Dana Point was a popular port for ships involved with the hide trade with nearby Mission San Juan Capistrano, with trading reaching its peak in the 1830s and 1840s. Richard Henry Dana then visited the area in 1835 while serving aboard the sailing brig Pilgrim on their voyage along the California coastline.
In 1923, Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler and General M.H. Sherman, director of the Pacific Electric Railway Company, created a major real estate group to develop what is known today as the Hollywood Hills. Sidney H. Woodruff, already a prominent Los Angeles homebuilder, was hired to lead the project. In 1926, Woodruff, Chandler and Sherman created the Dana Point Syndicate. They invited other heavy hitters, company presidents, movie producers and real estate investors to join them in purchasing 1,388 acres (5.6 km2) of land, some of which includes the “Headlands” of today. Promising tree-lined and paved streets, electricity, telephones, sidewalks, water mains, storm drains, sewers and other amenities, Woodruff built 35 homes and a number of commercial buildings.
Most of these “Woodruff” houses are concentrated in a Dana Point’s historic core, also called Lantern Village (currently about 12,000 residents). The streets are named after the different colored lanterns, street of the Violet Lantern, Blue Lantern, etc. (colored lanterns were used by ships 200 years ago to advertise their fares when pulled into the Dana Point natural harbor). His crowning structure was to be the Dana Point Inn, a Mediterranean-like resort hotel. After a celebratory groundbreaking in 1930, a three-story foundation was poured and a 135-foot (41 m) elevator shaft was dug. However, the Great Depression caused construction to halt. Although Woodruff continuously sought financial support through the years, this project was abandoned in 1939. Subsequently, he sold the remaining holdings of the Dana Point Syndicate. Thirty-four of the original Woodruff residences are still occupied.
The Strands is a new luxury housing development built on an old public beach and surfer hot spot next to the Salt Creek and the Ritz Carlton. It is a very upscale development with house sales commonly above $3,000,000. Sales have been rapid according to the development website.
The Doheny family also funded the building of the what was then called St. Edward’s Chapel in Capistrano Beach. The Chapel soon grew, received canonical status as a parish, and moved to its current bluff-top location in Dana Point, overlooking Doheny State Beach.
Monarch Beach is a small neighborhood located within the City of Dana Point. Its distinction is two luxury hotels St. Regis and the Ritz Carlton-Laguna Niguel (both located within Dana Point) which are beachside resorts located within the area of Monarch Beach. It consists of some residences, but is also a tourist attraction for travelers. The name “Monarch Beach” is often incorrectly referenced as the name of the city.
Monarch Beach is named after its most prominent geological feature “Monarch Bay” aptly named as its rolling hills of Sagebrush and Manzanita were once a breeding ground for the Monarch Butterfly. The butterflies were once seen there in large masses, but have disappeared from the area because their habitat has been replaced, almost entirely, by the large houses that can be found in the Monarch Beach neighborhood.
Like the rest of Dana Point, Monarch Beach residents enjoy close proximity to the beach, a relatively low-crime rate, top-rated competitive public schools, and a relaxed, comfortable and athletic atmosphere that proliferates within the entire Dana Point community. The Links — an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. — is considered one of the best golf courses in Southern California. In addition, the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Links Course offers visitors some of the best amenities in the area. Monarch Beach is about a five-minute walk to Salt Creek Beach. It has straight access to Strands Beach and a picnic area.
Historically, Monarch Beach could have become a part of Laguna Niguel. The group responsible for incorporation of Dana Point submitted documents on December 31, 1986, a week behind Laguna Niguel’s submission. At a Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) meeting in May 1987, commissioners outraged Laguna Niguel by proposing the coastal subdivisions of Monarch Beach be a part of Dana Point. This was based on a poll of residents in the area, which showed approximately 90 percent wanting to be a part of Dana Point. The commission suggested the matter be put to a vote in November, but the idea was opposed by some. An advisory vote took place in November 1987, with 63 percent of the residents voting, 61 percent chose to go with the city of Dana Point. In December, LAFCO voted to include the disputed coastal strip to Dana Point, without Laguna Niguel present which again caused uproar, and scheduled the cityhood vote for June 1988. Under protest by Laguna Niguel, the commission voted to reconsider their decision, and scheduled a new hearing in January 1988 and LAFCO voted to place the coveted coastal strip with Dana Point. The incorporation vote for Dana Point occurred on June 7, 1988 and it became the 28th city in Orange County on January 1, 1989. Incorporation won by a 4-1 margin, which took 13 public hearings and two elections to produce. But the fight was not over. Laguna Niguel filed suit to set aside the decision and laid claim to Sea Terrace Park by means of a developer agreement. In October, a judge decided Dana Point would keep the Monarch Beach coastal strip.
It’s noteworthy that the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Monarch Beach is called Ritz-Carlton-Laguna Niguel. In the ’70s, the developers of the area were including the hotel site as Ritz-Carlton, Monarch Beach, a part of the area to be called South Peak. As the property was changing hands and resident numbers grew, the Laguna Niguel Community Council was formed to address density and traffic. A planning committee of this organization approved the plans with the caveat the resort’s name be “Ritz-Carlton-Laguna Niguel.” The name remains to this day.
Annual cultural events
Dana Point has held a Festival of Whales since 1972. This celebration is held over two weekends in March.
The Tall Ships Festival is held in September. It is considered the largest annual gathering of its kind on the West Coast of the United States.
Dana Point has hosted the Dana Point Concours d’Elegance since 2008. The event is located on the Monarch Beach Golf Links and supports various charities.
The Dana Point Grand Prix is an annual bike race overlooking Dana Point Harbor. The course winds its way through downtown Dana Point into Heritage Park and the adjoining residential community with ocean views for participants and spectators before finishing on a long straightaway on PCH.
The Dana Point Chamber of Commerce hosts the annual Turkey Trot, which includes a 5K, 10K and Kids’ Gobble Wobble race for ages 5–12, which was voted as a top destination for Thanksgiving by Fodor’s Magazine. This event attracts over 10,000 runners throughout the country and another 5,000 family and friends.