Dana Point Waterfall

Dana Point / San Juan Capistrano, California, USA

About Dana Point Waterfall

Hiking Distance: roadside
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2017-01-09
Date last visited: 2017-01-22

Waterfall Latitude: 33.46357
Waterfall Longitude: -117.70167

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The Dana Point Waterfall (or Dana Point Falls) 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.

Dana_Point_Waterfall_019_01222017 - Contextual view of the Dana Point Waterfall
Contextual view of the Dana Point Waterfall

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 the Dana Point Waterfall

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.

Dana_Point_Waterfall_017_01092017 - Contextual look across the street towards the trickling Dana Point Waterfall with some folks loitering around the plunge pool
Contextual look across the street towards the trickling Dana Point Waterfall with some folks loitering around the plunge pool

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.


To my knowledge, the Dana Point Waterfall does not belong to a reserve or some kind of authority overseeing it. However, if you’re looking to do this excursion and want to inquire about current conditions, you might have some success asking the Dana Point City Hall. More information is available at their website, or you could just do a Google search.

Dana_Point_Waterfall_002_01222017 - Tahia walking along the grassy area towards the commotion up ahead
Dana_Point_Waterfall_003_01222017 - 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
Dana_Point_Waterfall_007_01222017 - Frontal view of the gushing Dana Point Waterfall. Note the expensive homes perched above the falls
Dana_Point_Waterfall_012_01222017 - Looking across the plunge pool towards the Dana Point Waterfall. 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
Dana_Point_Waterfall_022_01222017 - 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
Dana_Point_Waterfall_028_01222017 - Misty frontal view of the Dana Point Waterfall
Dana_Point_Waterfall_032_01222017 - At the far right side of the Dana Point Waterfall, which yielded this view through the palm trees with more hints of expensive homes perched above the cliffs
Dana_Point_Waterfall_038_01222017 - 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
Dana_Point_Waterfall_043_01222017 - Looking across the street from the legal street parking side of Dana Point Harbor Drive
Dana_Point_Waterfall_003_01092017 - Just two weeks prior to our latest visit of the Dana Point Waterfall, Julie showed up when the falls was trickling, but at least she got to appreciate its scenic harbor location
Dana_Point_Waterfall_006_01092017 - Even though it was raining in Los Angeles County, the weather wasn't as bad at Dana Point so the Dana Point Waterfall was merely trickling
Dana_Point_Waterfall_008_01092017 - More contextual look at the trickling Dana Point Waterfall seen two weeks earlier
Dana_Point_Waterfall_010_01092017 - Frontal look at the scenic Dana Point Waterfall even though it was merely trickling during this first visit
Dana_Point_Waterfall_013_01092017 - Closer look at the front of the Dana Point Waterfall. Notice how much smaller the plunge pool was compared to our latest visit
Dana_Point_Waterfall_015_01092017 - This was the park across the street from the Dana Point Waterfall


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.

Comprehensive sweep of the falls starting from the right side and ending on the left side under some heavy rain

360 degree sweep from right in front of the falls showing the traffic on Dana Pt Harbor Drive and the spectacle that drew quite the crowd despite the heavy rains

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