At the southern tip of the O.C., Dana Point (www.danapoint.org) has a harbor-turned-recreation-marina that draws visitors and locals from all around. It also has several beaches nearby.
One of the prettiest of these is Capistrano Beach (35005 Beach Blvd., www.capistranobeach.com, daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m.). You can relax on the soft sand or paddle out and catch a wave here. Paths make biking, inline skating, and walking popular pastimes here, while others prefer a rousing game of volleyball out on the sand. You’ll find a metered parking lot adjacent to the beach, plus showers and restrooms available.
For travelers looking to escape the endless crowds of the Newport/Huntington Beach scene, options beckon from farther south on the O.C. coast. The Blue Lantern Inn (34343 Blue Lantern St., Dana Point, 949/661-1304, www.bluelanterninn.com, $190–550) sits south of San Juan Capistrano, making access to the small mission town easy.
This attractive contemporary inn offers beachfront elegance, from the exterior to the downstairs restaurant to the guest rooms. Each of the 29 rooms boasts soothing colors, charming appointments, and lush amenities, including a spa tub in every bathroom and honest-to-goodness free drinks in the mini-fridge. All beds come with their own teddy bear, and many of the rooms have private patios facing the sea and sunsets.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition