Ways to Celebrate the Season in Dana Point

credit: Dana Point Harbor Partners
Nov 15, 2021

When you think of the holidays, you may think of snow collecting on the corners of window panes in small-town New England. Perhaps you think of a bustling village square, holiday shoppers bundled up against the snap in the air. But not all holiday scenes feature wintry weather — some swap snow for Santa in surf shorts (in this case quite literally; more on that later).

Pick Dana Point for your holiday getaway and you'll enjoy balmy Southern California days, with average temps hovering in the high-60s. But it’s not just the climate that entices this time of year—this city really knows how to celebrate the holidays. From November through the new year, Dana Point throws down with a stacked holiday calendar and a nonstop festive spirit.

Deck the halls

credit: Dana Point Harbor Partners

The holiday season kicks off in November when the beautiful Dana Point Harbor is illuminated with a lovely display of 700,000 twinkling lights. Wander down Candy Cane Lane and grab a photo beneath the “Merry Kiss Me” arch. Get a glimpse of lighted palm and Christmas trees and the giant whale sculpture (Dana Point is the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World, after all).

At Baby Beach's fishing pier on the first day of Hanukkah (Nov. 28), you can join as the 12-foot Menorah's first candle is lit. Music, coffee, crafts, dreidels and latkes will complete the festive scene.

The harbor gets an extra dose of holiday cheer during the annual Harbor Boat Parade of Lights (Dec. 10-12)—this year for the 46th time. Board one of the competing vessels, decked out in their holiday finest, for a family-friendly harbor cruise. You’ll get to see the marinascape and rival boats up close, plus enjoy holiday music and a cash bar. Don't want to test your sea legs? You can always cheer on the parading boats from land.

Set your stay smack in the middle of the holiday magic when you book a Harbor View Room at Dana Point Marina Inn, where you can watch the boat parade from your private balcony. You can also catch aerial views of the lights from your room at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa or Blue Lantern Inn.  Guests of Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club can take an e-bike tour to explore the light displays, and end the evening with a Veuve Clicquot tasting at the resort’s private beach club.

credit: The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Many of the area's hotels and resorts get dressed up for the season too. The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel festoons its grounds with sparkling lights, decorated trees and a sand sculpture display in the lobby. Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa illuminates its resort with holiday lights and welcomes carolers on December Saturdays. Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club has all of the merry and bright holiday décor you'd expect along with seasonal spa specials (hello, rosemary peppermint pedicure).

It's the most wonderful time of the year

credit: Monarch Beach Golf Links

Beyond all of the holiday goodness, late fall/early winter is one of the best times to visit Dana Point for its perfect Goldilocks of temperatures: not too hot, not too cold. Golfers, hikers, kayakers, boaters, long-walk-on-the-beach strollers and outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes are able to enjoy their activities with fewer crowds and ideal temps.

If you're a golfer, a pro tip: head to Monarch Beach Golf Links where there's an ocean view from every hole. While you play a few rounds, your kiddos (ages 6-15) can learn the game in two-day golf camps during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

credit: Craig DeWitt for Capt. Dave's Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari

This is also the perfect time for anyone wishing to go whale watching. Dana Point is one of the few places where you can spot the gentle giants year-round, and stampedes of thousands of dolphins are regularly seen off the coast. Starting in late November, you may spy migrating gray whales as they cruise along the coastline en route to their Baja California breeding grounds. 

Sports, but make it festive

credit: The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Dana Point has a long history with surfing—it was practically a founding principle of the city. Get on board with the surf culture (holiday style) the weekend before Thanksgiving at Salt Creek Beach where surfers and paddleboarders of all ages top their wetsuits with Santa suits and ride the waves in the annual Surfing Santa & Stand Up Paddle Board Contest.

Come Thanksgiving, there's the Dana Point Turkey Trot, a fun way to get outside, support a good cause and perhaps work off the candied yam and green bean casserole that will fill your plate later in the day. Cheer on participants or take a trot yourself with beautiful Dana Point Harbor as a backdrop. You can sign up for a 5K, 10K, 15K or a one-miler for kids. Trotters and their supporters can stick close to the route with a stay at DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Doheny Beach.

Also during Thanksgiving week, the SoCal Challenge Basketball Event tips off Nov. 22 & 24. Cheer on your pick of the eight men’s college basketball teams as they compete for the inaugural title. Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa is offering special rates and packages for attendees.

Shopping for everyone on your list

Psst, have you heard? Supply chain issues are real and they're set to plague online shoppers this year. Bypass the problem and knock out holiday shopping IRL in Dana Point.

Shopping at Killer Dana

The town's Mermade Market is back Nov. 18-20, where local markers vend everything from plants, ceramics, crystals and home decor to small-batch beauty products, clothing and swimwear. San Juan Capistrano bakery FKN Bread will have a Mermade outpost for shoppers in need of a mid-spree caffeine-and-treat pick-up.

A few weeks later, the Ocean Institute's Yule-Tide Market will make its debut on Dec. 11, uniting local artists, artisans and small businesses at the harbor for a fun market day where Dana Point residents and visitors can shop small and check off their holiday lists.

For discounted shopping at national favorite brands, head to the Outlets at San Clemente, where (bonus!) you'll also get to see the county's tallest Christmas tree. Visit on Nov. 20 to see the tree lighting ceremony.

Giving back

In this season of giving, Dana Point offers the opportunity to give back. Many holiday events here are made even more festive by their benefit to the community.

The aforementioned surfing Santa competition (Nov. 20-21) raises money and awareness for Surfers Healing, a surf camp for children with autism, while the Turkey Trot benefits a range of local non-profits.

Animal lovers can support the local shelter by having their pet's photo taken with Santa at Dana Point Harbor (Dec. 4-5).

While carolers sing and you sip hot chocolate and nibble on cookies at the La Plaza Park tree lighting ceremony (Dec. 4), the Spark of Love Toy Drive will be collecting unwrapped toys for little ones. 

Holidays and hotel stays

In case you haven't caught on yet, the holidays are a big deal in Dana Point, and some of the city’s best hotels offer packages for stays this time of year.

credit: Dana Point Harbor Partners

Dana Point Marina Inn is offering $99 weekday stays through Jan. 31 in celebration of the festive season. Staying here also gets you free breakfast and parking.

On top of The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel’s packed holiday calendar, the resort offers a “Inspiration of the Season” package complete with a waived resort fee, breakfast credit, overnight valet and special surf-themed Christmas keepsake, available through Jan. 30, 2022. You can also enjoy a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner here.

Or indulge in a holiday feast at Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club, where you can also score double Hilton Honors points for stays November-December. 

credit: Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club

The beloved Blue Lantern Inn is bedecked in lights and other holiday adornment this time of year, and hosts a popular Christmas breakfast, while holiday traditions at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa range from Breakfast with Santa to a big New Year’s Eve celebration.

Ready to celebrate? Read about more festivities and places to stay, then start planning your holiday escape.

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