33333 S. Pacific Coast Highway
Dana Point, CA
Beach Hours: 5 AM to midnight
Bluff Park Hours: 5 AM to 10 PM
Parking: $1 per hour
Caution: Check with rangers or lifeguards that conditions are safe for your planned activities.
With nearly a mile of sand spread along the coast just north of Dana Point, Salt Creek Beach is a favorite place for beach visitors to spend the day. For surfers, it is one of the best spots in the area ever since the harbor and accompanying breakwaters at Dana Point changed the surfing geography.
Tide pools and California's largest kelp forest just offshore are some of the features that attract visitors to Salt Creek Beach. The area is part of the Niguel Stare Marine Conservation Area.
Salt Creek Beach Park is operated by Orange County. Parking is only a dollar an hour, and the beach is open from 5 AM until midnight. Good facilities, including a seasonal snack shop, make the beach a popular choice. The snack shop is open from 9 AM to 5 PM on holidays and weekends. Besides selling food and beverages, they rent boogie boards, beach chairs, and umbrellas.
The lower parking lot at Salt Creek Beach Park is open the same hours as the beach, from 5 AM to midnight. Parking is self-serve Pay and Display at $1 per hour, credit cards accepted. At busy times this parking area will be full.
The alternative is the much larger parking lot up by the Pacific Coast Highway at Ritz-Carlton Drive. The parking rate is the same $1 per hour. The walk down to the beach is a fair jaunt, especially the return climb after a long day in the sun.
Middles at Salt Creek Beach
South of Salt Creek Beach and Strand Beach rise the Dana Point Headlands. Four open space parks are located there - Hilltop Park, Harbor Point Park, Headlands Conservation Park, and South Strands Biological Open Space. More than 3 miles of trails connect the open space parks and provide access to beaches and scenic viewpoints. Trails can be accessed off Dana Strand Road or Green Lantern. They are open from 7 AM to sunset.
The Nature Interpretive Center is located adjacent to the Headlands Conservation Park, at the western end of Street of the Green Lantern. The Center provides information about the local habitat and about the history of Dana Point. It is open from 10 AM to 4 PM; closed on Mondays.
Salt Creek Beach
Nearby Bluff Park overlooks the beach and ocean, making it a popular spot for whale watching during the migration season from December through March. Facilities include restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, a wide expanse of beautifully manicured grass, meandering paths, and benches. Ramps lead down to the beach.
Strand Beach is directly south of Salt Creek Beach, just around the point with the lifeguard tower. Strand is usually less crowded than Salt Creek. A little less than a mile long, Strand Beach is narrow enough that during high tides waves scoot all the way across the sand. Immediately inland from the beach a boardwalk provides convenient and dry passage along the shore. There are restrooms, outdoor showers, and a drinking fountain at beach level near the bottom of the steps.
Parking is available at a spacious lot at Strand Vista Park off Selva Road. Parking is free. The park has outdoor showers and restrooms. Many steps lead down to the beach from the parking lot, or you could take the funicular.
European travelers are familiar with funiculars which ferry pedestrians up and down steep hills in major cities, but the funicular at Strand Beach is a novelty for most. The free tram holds 8 passengers at a time and operates 7 AM to 5 PM on off-season weekends and holidays and 6 AM to 8 PM every day in the summer. Often there is a line waiting to board.
California State Parks and Recreation cautions that "large surf, cold water temperatures, backwash, sudden drop-offs, pounding shorebreak, and dangerous rip currents can turn what seem like safe activities such as playing near the surf line, wading, or climbing on rock outcroppings, deadly." Learn more about ocean safety at CA State Parks: Ocean Safety