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The headland of Dana Point, after which the surrounding community is named, is a tiny pocket of nature surrounded by urban development.
More than 100 types of plants grow here, including many wildflowers, and it’s a haven for small birds, insects, and other wildlife that thrive in the coastal scrub environment.
One of these is the highly endangered Pacific pocket mouse, known to survive only here and in two other places.
The headland is also a topographical feature unique for this section of coast.
In both directions along the shoreline are sandy beaches, but Dana Point is an elevated, rocky outcrop jutting into the sea. For these reasons, the point is a designated nature preserve.
A trail winds along the top and reaches multiple spectacular viewpoints over the ocean, which are also great spots to catch the sunset.
The path is bordered by a fence, and going off trail is strictly prohibited in order to protect this small stronghold of natural habitat.
Though its course around the perimeter of the headland resembles a loop, the two ends of the trail do not connect.
It is an out and back. Vegetation grows dense and healthy on either side of the trail, thanks to the fence lining the path.
Spring is the time for wildflowers, and each month February through May presents a unique color show.
Watch around your feet for scurrying lizards, and in the bushes for fluttering songbirds.
At the overlooks, take time to gaze out at sea.
You’ll see sailboats and ships passing by, and seabirds flying overhead.
The San Juan Rocks, tiny islands of stone, lay below in the surf.
Sea lions and dolphins live down there, and you can sometimes see them swimming.
You might also spot whales farther out at sea, with especially good chances during the gray whale migration season of December-April.
Dana Point is, in fact, one of the best spots for whale watching in all of California.
Bring binoculars to increase your chances. Start the trail from the small parking lot at the end of Scenic Drive, where an interpretive center displays lots of information about the whales and other nature at Dana Point.
More parking is available along the road when the lot is full.
If street parking is also full, you can begin at Dana Point Park, next to the harbor, and walk up Cove Road and Scenic Drive. Sources: http://www.danapoint.org/department/public-works-engineering/environmental/natural-resources/dana-point-headlands-conservation-area https://danawharf.com/whale-watching-faq/