Put-In/Takeout: Dana Point Harbor/Variable (Poche Beach, North Beach, San Clemente Pier, State Park)
Distance: 4-7 miles
Time: 1-2 hours
Time of Year: Spring, Summer
Wind Direction: NW, WNW
Hazards: Sailboats, ferries, groundswell, kelp
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About the Run: The downwind run from Dana Point is a great stretch for any paddler because of its accessibility and adjustability. Experienced paddlers can easily add miles while green downwinders can do runs as short as three miles. Drop a car at your intended destination (check out the takeouts above and use Google Maps to help estimate distance). Another bonus for newbies: the winds aren’t too daunting here. Windy days tend to be few and far between and when it does blow, it rarely breaks 20 knots.
Dana Point Harbor provides the perfect starting point for this fun downwind run (If you really want to add some the distance, head up to Laguna Beach and put in there). Park at one of two spots: Baby Beach or at the Ocean Institute. Where you park will depend on your experience and comfort with paddling out through the waves. If you don’t mind doing a little rock hopping and punching out through what can be heavy shorebreak, park at the Ocean Institute, head west, walk down the stairs and launch on the beach. If this sounds a little sketchy, park at Baby Beach in the harbor and paddle down the outer channel to get out of the harbor.
Either way, once you hit the open ocean, you have to angle out to sea. Though the harbor gives you a decent angle on San Clemente in the distance, you’ll want to angle out perpendicular to the wind for a mile or so, depending on your destination. Even then, you may have to angle out to sea as you run downwind due to the NW wind’s tendency to push you toward land. As you’re heading out, try to mark your destination using landmarks like San Clemente Pier or North Beach in the distance.
You’ll also want to keep your eyes up and searching for other watercraft such as Catalina ferries, sailboats and OC-1 teams. Dana Point Harbor is a world-famous sailing and recreation destination and can get busy, especially during the summer. Once you push past the harbor entrance heading south, traffic lightens up. Also, be careful close to shore at the end of your run. San Clemente is famous for its surf and rightly so; there are almost always waves. Coming in at dumpy beachbreak on your 14-footer can quickly turn into a hilarious (for your fellow paddlers) beating.
As for aprés-paddle eats, check out Pedro’s for quick-hit tacos and burritos, La Siesta for sit-down Mex and strong margs or The Riders Club for the best burgers in town. Any of these are a fitting end to a solid Dana Point run. Enjoy.