By Warren Thompson
In 1835 there was a two-mast brig outbound from Boston called the Pilgrim. It was destined to be a long trip, as it was bound for the west coast of California to buy leather from the Fathers of the San Juan Capistrano Mission. One of the common sailors who signed on with the Pilgrim was named Richard Dana Jr. His fame began in 1840 with the writing of his adventures titled “Two Years before the Mast.” When his ship dropped anchor in the Bay of Capistrano, he took notice of the romance and beauty of the bay and the majestic yellow and gold cliffs that jutted upward, tempered with low-lying sage brush and cactus.
In 1971 the harbor was renamed Dana Point Harbor in honor of the author of “Two Years before the Mast.” The harbor was becoming one of the largest on the west coast.
As you come into the harbor you will still notice the majestic cliffs but with a few changes. The harbor itself is broken up into the east basin and the west basin, with slips for 2,500 boats of different sizes. The east basin offers activities that will make any vacationer’s heart beat faster. Across from the ten-lane boat launching area is a Jet Ski and kayak rental area for the young and old. Whether you want to be on the fast track with a Jet Ski or just paddle your kayak within the harbor area itself, you can watch the brown pelicans diving from a high altitude into the harbor, challenging the other seabirds for a small morsel.
Within the east basin side of the harbor are shops that make you feel as though you are on a South Pacific island. The friendly atmosphere within the harbor is unsurpassed anywhere. Restaurants offer patrons the freshest, most mouth-watering steak and seafood dinners while watching the boats going to or returning from adventurous trips on the high seas.
In 1971 Don Hansen established Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching. It soon became one of the largest sportfishing companies on the west coast and now has a fleet of six ships with a track record that is unmatched. They offer fishing, whale watching, squid fishing, and sailing cruises, and have created many lifelong memories. Dana Wharf Sportfishing has now been passed on to Don’s son, Capt. Mike Hansen. He is the skipper of the Dana Pride, the newest of the fleet, a 95-foot boat that carries up to 150 passengers. No matter which one you choose, it will be a day of pleasure to always remember.
As you continue to explore the east basin you will soon discover that there is even more to see than you had realized. From sunrise to sunset, the walkway to the west basin shows a constant color change. As you head toward the west basin, the cliffs themselves are becoming taller and are continually changing in variations of yellow, gold, red, and brown. Within the park, you will enjoy carpets of green grass with trees and shrubs in constant bloom with a variety of flowers, depending on the time of year that you visit.
Nearing the west basin, you will come upon what is called “Baby Beach.” The beach is used by both vacationing families and locals as it offers a wide expanse of beach and a safe haven for children and beginning swimmers. There are also kayaks and stand up paddleboards for rent for the more advanced novice looking for greater adventure and challenge within the harbor.
As you look out into the lagoon you will observe numerous paddleboarders plying their skills, in hopes of not falling off into the cool water of the lagoon. In the distance is anchored the brig Pilgrim near the fishing pier. This Pilgrim is the fourth replica of the ship that first entered into the Bay of Capistrano in 1835.
Today the ship offers the chance to see firsthand some of the hardships that the seamen incurred during that time. An overnight stay is offered to the children of the local and non-local parents. The ship has a small crew dressed in that time period. To give the children the feeling that they are part of the crew, they are all given duties to perform while on board until the parents return in the morning to rescue them from the ruthless captain.
If your interest lies in the science arena, there is the Ocean Institute, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the sea life in the area. There is a museum, gift shops, and a research vessel that takes occasional trips out of the harbor to do research on the local sea life.
Dana Point Harbor offers seven events throughout the year, the first one starting in February with the Festival of the Whales. Other events include the Classic Wooden Boat Festival, the offshore powerboat races in June, the spectacular July 4th fireworks show, the Tall Ship Festival, and the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot Race. The annual events are concluded with the Christmas Boat Parade. Throughout the year it can be seen why many visitors comment that Dana Point Harbor truly is “The Jewel of Dana Point.”
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