If you’re looking for a holiday trip with the family this year, look no further than Dana Point. Located in Orange County, it’s mid way between Los Angeles and San Diego, and they offer an abundance of activities for families during this time of year. You can stay in a Dana Point resort and be close enough to walk to all the fun festivities.
I recently took the trip and experienced something very magical called IlluminOcean. Billed a “wonderland by the sand” as well as “Forty Nights of Lights,” this new installation features 22 giant ocean-themed lighting sculptures with over 500,000 LED lights along a one-mile stretch on the harbor, accentuated through the use of 3D glasses.
IlluminOcean is FREE and comes alive every night at sundown through January 4th. Sponsored by The Resorts of Dana Point, the attraction is made up of glowing dolphins, starfish, dragons, an octopus, a gigantic whale people can walk through the belly of and more. Some of the lit up sculptures even have sound effects, like Christmas carols. Even the palm trees glow in the night, with what appears to be icicles dripping from their treetops.
For a northerner like me, it seems crazy to celebrate Christmas in such a warm climate, but it really works. It was really fun watching the kids run from one sculpture to another, gawking and declaring one better than another to their parents, clearly enjoying the fantastical element of the experience.
Dana Point is hosting a number of holiday-themed events throughout the season, including Winter Wine Cruises from the harbor on a catamaran; boat rides with Santa; and the FantaSEA Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, which just finished its run.
The resorts also participate in the neon fun by featuring displays outside their entrances, and you feel the heart of the event all over town. The Ritz Carlton is hosting an annual Holiday Surfboard Display and Auction, raising money for a charity called Surfers Healing. Kids will love S’mores and Stories Under the Stars on Friday and Saturday nights Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa and the Gingerbread Academy at St. Regis Monarch Beach until December 21st.
I stayed at two Dana Point resorts during my short stay in Dana Point. St. Regis Monarach Beach is a Forbes five-star resort that offers gorgeous views, spacious rooms, a private beach, three swimming pools, programs for kids, babysitting service and, get this, butler service. They cater to children during the holidays with a beautiful tree, a Gingerbread House Academy, Sunday brunch, photos with Santa and so much more.
Laguna Cliffs Marriott is an excellent choice for a comfortable, nautical visit to Dana Point. Complete with Wifi, 250 thread count Frette Linen Beds and linens, soft robes, cable TV, a work space and California coastal décor that reflects the spirit of Dana Point. The hotel is located close enough to IlluniOcean that you can either walk or watch the Boat Parade from the premises and eat at one of the hotel’s family-friendly restaurants.
If you have a day or two to spend in Dana Point with the kids, there is so much to do. Here are a few ideas:
- Take a tour of the Ocean Institute, a non-profit marine science and history education center in Dana Point Harbor and learn about the Pacific Ocean’s sea creatures and plants.
- Go Whale Watching with Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari, to take in the area’s dolphins, whales, sea lions and other marine life.
- Rent bikes from Wheel Fun from The DoubleTree Suites at Doheny Beach and ride along the shore all the way to San Clemente. It’s a beautiful ride and good exercise for the kids.
- Head for a family-friendly meal at Cannon’s Seafood Grill, located on a cliff overlooking Dana Point Harbor. They offer great options for kids, offering inexpensive kid’s meals with options like Fresh Fish, Crispy Chicken and a Hamburger for less than $10.
- Then catch lluminOcean at sundown, free every night at sundown through January 4th.
So, if you’re looking for a getaway this winter, consider a trip to Dana Point in Orange County. The area is extremely family-friendly and adults will enjoy the experience just as much as the children. The adult writing this piece will vouch for that.
Disclosure: Holly went on press trip to Dana Point and received complimentary airfare, accommodations, a spa treatment, meals and activities to facilitate this article and others. The Resorts of Dana Point hosted her. All opinions are her own.