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Get Schooled On A Short Hike To Dana Point's Sea Caves

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By David Lockeretz of Nobody Hikes in L.A. / Special to LAist

You can learn about history, oceanography, geology, biology, literature and even get some physical education in the bargain—and it’s not in a classroom.

At Dana Point on the southern end of Orange County, science and local history collide in a way that’s as entertaining as it is enjoyable. Dana Point is named after Richard Henry Dana, the Harvard man who decided to leave his life of privilege behind and embark on an epic sea journey. His ship, the Pilgrim, explored the California coast, and now a replica of the vessel sits in the harbor today. Dana wrote about his voyage in his 1834 memoir, “Two Years Before the Mast” (this is the literature part of our aforementioned curriculum).

In addition to its history, Dana Point also features some sea caves similar to those at Corona Del Mar. Although the three-quarters of a mile scramble to reach the caves may be a little tricky for some, if you go during low tides, you shouldn’t have much of a problem. On the way to the caves, you can enjoy some great views of the ocean, and if the air is clear, you can see farther up the coast and out to Catalina Island. You can also see the tidepools, which are home to hermit crabs, snails, sea anemones and more marine life.

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The first and smaller cave occurs after about half a mile. This may be a good turnaround point for people who are having trouble with the rocky terrain, but for those who want to continue, the second sea cave is not far ahead. You enter it through a narrow slit in the rocks, and once inside, you can look out a larger entrance (inaccessible from the coast) and get some great views. The cave is large enough to stand up in. Most people will agree that seeing this geology up close is far more interesting than studying it in a book.

To get to the Dana Point headlands area, take 5 Freeway south to the Pacific Coast Highway. Head northwest for 1.3 miles to Dana Harbor Drive. Turn left and go 1.3 miles to the end, and park in the lot. For more information about the hike to the sea caves, including links to information about tides, click here.