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Exploring Doheny State Beach

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Doheny State Beach is a perfect place for a beach walk. There are towering palms, sailboats from nearby Dana Point Harbor, surfers, a wide assortment of birds, and beautiful coastal views. This is a great place to watch the sunset and unwind. This isn’t a “hike” per se, but a really great walk. It’s virtually level, but you can make it more challenging by walking in the sand, or extend the walk down Capo Beach or even San Clemente.

Trail Details
Distance: 3 miles
Time: 1-2 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation gain: Flat
Dogs: No
Parking: $15
I chose to go from end to end and back again, beginning at the north end (closest to the Dana Point Harbor). I ambled along the beach, watching the birds, the surfers and the sailboats. My favorite time to walk here is late afternoon, as the sun drops low in the sky.

I began this walk at the north end of the beach, nearest to the Dana Point Marina. This area has expansive grass areas for picnicking with lots of shade, concessions, picnic tables and grills. The beach at this end is broad, and has a number of volleyball courts.

Kick off your shoes and head down to the edge of the beach, following it southward. This area is a popular spot for beginning surfers.

You’ll soon reach a rock breakwater at the outlet of the San Juan Creek. You might be tempted to wade across, but I would advise against this. The water can be running swiftly, and as it contains runoff from streets around south Orange County, it can contain contaminants that you probably would rather avoid.

Instead, turn left and follow the paved path just behind the lifeguard headquarters. Note that there are two paths: the one on the right is the San Juan Creek trail. This is a bike trail that follows the San Juan Creek and leaves the park after a few hundred yards. Bear to the left of this on a parallel path toward the Coast Highway. At Coast Highway, turn right and take the sidewalk across the bridge, then bear right into the Doheny campground area.

Head straight through the campground toward the beach, then continue your walk south on the sand.

One thing you might notice is the large number of birds of all kinds. Seagulls, terns, pelicans, ducks and others can be found around the outlet of the San Juan Creek and the surround beach.

Once you head past the campground, you’ll be walking parallel with the southern day use parking area. This area is popular for families and groups because you can park right next to the beach and each spot has a picnic table and fire ring. This is also the best spot to watch the sunset in Doheny.

Once you reach the southern boundary, you’ll see signs marking the entrance to Capo Beach. You can turn around here and either retrace your steps along the beach or the paved road.

Parking at Doheny State Beach

There are two areas for day-use parking. The north lot is closer to grassy picnic areas and the Dana Point Marina. It’s also where most of the surfers go. The south lot is narrow, with direct access to the beach, lots of fire rings and picnic tables. You’ll get the best view of the sunset here.

Day use parking at Doheny State Beach costs $15, but you might be able to find free parking on the Coast Highway along the south end of the park, then take the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks to the beach.

Good to Know

  • Dogs are permitted at Doheny, but they must be on leash at all times, and they are not allowed on the beach. If camping, dogs must be kept inside an RV or tent during the night.
  • This is also a great place to bike ride or roller blade, and you will see lots of people doing this. You can continue on southward through Capo Beach and even to the San Clemente Beach Trail.
  • In 2010, Doheny State Beach was voted Orange County’s “best camping site” for the 17th year in a row.
  • Unfortunately, the outlet of the San Juan Creek frequently makes Doheny Beach one of the most polluted beaches in SoCal.

Time-lapse Sunset from Doheny State Beach

I shot the following sunset using my iPhone propped on a picnic table in the south day use area of Doheny.
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Doheny Beach Walk Map

Download file: 910041.gpx

Photo Gallery

Essential Doheny State Beach Resources

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