The Dana Point Waterfall was something we weren't really made aware of until recently when it popped up on one of the Orange County blogs. Perhaps part of the reason why this place was so unknown to all but locals or those familiar with the Dana Point area was that this was a very temporary or ephemeral waterfall. In other words, if you weren't here in the middle of a storm with heavy rainfall, you're not likely to see this waterfall flow. Julie experienced this firsthand when it was raining in Los Angeles County, but when she showed up to this part of southern Orange County about an hour or two after leaving home, the falls was merely trickling. It wasn't until two weeks later when we were here in the middle of a fairly nasty rain storm that resulted in lots of local street flooding and people hydroplaning on the freeways did we finally get to see this waterfall in a state that you can see in the photo at the top of this page! And even if the falls wasn't flowing, this little "oasis" was well-situated near the Dana Point Harbor beneath cliffs where expensive homes were perched above. It was the kind of scene that we might have encountered further up the coast in Malibu, but here we were south of Laguna Beach in the scenic coastal suburb of Dana Point.
Visiting this waterfall was pretty straightforward as this was essentially a drive-to waterfall. It was right off the road across the street from a park on the harbor front. The falls itself was fronted by palm trees with the whitish and brown cliffs adding to the scenic allure of this spot. Yet even despite the lack of physical exertion required to experience the Dana Point Waterfall, we do have to reiterate the catch-22 nature of this excursion. Indeed, in order to see this falls perform, the timing has to coincide with heavy rain, which means braving the accident-prone driving conditions on the freeways and local streets where the slippery conditions (especially with the hydroplaning) must be respected. In addition to the bad driving conditions, the waterfall itself was composed of suburban runoff from the community above the cliff. Thus, the water would be bacteria-laced under stormy conditions, and we could certainly smell the refuse when we finally got to see this place in person. Of course, under more benign conditions, the falls would be no more than a trickle. So you definitely have to take the good with the bad with this one.
Finally, given the ephemeral nature of the Dana Point Waterfall, I would marginally count this as a legitimate waterfall. However, it was the scenic allure and oceanfront location that sort of gave this falls the benefit of the doubt. So instead of a 0.5 or lower score, we opted to bump the score of this falls up to 1. But as stated before, timing was everything with experiencing the spectacle of the falls.
Further up the coast from Dana Point was the famous Laguna Beach, which besides the drama of the old MTV scripted reality show, was also a beautiful spot in its own right
Tahia walking along the grassy area towards the commotion up ahead
When it was raining hard, the Dana Point Waterfall became quite the spectacle as lots of people went over to this spot to see the rare event
Frontal view of the gushing Dana Point Waterfall. Note the expensive homes perched above the falls
Looking across the plunge pool towards the falls. The red you see on the lower right was someone holding an umbrella, which gives you a sense of scale of the size of this falls
This was about as close as Tahia could safely view the Dana Point Waterfall. It wasn't wise to get any closer due to the high bacteria levels in the water and its spray as well as the slippery and muddy conditions all around the plunge pool
Misty frontal view of the falls
At the far right side of the falls, which yielded this view through the palm trees with more hints of expensive homes perched above the cliffs
Looking back at the traffic on Dana Point Harbor Drive, which was mostly caused by lookie-loos taking photos from their car while backing up traffic
Looking across the street from the legal street parking side of Dana Point Harbor Drive
Just two weeks prior to our latest visit of this waterfall, Julie showed up when the falls was trickling, but at least she got to appreciate its scenic harbor location
Even though it was raining in Los Angeles County, the weather wasn't as bad at Dana Point so the waterfall was merely trickling
More contextual look at the trickling waterfall seen two weeks earlier
Frontal look at the scenic Dana Point Waterfall even though it was merely trickling during this first visit
Closer look at the front of the falls. Notice how much smaller the plunge pool was compared to our latest visit
This was the park across the street from the falls
Contextual look across the street towards the trickling waterfall with some folks loitering around the plunge pool
The fastest way that we were able to visit the Dana Point Waterfall from Los Angeles was to take the I-5 freeway all the way south to the Pacific Coast Highway 1 off-ramp (exit 5) near San Juan Capistrano. From around the 91 freeway and I-5 interchange, this stretch of the drive took us about 45 minutes though we were driving pretty deliberately under the rainy conditions despite the relatively light traffic.
Once we got off the I-5 at the Hwy 1 ramp, we then followed the highway towards its end as it transitioned towards surface streets. We kept on the left lane in anticipation of having to turn left. Once we reached a traffic light at the junction of PCH and Dana Point Harbor Drive, we then made the left turn. And once upon Dana Point Harbor Drive, we drove just under a mile where the Dana Point Waterfall could be clearly seen from the road on the right side.
However, legal street parking was on the east-bound side of the street so in order to park the car legally, we had to make a U-turn and then park across the street from the falls. Additional caution must be made to cross the street to get closer to the falls given the potential high speed of traffic along this street. That said, there was no fee for visiting this waterfall other than the cost of gas to make this drive.
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