You may have never heard of Dana Point, but if you have a desire to go whale watching in Southern California, it is one of the best towns to visit. There are two popular whale watching cruise companies that operate out of Dana Point, and there are also several whale watching cruises in the surrounding area. In fact, Dana Point is essentially at the very heart of the California whale watching industry, situated about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. If you find yourself in Dana Point hoping to take a whale watching cruise, everything you need to know is included in this guide.
Dana Point is a relatively small town of a little over 30,000 people that is engulfed in the Southern California sprawl, but not to the extent of some cities. It is, as we said above, almost equidistant from Los Angeles and San Diego, and it is right by the least developed stretch of Interstate 5. It is basically situated by the only part of the Southern California coast that hasn’t become a part of either San Diego or Los Angeles. It may seem strange that a town of this size could support two whale watching outfits, but Dana Point has one of the few harbors along the Orange County coast (and thus the town motto is “harboring the good life”), and in any case the industry is supported by visitors, not the locals.
The two whale watching companies in Dana Point are Dana Wharf and Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari. As we have noted in other articles about whale watching in California, your experience on board any given ship will be comparable, regardless of which company you sail with. The whale watching cruises of Captain Dave’s and Dana Wharf will explore the same coastal waters, so you can expect to see the same types of whales, dolphins, and other forms of marine life, even if you might by chance have better luck with one company over the other.
That said, there are things that distinguish Dana Wharf and Captain Dave’s. For one, at $45, Dana Wharf’s cruises are cheaper than Captain Dave’s (which cost $59), and Dana’s Wharf also offers a lot more cruises. Captain Dave’s only offers one cruise a day, generally at 10:30 in the morning (although this varies), whereas Dana Wharf offers five at 10:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 2:00 PM, 4:00 PM, and 5:00 PM. (For the record, the cruise at 5:00 only costs $25.) However, Captain Dave’s cruises, lasting two and a half hours, are 30 minutes longer than Dana Wharf’s cruises, and Captain Dave’s is a more highly rated company on TripAdvisor, Google+, and Yelp (at least for now, and both companies are highly rated anyway). The ships that each company uses are also different. For instance, Captain Dave’s ship has “Eye to Eye Underwater Viewing Pods,” which allow particularly close underwater views of dolphins. So, there are obviously differences between the companies, but you will get fundamentally the same experience with either company.
Given Dana Point’s location, you can also go to one of the nearby cities to take a whale watching cruise. We have detailed the options in the surrounding area in articles about whale watching in San Diego, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Newport Beach, and we won’t repeat ourselves here. Once more, all whale watching cruises tend be fairly similar experiences, so if you find yourself in Dana Point, there isn’t much of a reason to go elsewhere. However, it is perhaps worth looking at cruises in other cities just because the whale watching companies will occasionally offer excellent promotions. For instance, Newport Landing, based in (as you might expect) Newport, is currently offering $16 cruises during the weekdays and $22 cruises on the weekends with an online coupon, and since Newport is only a 30 minute drive from Dana Point, this is the type of deal that might draw you to whale watching in a different city, despite the fact that there are no shortage of options in Dana Point.
If you are in Dana Point, you won’t have any trouble finding a whale watching cruise. There are two companies based in the town, and there are a number of others in the surrounding area. Lots of things might keep you from whale watching, but a lack of options isn’t one of them.