Dana Point Ocean Institute Wedding
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Dana Point Ocean Institute Wedding

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Dana Point Ocean Institute Wedding

Explorer Richard Henry Dana knew perfection when he found it. He called Dana Point “the only romantic cove in California.”

Nowadays you might find some folks who would beg to differ, but all can agree that this magical part of the California coast is one of the most picturesque spots in Southern California. Blessed with near-perfect weather and a proximity to a whole guidebook-full of tourist attractions, Dana Point today is a popular getaway for people from all over the state.

It’s hard to imagine, but at the turn of the 19th century Dana Point was the only major harbor between San Diego and Santa Barbara. Forget Long Beach, San Pedro and all the rest. Dana point was to be your destination if you happened to be traveling by ship to this general area.

The same harbor that attracted those earlier mariners is still very much a port of call, but leaning more toward pleasure craft with its 2,500 slips that are usually occupied with a wide selection of expensive yachts and small boats that would make any Boat Show proud. The Dana Point Marina, of course, becomes the centerpiece to the area and the focus of pictures and paintings that are readily available in local gift shops.

But wait, there’s more. Several excellent public beachesa re in the area along with dozens of good restaurants, a historic mission and, in nearby Laguna, plenty of upscale shopping.

We made a quick trip up to Dana Point from our home near San Diego – a 45-mile drive and less than an hour. Residents of most areas near Los Angeles also can make it to Dana Point in less than 90 minutes. This is one reason the area has become a popular getaway – a great location that’s easy to reach. For Northern California residents, it’s just a little bit farther south than L.A.

Our base of operations was the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa, an impressive resort built on the cliffs overlooking the Dana Point Harbor. All of the services and amenities you would expect were there – a couple of resort-style restaurants, pools, Jacuzzis, tennis, a new 2,500-square-foot fitness center and a new $8.5 million spa offering a host of services including massages, body treatments and salon services.

This 376-room resort had the feel of a comfortable beach hotel you might find in Hawaii. While the beach in this instance is a 15-minute walk, the hotel’s spacious rooms are done in bright, well-coordinated tropical colors. On the walls are five-foot-high paintings of boats and beaches and surfers, all reminding you just where you are. If you’re fortunate – as we were – to be in one of the coastal view rooms, your private lanai will overlook a portion of the harbor and coastline. This view probably will vary quite a lot from room to room, so if that’s a major reason for staying here, be sure to be specific when you make your reservations.

The grounds also are reminiscent of some Hawaii properties – lots of well manicured palm trees and walkways on a tropically well endowed 42 acres. That acreage includes a park adjacent to the hotel where you can find rolling lawns, picnic tables, walking paths and great ocean views from the cliffs.

And one other little thing we noticed about the Laguna Cliffs Marriott: the beds are more comfortable than most hotels we’ve visited. For some reason, even some of the finest resort hotels seem to favor a harder mattress. Not here – these beds were just pliant enough to afford us a restful, undisturbed sleep.

Any visit to Dana Point will involve some time exploring the marina. It’s not just a bunch of boats – a whole village has grown up dockside to offer tourist shopping and places to enjoy lunch or dinner. Some 25 shops and 20 restaurants are open in Dana Wharf, Mariners Village and Mariners Alley. But the boats are a big part of it – it’s fun strolling along the docks, daydreaming about owning one of these beautiful craft.

For those not content to stay on the shore, there are charter fishing companies at Dana Point that will take you out fishing – or just out to see the annual migration of whales. If you’re able to spend an extra day or two, the Catalina Express offers direct service to Catalina for a day, or for an overnight stay on the island.

Just south from the marina is 62-acre Doheny State Beach Park with more than a mile of prime California beach. Also in the area are Salt Creek Beach Park and Strands Beach, both popular surfing spots where you can get a good look at the local beach culture.

One reason Dana Point is popular with visitors is that there are so many interesting diversions in the immediate area. Just hop in your car and, within 15 minutes, you’ll find a completely new experience. For example, just up the road is Laguna Beach.

The fact that they have based a television show on this beach enclave should be enough to tell you that this is not your typical beach town. This is a place dotted with zillion-dollar homes and ocean views to match. Along the long and winding highway through Laguna, you’re apt to encounter the chic – as well as the cheap. Perfectly dressed, blonde-haired, model-shaped young professionals shop in the local art houses, while down at the beach you’ll find full-time surf bums who are less concerned with money than relishing the endless California summer.

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