Dana Point is a beautiful beachside city in the southern part of Orange County, situated conveniently between Los Angeles and San Diego. In the early years of surfing, it was considered one of the most influential hotspots. Many of the water sports’ early proponents gathered here and were even called the “Dana Point Mafia”. To this day, Dana Point, as in the rest of Southern California, is still one of the country’s surfing meccas.
The city gets its name from the headland bluffs of Dana Point. This headland was named after the author of the 1840 memoir Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana Jr. The memoir is about the author’s journey on a merchant ship and includes a particularly challenging portion of the journey on the headlands that eventually took his name. He then went on to describe the city as “the only romantic spot on the coast” along with nearby San Juan Capistrano. For years, a replica of the merchant ship in the memoir, The Pilgrim, was on display at the Dana Point Harbor and used as a classroom by the Ocean Institute, but it sank in 2020 and was deemed beyond repair.
Apart from being a surfing capital and a literary inspiration, Dana Point has so much more to offer. It is considered the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World™ and indeed is one of the most picturesque places to get a glimpse of these majestic sea creatures. In fact, it’s even home to the longest-running whale festival in the world. It’s a city where the water simply beckons. Stroll on the beach or the iconic harbor with a view of the ocean, or get in the water and try a variety of water sports from paddle-boarding, kayaking, to scuba diving. Anglers delight in the many fishing opportunities in Dana Point. Like many of the beachside cities in Southern California, the city is an angler’s wonderland, whether you’re a recreational one or an expert looking for your next record breaker.
As a fishing destination, Dana Point seems to have it all. It has shores lined with kelp beds and rocky reefs and jetties, deep ocean floor trenches, and easy access to islands that attract a variety of gamefish. It even has a beautifully developed harbor with a world-class charter fleet. And let’s not forget its direct access to the Pacific Ocean. It’s the kind of fishing destination that requires multiple visits to fully experience and explore.
If you’re having a hard time choosing which spot to start with, start from the shore or the jetties at Doheny State Beach. Fishing from the sand or the rocks will yield corbina, croaker, and mackerel, along with some halibut, calico bass, and occasionally some seabass. The best time to fish in the area is early morning and around sunset.
If you’re looking for a nice spot to introduce your kids to fishing, you’ll find the Dana Point Harbor Fishing Pier a pleasant place to start. This small pier is near Dana Cove Park and Baby Beach. As it is in a working harbor, the place does get crowded, so you might want to avoid the area during mid-day. The most commonly found species here include white croaker, yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, opaleye, rubberlip seaperch, black seaperch, and white seaperch. There are also some California halibut, Pacific mackerel, calico bass, sand bass, and spotted sand bass. Of the two sides of the pier, the right is more productive. At night, if you head straight to the end of the pier, you might get lucky with some shark and ray species, along with some California barracuda.
A mile north of Dana Point Harbor, you’ll find Salt Creek Beach, another worthwhile surf fishing spot. While it is primarily a surfing beach particularly in the summer, it can yield some pretty good perch and corbina. From a boat or kayak, you can head further out into the water and try to reel in some trophy calico bass and halibut.
If you’re keen to reach the deeper parts of the water where bigger game fish await, get on a kayak and slowly inch your way forward. Less than 20 miles from Dana Point, you’ll find the seamount known as 14 Mile Bank which attracts some striped marlin, swordfish, and even some rockfish. Head further out toward Santa Catalina Island, where you’ll find success with SoCal classics, including calico bass, white seabass, striped marlin, and yellowtail amberjack. It also attracts some shark species, including blue shark and leopard shark, as well as the exciting mako shark. Tuna species abound around the island as well. Yellowfin and bluefin tuna are most commonly targeted, but you can also get lucky with some albacore tuna and skipjack tuna. The best spot to target shark and marlin is in the stretch between Santa Catalina Island and its sibling island San Clemente Island.
Land on Santa Catalina Island to explore even more spots to fish. Shore-fishing on the island, particularly on Avalon Bay, will yield calico bass, blue perch, halibut, and sheepshead. On the side of the island, you’ll find Two Harbors, where you can target some seabass, barracuda, and white seabass.
If you’re ready to head even further out (at least 60 miles from the harbor), then you might as well get to San Clemente Island itself. At its southeastern edge, you’ll find “The Head” a pyramid of rocks that attract plenty of game fish, including tuna, yellowtail, common dolphinfish, and marlin.
The top 10 fish species to target in Dana Point, CA are calico bass, corbina, yellowtail amberjack, halibut, Pacific mackerel, sand bass, white seabass, striped marlin, mako shark, and yellowfin tuna.
Fishing is a year-round activity in SoCal, and Dana Point is no different. The best season to visit now depends on the species that you’re targeting. If you’d like to challenge yourself with the city’s game fish, then summer is your best bet. In early June, you’ll find several tuna species that are closely followed by their shark predators. You’ll also enjoy fishing for active calico bass, barracuda, and white seabass around this time. Go to the depths and you might also find some California halibut during this warm season. Otherwise, you’ll find them near shore around spring and fall. Yellowtail amberjack are a year-long catch but are particularly active around winter until spring.
Dana Point is a thriving destination in the outskirts of Orange County. While it is popular, it remains one of the most laid-back and peaceful beachside cities in Southern California.
Get on a boat to fish the seamounts nearshore or join one that will take you further out towards the nearby islands for some exciting game fishing.
Visit the Ocean Institute on the harbor and get educated on marine life by viewing the institute’s displays and artifacts and participating in the interactive demonstrations. The institute also offers educational cruises such as the Bioluminescence Night Cruise and the Whale and Marine Life Tour.
Dana Point hosts the seasonal Sawdust Art Festival every summer and winter. The festival features artworks from local artists in different media such as painting, sculpture, and glasswork. It also offers an opportunity for art lovers to become artists themselves with the classes they offer.