Doheny State Beach is one of the oldest and most popular state beaches in California. Located in Dana Point, California, in Orange County, this west coast beach stays beautiful and comfortable all year long. Although it can get to the upper 70s in the summer, the temperature typically stays in the mid-60s all year. During the winter months, it can get down to the 50s at night, but even that is a comfortable low temperature in December, right?
The beach here is primarily known for its surfing opportunities. Back in the day, Doheny State Beach was a fixture in many Beach Boys songs. The waves typically run about five feet high on average, and with a sandy and soft break over cobblestones, the water is perfect for beginners as well as experts. However, there are a lot of other activities here as well.
Picnicking is popular at Doheny State Beach with 13 different group picnic areas. Four of these are covered while the others are not. Each picnic section has six picnic tables, a fire ring, and four BBQ pits. Pack the family in the RV and head out to the beach for a picnic or BBQ. Of course, there are many other things to do, such as hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, boating, and visiting the Visitor Center.
About 30 miles south of downtown Los Angeles between San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente, this beach is perfect for everyone. If you can find the San Diego Freeway, you can find Doheny State Beach. From the Los Angeles area, take the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 5) south through Mission Viejo. Since this is SoCal, the San Diego Freeway changes names several times, but just keep going until you reach the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH/Highway 1). From San Diego, it’s a straight shot up the coast. Just stay on the San Diego Freeway until you reach the PCH cutoff, which is just a bit north of San Clemente.
If you take the PCH for any length of time, you will be in awe of the scenery no matter how many times you have seen it. There is always something new to see, so plan to stop at a few of the beaches along the way to take some pictures and enjoy the view. Luckily, the park is just off the PCH, so you will have no trouble maneuvering your rig on the way to the beach.
Most people who camp with RVs or motorhomes park their rig in their campsite and walk or ride bikes around the beach. It is much easier that way. RV parking is available at both the north and south day-use areas. The north area is the more developed area. The south area is basically just beach, and the parking area is essentially a long strip right behind the beach.
The gorgeous Doheny State Beach Campground boasts 121 fabulous campsites right on the beach. Sites 37 through 94 are premium sites, which are about ten feet from the water’s edge. Each site has a picnic table and a campfire ring with a grill for cooking. The maximum length for RVs and trailers is 35 feet, so if your rig is bigger than that, you need to make other arrangements. Campground amenities include a dump station, five modern restrooms with running water, shower houses, a hiking and biking area, and an amphitheater.
Pets are welcome but must be properly restrained and supervised at all times while you are here. Although there are no bearproof food boxes provided, it is recommended that you keep your food and other scented items in a lockbox or your vehicle. There are some shrubs between the sites for a little privacy, but mostly, people come here for the views. So, don't count on feeling like you have the place all to yourself, especially in the summer. You won't. There is also a train line that runs right past the site. But it's all worth it for the chance to camp right on the beach, with a fire pit and picnic table just on the edge of the sand.
This festival usually takes place in late spring. The 1960s longboard contest is always quite a treat. But it’s not just a welcome-summer surf party. This festival highlights local artists and local food. There’s usually Polynesian dancing as well, for those who want to try to become the next YouTube sensation. You may also want to check out the Kona Beer Garden as many visitors claim that it is a great place to relax after a long day on the beach.
In 2014, the California Parks and Recreation Department gave Doheny State Beach’s Visitor Center an extreme makeover. Updates included nicer facilities, a world-class aquarium, and various marine life displays. You’ll also find a tide pool, five ocean environment tanks with real ocean critters, and other displays of wildlife you may see in the area. The park store has a new home in the Visitors Center as well. This facility is located right behind the picnic area near the park entrance on Dana Point Harbor Drive.
Roughly 250,000 visitors a year enjoy over sixty maritime history and marine biology exhibits. If that sounds dull, wait until you check out the two historic tall sailing ships or the oceanography research ship. Visitors can experience marine life at one of the cutting-edge teaching labs, the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center, or the adjacent Marine Life Conservation Area. In 2016, the Ocean Institute was named the area’s best nonprofit organization, and that’s quite an accomplishment.
Be sure to pack the binoculars in the RV before heading to this excellent California beach. One of the longest-running events at Doheny State Beach occurs every year in early March. For two weekends, visitors get up close and personal with whales and dolphins. The tour is family owned and operated, so your guide is knowledgeable and passionate. If the weather is bad or the marine life is uncooperative, your next trip is free. Other activities during the festivals include sand sculpting, a street fair, and a pizza party, to name a few.
Pack the family in the RV and head out to the beach for a picnic or BBQ. The north day-use area has a vast, five-acre picnic area. There are also 13 different group picnic areas here. Four of these are covered for shade while the others are nice and sunny. Each picnic section can accommodate 100 people with four BBQ pits, a fire ring, and six picnic tables. You will need to reserve the group picnic areas in advance or just take your chances on finding some empty tables for you and your group.
The north area is the best place for swimmers. The main lifeguard tower is right next to Thor’s Hammer. Additionally, the bottom slopes gently, even past the surf areas. The south area is for experienced swimmers. There are lifeguards there, but not as many. There’s a sudden drop-off just a little way from the shore. It’s very jagged as well, so you’re never sure where the bottom is. In both the north and south areas, watch for backwash, riptides, and other hazards. If the lifeguards issue a warning, don’t ignore it, and swim only when it's safe.
What’s a beach without volleyball, huh? There are two large sand courts in the north day-use area. They are first-come, first-served for the most part, but courts one through seven can be reserved for a fee. From mid-June to mid-August, the California Beach Volleyball Association usually holds several volleyball tournaments here. Many of them are quite competitive, and the players compete at a very high level. If you cannot get a court to play on, there are still exciting games to watch.
These areas are among the most diverse and fragile ecosystems in California. They’re only found in places like Doheny State Beach, where saltwater and freshwater meet. Doheny State Beach’s tidal pool is near the mouth of San Juan Creek. When the tide goes out, little pockets of life are visible. If you look closely, you’ll see a variety of mollusks, sea stars, anemones, snails, limpets, and crabs. All wildlife is protected, so no touching, please. Don't forget to pack your camera in the motorhome so you can take pics to share on your social media pages.
Kayaking and paddleboarding are lots of fun, and you can pack these in your RV or carry them on top of your rig. Don't worry about towing capacity, as there is no need to pull a boat trailer. Paddling is a great way to experience the water if surfing is not your thing, or if the conditions are less than ideal. Launch from Thor’s Hammer, which is a jetty not far from the creek’s mouth. To avoid entanglements, paddleboarders who venture north must stay at least 1,000 feet offshore. That eliminates the possibility of collisions with surfers or kayakers, and it lets paddleboarders do their thing in solitude.
Back in the Beach Boys days in the late 1960s, the waves at Doheny State Beach were big, rough, and only for experts or people-watchers. But then along came Dana Point Harbor and a few breakwaters just off the coast. So, now, the tidal wave-type experience is gone. But there are still some of the best rides in the state here, especially in the Indicator and the Boneyard. If you have a longboard, the experience is even better. To surf the Boneyard, catch a southern swell. You should probably avoid this area during low tide because it gets pretty rocky. The Indicator is farther out and not as susceptible to the waves, but it is a longer ride. In terms of surf areas, honorable mention goes to Second Spot and Creekmouth.