When I was a youngster, I used to ride my bike to the south end of the parking lot at Dana Strand Beach, and hike down to the beach on a trail through some of California's beautiful coastal sage scrub. I remember on more than one occasion during the walk down, looking to the south and seeing gorgeous, yet fenced off, vegetation that surrounded the tip of Dana Point. I always wondered why the area was fenced off; it just seemed too beautiful to keep from the public.
Well, years later you are now able to hike out onto and around the tip of Dana Point like I used to dream about! Since 2010 the area has been known as "The Dana Point State Marine Conservation Area". The hike I'm recommending goes around the perimeter of the tip of Dana Point, and is about one mile in length to go to the end and back.
The best way to access the hiking trail is to drive right into the Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center, and park in the parking lot. Parking here is free, and if that lot is full you can turn around and find the nearest spot on "Scenic Drive".
GPS coordinates for the Interpretive Center's Parking lot are: N 33.46155º W 117.71134º
The trail starts just to the side of the Interpretive Center (see photo). A map and useful information guide to the conservation area can be found at the interpretive center as well.
WHAT NOT TO DO
The activities list here is easy enough. Arrive and enjoy the hiking and the views. However, dogs are not allowed on the trails, and biking is prohibited as well. The headland is a small pocket of natural, California vegetation and is completely surrounded on all sides by development. These policies have been enacted in an effort to curtail the negative impact that having visitors to the park brings with it. You are also not permitted to wander outside of the delineated trail system for obvious reasons.
This really is a special place in both its vulnerability and beauty, and from what I saw the site is very well taken care of by both its visitors and rangers. I think it goes without saying that it really is very important to follow every posted guideline in this park, as I think we can all agree this is a place we'd all like to enjoy for many decades to come.
This entire site the conservation area sits on was scheduled to be turned into a resort in the mid 1990's. The Pacific Pocket Mouse was thought to be extinct, not having been seen in the wild since 1971. Yet they were found living in the sage scrub of the headlands in 1993. The mouse was put on the endangered species list, and the plans for the development of the resort were put to a stop.
I hope this post helps you enjoy the truly unique experience we are lucky enough to have here at the headlands of Dana Point. If you liked the post, let me know why and tell me where you are from in the comments section. If you didn't like it, let me know why with a comment as well. Thanks for reading!