THINGS TO DO IN ORANGE COUNTY: DANA POINT HEADLANDS HIKE

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THINGS TO DO IN ORANGE COUNTY: DANA POINT HEADLANDS HIKE

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.

 

GETTING THERE

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

Free parking can be had on Scenic Drive, which overlooks the Dana Point Harbor. It is just a short walk to the Interpretive Center up the hill. 

If you can find a spot, free parking is also available within the interpretive Center's parking lot. GPS coordinates for this 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.

The Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center, where a handy map and information booklet to conservation area can be picked up. The trail around the headlands starts just at the right edge of this photo. 

Once on the trail that meanders along the perimeter of the headlands, it is almost hard to find a spot that doesn't have an amazing view. 

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 is truly one of those places where it is so important to follow every guideline. On the left, the savior of the Dana Point Headlands, the Pacific Pocket Mouse. 

INTERESTING INFORMATION

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.   

 

Every view on the trail is just spectacular. Dana Point State Marine Conservation Area at the headlands, Dana Point, CA. 

View north from the north side of the headlands. That is "Strands" beach in the foreground (a.k.a. Dana Strand Beach), and Salt Creek Beach beyond the point in the middle of the photo. 

View of the tip of the headlands from "Strands". This is the view from the beach at the bottom of the photo just above. This is not part of the hike through the headlands of course. 

Trails winding south looking from the north side of the headlands. Dana Point State Marine Conservation Area at the headlands, Dana Point, CA. 

Golden view looking north from the north side of the Dana Point Headlands, CA.

Up close and personal with California's beautiful, endemic coastal sage scrub. Dana Point State Marine Conservation Area at the headlands, Dana Point, CA. 

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! 

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THINGS TO DO IN ORANGE COUNTY: 1000 STEPS BEACH, LAGUNA BEACH, CA

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THINGS TO DO IN ORANGE COUNTY: 1000 STEPS BEACH, LAGUNA BEACH, CA

 

Having grown up in south Orange County, I have been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of quality time on the beaches in the area. And I can tell you without hesitation, that 1000 Steps Beach is one of the nicest beaches Orange County has to offer, and has always been one of my favorite spots to relax. 

 

GETTING THERE

Perhaps part of the beach's charm is that it isn't all that easy to access. Parking is free, but it is a little bit of a pain. You will most likely have to parallel park on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway. Once you do park and find the entry gate, then you must conquer the steps, which aren't nearly as bad as the name implies. The intersection you are looking for is 9th Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway (a.k.a. Highway 1). 

Here are the GPS coordinates to the entry gate down to the beach: N 33.49830º  W 117.74026º

 

Looking south at 9th Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1). Once you find this intersection, you will have to park. Look for the closest spot you can find to the SOUTH of this intersection. 

Entry gate down to 1000 Steps Beach. After parking, this is the gate you are looking for at 9th Avenue and PCH to access the beach below. 

GPS coordinates of Entry Gate:  N 33.49830º   W 117.74026º

The infamous, and very narrow, steps down to the beach. 

View from near the bottom of the dreaded stairs.

After passing some bathrooms and showers at the bottom of the stairs, you hit the beach. Once on the sand, I have no doubt you'll agree this is one of the most beautiful bluff covered sand beaches in all of Orange County. 

ACTIVITIES

If you'd like to try something a little more active than just lying on the beach all day, there is no shortage of activities I'd recommend doing down here.

Snorkeling would have to be number one on my list of recommended activities. 1000 steps offers some of the most consistently good visibility in all of Orange County, and the numerous reefs just off the beach are filled with California's unique brand of plant and animal life. 

You just can't beat the bodysurfing here. Almost year round there will be something fun to bodysurf into. 

You will have to check the tide tables, and if it is low tide when you are here, there will certainly be some tide pools to find by walking out onto any of the exposed, rocky outcroppings.  

If the tide is low enough, if you walk to the north end of the beach, and around (or up and over, depending on the tide) the rocks you'll discover another stretch of sand that is usually much less crowded, and just as beautiful as the main stretch. 

The cave at the south end of the beach is rather intriguing. Check it out if the tide is low enough. I don't recommend heading back into the cave and looking for the hidden pools. There is just too much cool stuff to be doing at this beach to be looking for over-hyped, man-made tide pools. 

The extreme south part of 1000 Steps Beach is known in the surfing world as 10th Street. There are usually some very good skimboarders in this area, and checking them out is always interesting. Years ago, 10th street was known as a very good wave for bodyboarding during high tide, yet it seems to have lost some of its consistency.  

1000 Steps is a great beach for bodysurfing and snorkeling. 

View of 1000 Steps looking south toward 10th Street. The triangular, dark cave opening can be seen in the far distance at the base of the bluff. 

Entry to the cave at the south end of 1000 Steps Beach, near 10th Street. 

1000 Steps sunset. If the tide is low enough, cross to the other side of the rocky point at the north end of the beach, and you will be greeted with the beach in the photo below. 

Walk around the rocks at the north end of the 1000 Steps, and there is another, less crowded beach to enjoy. This can be difficult to access at high tide, but at low tide it is just a stroll around the rocky point. 

Heading back to the car after a long day in the water and sun, you may start to realize why the beach got the name "1000 Steps". 

A LITTLE PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY

I thought it may be of interest to include a few of my older photographs of the beach. The following images were all taken in May of 2007. 

View of 10th Street in the distance with now demolished beach house still intact. May, 2007. 

May 2007 view of now demolished sea wall. 10th Street, 1000 Steps Beach, Laguna Beach, CA. 

View of the now demolished home on the beach. May, 2007 10th Street, 1000 Steps Beach, Laguna Beach, CA.

May, 2007 view of the now demolished beach house at 10th Street, 1000 Steps Beach, Laguna Beach, CA. 

Please do comment on the above info if you enjoyed it, or have something to add. Let me know where you are from, and if you enjoyed the 1000 step experience! 

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