Dana Point Sea Caves

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Inside the larger sea cave
Heron at the Dana Point tidepools

 Dana Point Sea Caves

  • Location: Dana Point.  From I-5, take the Pacific Coast Highway exit.  Go 1.3 miles west and take a left on Dana Harbor Drive and go 1.3 more miles to the end.
  • Agency:  Ocean Institute
  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: level
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: All year, during low tide (see chart here)
  • USGS topo map: “Dana Point”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here; Trip Advisor page here
  • Rating: 6

This hike travels the rocky shores of Dana Point to the sea caves. It is a different hike from the Dana Point Headlands trails and Strand Beach, although that trip can easily be combined with this one. The caves and the sense of history, combined with the dramatic ocean setting, make this one of Orange County’s more popular short hikes.

Dana Point is named after Richard Henry Dana, author of the classic “Two Years Before the Mast”, a seminal account of life on the seas in the 19th century. Dana left behind a life of prosperity in Boston to travel to California on the Pilgrim, a replica of which can be seen in the harbor today.

From the parking area, pass the Pilgrim replica and another ship, the Spirit of Dana Point.  A green metal staircase takes you down to the beach. You get nice views of the cliffs above. On the far side of the beach, you begin a scramble over rocks (remember, go during LOW TIDE). You come to a small sea cave, and continuing onward, the terrain becomes a little more rugged.

After passing a long outcrop of rock that sticks out into the ocean, look for a small slit in the wall. This is the entrance to the second sea cave, which should be large enough for most people to enter (except perhaps Shaq). Here, you can enjoy an impressive site: a large, round cave, carved into the rocks of the Dana headlands. You can leave through the larger entrance, and look at a second sea cave, separated by a rock wall.

If this hike inspired you to check out some of Orange County’s other sea caves, some of the best include the caves at Corona Del Mar, Shaw’s Cove and Thousand Steps Beach.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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