Photo Courtesy: Mimi Slawoff. Dana Point Harbor

Located among rolling hills 60 miles south of Los Angeles, Dana Point is an upscale beach town in Orange County worth exploring with kids for many reasons.

Family-friendly luxury resorts, a scenic harbor and a plethora of recreational activities make Dana Point an ideal day trip or vacation destination.

Beach fun

Families with young kids can feel safe at Baby Beach, which has flat water for wading and splashing around. Older kids who enjoy swimming, boogie boarding and surfing will find the perfect waves at popular Doheny State Beach. Tide pools, picnic facilities, volleyball courts and a campground round out family fun. Scenic Salt Creek Beach is another popular location for swimming, surfing and tide pooling.

Best ocean paddlingTMOM Travel Disclosure

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned paddler, the Dana Point Harbor is a great place for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). We rented SUP boards from Westwind Sailing, which provides brief instruction before you take to the water. We paddled about two miles (round-trip) on amazingly calm water around a small island and through a picturesque marina.

Top quality boards make it easy for ages 6 and older to get the hang of stand-up paddling right away. Stand up paddling from $25, Kayaking from $20.

capt. dave

Photo Courtesy: Mimi Slawoff. Sail and look for wildlife on Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Safari.

Best wildlife tour

Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Safari has a solid reputation for spotting wildlife and rescuing injured marine animals. Although on our nearly three-hour cruise we didn’t see any whales, Capt. Dave did find pods of dolphins. He and his crew interacted with passengers and made sure everyone had a good time. It was a beautiful sailing day and it’s an excursion we would definitely do again. Onboard amenities include a snack bar and clean restroom. $59 for adults 13 and older, $39 for kids 2 – 12.

Best hands-on marine life exploration

A research facility, the Ocean Institute opens its doors to the public on weekends so families can explore teaching stations that include marine life tanks and wet-tables with video-microscopes. It’s a unique opportunity for families to learn about marine life through fascinating hands-on exhibits and educational programs.

Kid-friendly restaurants

Coffee Importers Scoop Deck & Deli serves tastybreakfast and lunch meals under $10. After our morning bike ride around the harbor, we stopped for sandwiches and cool drinks at this casual eatery. The extensive lunch menu includes salads and an assortment of sandwiches as well as several kiddie favorites (PB&J, grilled cheese and hot dogs).

Raya Ritz

Photo Courtesy: Mimi Slawoff. Sunset view from Raya restaurant in Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

Raya is located inside the Ritz-Carlton. Dine in style at the elegant (but not stuffy) oceanfront Raya open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Catch a sunset while savoring the Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine. A children’s Sunday brunch and daily menu is sure to satisfy all palates.

Best kid-friendly hotels

Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa. Perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, this laid-back luxury hotel is located in the heart of Dana Point. Although the resort has two pools (one for adults), we hung out at Splash Zone, the children’s area with heated pool, water cannon and other water features (no wonder we got soaked!). The Kahuna Laguna Kid’s Club welcomes children ages 5 – 12 seasonally for supervised arts and crafts, various games and poolside fun.

Laguna Cliffs' lobby

Photo Courtesy: Mimi Slawoff. Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa lobby.

Ask the concierge for bicycles and maps, and peddle to the nearby beach and harbor. Bike rentals and other amenities are complimentary if you pay the resort fee. Otherwise bike rentals are $30/day. After a day of play, everyone will sleep well in spacious, posh rooms (many with mini fridges).

Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. Families are pampered at this beautiful, iconic resort overlooking Salt Creek Beach. In addition to an array of children’s services (including free cribs) and activities (beach toys, games and movies, plus much more), the Ritz offers families opportunities to learn about local marine life at the onsite Eco-Adventure Center. During summer months, beach butlers provide transportation to and from the beach via a shuttle, and set up beach chairs, umbrellas and towels.

St. Regis Beach Club Monarch Bay Club. While kids ages 5-12 play in the Sandcastle Kids Club, soak up spa treatments or play a round of golf at this Mediterranean-style, five-star resort on prime real estate. A resort tram transports guests to the beach for lunch or dinner at the chic and exclusive Monarch Bay Club – one of several onsite restaurants.