Dana Strands Beach: The Perfect Orange County Coastal Getaway

Dana Strands Beach: The Perfect Orange County Coastal Getaway

The tide pools at Strand Beach in Dana Point, Calif., on April 6, 2024. (Kimberly Hayek/The Epoch Times)

Kimberly Hayek

Kimberly Hayek

5/25/2024

Updated: 5/28/2024

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From Aliso Beach Park to Sunset Harbor, Orange County in Southern California has some of the world’s premier coastline. Dana Point lies in Southern Orange County, a more recently developed part of the region, amid coastal hills bedecked with brittlebush, California buckwheat, pepper, and tomato.
Its namesake, Richard Henry Dana Jr., called Dana Point the region’s “only romantic spot on the coast.” The city is about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach border it to the north, San Juan Capistrano to the east, and San Clemente to the south.
On the west side of State Route 1 at Selva Road, just an hour south by car from greater Los Angeles, you’ll find one of Southern California’s few remaining secluded beaches: Dana Strands Beach. Free parking is in abundance upon a bristly cliff with surreal views of the sea foam green and blue waters.
Driving in from the north, you'll see a humble brown concrete building that houses a clean bathroom located at the north end of the parking lot. It sits next to a wide, curvy pathway, the landing to which is sandwiched between two palm trees.
Visitors who park on the south side of the parking lot will be subjected to a long walk to the beach. However, it passes quickly amid views of the sea lavender along the slope, mosaics of sea creatures laid into the concrete, beachside fortresses abutting the beach below, and the palpable Pacific Ocean.
A view of the north side of Strand Beach in Dana Point, Calif., on April 6, 2024. (Kimberly Hayek/The Epoch Times)

A view of the north side of Strand Beach in Dana Point, Calif., on April 6, 2024. (Kimberly Hayek/The Epoch Times)

A long, well-maintained staircase leads beachgoers, whale watchers, anglers, surfers, and tide poolers down to the narrow beach. The dozens of concrete steps are broken up by flat pathways along the steep descent down the cliff, easing the overall impact on the knees.
Alongside the staircase, Dana Strands Beach is home to an inclined elevator, a cable railway system on a slope, built in 2007 by the California Coastal Commission for easier access to the beach. It is open to the public on the weekends year-round and all week between Memorial Day and Labor Day, though it is known to go out of service. It quietly traverses the well-maintained slope at two to three miles per hour with up to eight people in tow. The ride takes about two minutes each way.
At the staircase’s terminus, a brief paved access road gives way to a picturesque white, soft sand beach. A highly trafficked boardwalk begins to the left, propped above jetty rocks running along the peaceful seashore. Benches along the way offer respite from long walks and a spot to snack and hydrate while taking in the view. To the south, the Dana Point Preserve juts into the ocean. Dana Strands Beach is located within the Dana Point State Marine Conservation Area.
Visitors will find Dana Strands Beach is generally less crowded than Salt Creek Beach, Dana Point Harbor, and San Clemente.
The beach lies below a gated development of mansions called “The Strand,” while locals know the beach simply as Strands. They might remember it from before all of the development. It almost became a private beach, until the Surfrider Foundation stepped in and sued in 2010 to maintain public access.
Strands Developer Headlands Reserve LLC had originally planned to provide a private beach for residents, including a stairway with locked gates and restrictive hours installed at the location.
Instead, the developer was required to construct a central, public stairway to the beach by the California Coastal Commission.
Despite the controversy, there’s still a feeling of privacy and quietness that fills this narrow beach. On an early morning visit, the salty, misty air provides a feeling of intimacy—like a secret between beachgoers and the ocean. The water is white from gray clouds overhead, and seagulls can be heard fighting over fish.
A view of the south side of Strand Beach in Dana Point, Calif., on April 6, 2024. (Kimberly Hayek/The Epoch Times)

A view of the south side of Strand Beach in Dana Point, Calif., on April 6, 2024. (Kimberly Hayek/The Epoch Times)

At low tide, when tide pools teem with life, keep an eye out for hermit crabs, limpets, snails, mussels, sea stars, chitons, sea urchins, and moonglow anemones. Sea gulls and oystercatchers watch cautiously and hunt in between the waves and humans. Out past wavebreak, you might get lucky and spot spouting whales or jumping dolphins.
Just beyond the rocky northern point of Dana Strands Beach lies the busier Salt Creek Beach—just below the Ritz Carlton—where better waves and wider shorelines await those looking to continue their walking, jogging, running, or surfing.
The two beaches are located near the old Salt Creek, a small coastal stream whose headwaters can be found in Laguna Niguel. Flowing southwest through a narrow canyon, Salt Creek empties as runoff into the Pacific Ocean just north of Salt Creek Beach.
As sunset approaches, Strands Vista Park above becomes a gathering place for locals and visitors to take in the view before heading back home.
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