Ritz, there is a parking lot nearby which provides access to the beach.

Dinner Option 1 – Lupe’s Mexican Grill

Lupe’s is one of the highest rated spots on Yelp in Dana Point, and it has earned those stars by making consistently good Mexican food. The best thing to order is anything with the Al Pastor meat, which is cut right off a spit in the back. Also, they have some crazy options like a Hot Cheetos burrito if you are feeling adventurous.

Dinner Option 2 – enoSteak

If you are in the city celebrating with your significant other, then enoSteak is a fantastic choice. This place is pricey, but it was responsible for one of the best meals I have had in a long time. Everything from the service to the ambiance is top notch. The food is out of this world though with a selection of unique steaks (coffee encrusted wagyu anyone?) and add ons like a flight of homemade butter (the truffle butter has real shaved truffles in it). I am salivating just thinking about it again.

Hotels

Dana Point has a few popular resorts that are good places to stay in the city, as well as cheaper options like camping right on the beach. Here are a couple to check out.

Ritz Carlton

If you have stayed at a Ritz Carlton before then, you know that the higher price comes with impeccable service. This hotel has a beach butler service that takes you down to the beach in a golf cart and gets you chairs, towels, and umbrellas for when you are sitting on the sand. They also were able to find a phone charger for me since I forgot mine and gave my wife a ride to a nearby property to pick something up without any issues. It is the kind of service that you tell your friends about when you stay at a place like this.

The hotel also looks down on the beach below, and it is one of the best spots in the city for sunset.

Monarch Beach Resort

If you are a golfer, then this is probably where you will want to stay. The hotel sits right on the main golf course and is comparable to the Ritz Carlton in service and amenities. I didn’t stay here, but I walked around while I was having brunch. I was blown away by how beautiful the property was, especially with the pool situated right in the middle. Another great option for staying in Dana Point.

Camping – Doheny State Beach

If you don’t want to spend the money on a hotel though, camping is also a good option in Dana Point. Doheny State Beach is located right next to the harbor, and it has a few dozen sites, most that are only a short walk to the beach. Make sure to book your site in advance though as these spots tend to go pretty fast.

So there you have it, my recommendations for how to spend 24 hours in Dana Point. Be sure to let me know if I left off your favorite spot in the comments below.

Dana Point Sea Caves: Hiking to Pirate’s Cave

While there are many sea caves up and down the California coast, the Dana Point Sea Caves are some of the easiest to access. This short hike takes you along the coast to a large cave with a great view of the water crashing on the rocks in front of you. It is a relatively popular spot known as Pirate’s Cave, so you probably won’t be alone, but the cave is big and has room for many people. Here is all the information so you can check it out.

Details

  • 1.2 miles round trip and flat
  • Wear shoes with support as there are lots of rocks to walk on
  • Only go during low tide

Getting There

To get to the trailhead, drive to the Ocean Institute in Dana Point. There is a parking lot for the institute, but only use it if you are paying the fee to see the Ocean Institute. If not, there is another lot further south that you can park in for Baby Beach. This is a good spot to park for the hike if you are not visiting the Ocean Institute.

The Trail

After parking, walk past the Ocean Institute, and you will be near the rock jetty.

You will see a large grated walkway with stairs to the right, and you will take that to start the hike. There is a sign here that directs you to Pirate’s Cave as well.

As I stated above, I recommend only going during low tide as it is difficult to get past a few sections without getting wet when it is high tide.

From here you are walking on the large rocks the rest of the way. Watch your footing as some rocks move or can be slippery.

If the tide is low enough, there are some tide pools you can see along the way as well.

When you round the main bend, you will be getting close to the cave.

The cave is accessed via a small slit in the rock before getting to the cave entrance. This slit is probably 3.5 feet wide by 8 feet high, and it is likely that it will have water in it, so you will have to get your feet wet.

Going through here takes you back to the main cave, and you will quickly see it is bigger than you probably anticipated.

You can just hang out here, or you can go around the small outcropping and get to another cave on the other side of this one. Don’t do this if the tide is high though as it means you have to go out into the water a little bit.

After hanging out and taking it all in, head back the way you came. If you are looking for more spots to explore in Dana Point, check out this post I made on the area as well.

Dana Point Sea Caves: Hiking to Pirate’s Cave

While there are many sea caves up and down the California coast, the Dana Point Sea Caves are some of the easiest to access. This short hike takes you along the coast to a large cave with a great view of the water crashing on the rocks in front of you. It is a relatively popular spot known as Pirate’s Cave, so you probably won’t be alone, but the cave is big and has room for many people. Here is all the information so you can check it out.

Details

  • 1.2 miles round trip and flat
  • Wear shoes with support as there are lots of rocks to walk on
  • Only go during low tide

Getting There

To get to the trailhead, drive to the Ocean Institute in Dana Point. There is a parking lot for the institute, but only use it if you are paying the fee to see the Ocean Institute. If not, there is another lot further south that you can park in for Baby Beach. This is a good spot to park for the hike if you are not visiting the Ocean Institute.

The Trail

After parking, walk past the Ocean Institute, and you will be near the rock jetty.

You will see a large grated walkway with stairs to the right, and you will take that to start the hike. There is a sign here that directs you to Pirate’s Cave as well.

As I stated above, I recommend only going during low tide as it is difficult to get past a few sections without getting wet when it is high tide.

From here you are walking on the large rocks the rest of the way. Watch your footing as some rocks move or can be slippery.

If the tide is low enough, there are some tide pools you can see along the way as well.

When you round the main bend, you will be getting close to the cave.

The cave is accessed via a small slit in the rock before getting to the cave entrance. This slit is probably 3.5 feet wide by 8 feet high, and it is likely that it will have water in it, so you will have to get your feet wet.

Going through here takes you back to the main cave, and you will quickly see it is bigger than you probably anticipated.

You can just hang out here, or you can go around the small outcropping and get to another cave on the other side of this one. Don’t do this if the tide is high though as it means you have to go out into the water a little bit.

After hanging out and taking it all in, head back the way you came. If you are looking for more spots to explore in Dana Point, check out this post I made on the area as well.