Beach Camping Doheney State Park California

doheny state beach surfers

By Dan Sanchez

Southern Californians are probably some of the most avid beach campers on the west coast. The allure of the beach, sun, and activities are what make this type of camping enjoyable for those who are willing to wait and get into the most desirable beach-front spots. One of the best places in Southern California for beach camping, is Doheny State Beach. The beach was originally donated to the state by Edward L. Doheny, an oil tycoon, back in 1931.

Encompassing a total of 62 acres, Doheny State Beach is located in the city of Dana Point, and is considered one of the best surf spots in all of Southern California. The beach has had a long history with surfing and is home to surfing legends such as Hobie Alter, and filmmaker Bruce Brown who created Endless Summer.

Campsites are tight but if you're lucky enough to get one facing the beach, it's an experience you won't soon forget.
Campsites are tight but if you’re lucky enough to get one facing the beach, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Camping is also a big part of the beach, with over one mile of sand and 122 campsites. Only 33 of them are beach front but are difficult to get. Nonetheless, if you’re lucky enough to get one, it’s a camping experience you won’t soon forget. During our time at Doheny, we were lucky enough to get a beach front site, in which we managed to pitch three tents an RV, truck and a brand new 2012 Dodge Durango R/T. While it’s important to point out that not all the sites offer the same amount of space, our’s was a typical beach front site with a fire ring and a beautiful view.

Although surfing and stand up paddle boarding seem to be the activity of choice at Doheny, there’s also a few hikes that allow you to discover more about the area. One is to simply walk along the beach and enjoy the scenery. At the north end of the beach is the harbor jetty which strolls along the day use area. Starting from here, you can walk south about three miles to the end of the beach.

The original entrance to Donehy State Beach is stil standing with this Spanish style arch.
The original entrance to Donehy State Beach is stil standing with this Spanish style arch.

Another hike starts at the entrance to the park. As you walk west, along Dana Point Harbor Drive, you’ll pass the entrance to the Ocean Institute, about 1.2 miles. You continue walking through the parking lot and will eventually end up on the hill side of the Ocean Institute and out to the breakwater jetty. This is the best place to see the tide pools and are best enjoyed while the tide is low.

Better less known tide pools are down by the sight seeing tour boats like “The Whale Watcher.” At the base of the jetty by the cliff is a caged covered staircase that heads down to the beach. It’s here where the sand ends and you walk upon lots of rocks. So bring a good pair of sneakers to avoid slipping or hurting your feet. A trail at the base of the cliff that leads out along the headlands and after a half-mile, leads to the entrance of the Pirate’s Cave. The ease at which you can enter the cave depends on the weather and tide conditions, so it’s best to be prepared.

The cave opens into a large cavern with an opening to the sea. During very low tides in November, December, January and early February, you can walk through the cavern’s opening and around to Dana Strands Beach, passing two smaller caves and an arch along the way.

Doheny State Beach ocean viewThe evenings at Doheny State Beach are also just as fantastic, starting with awesome sunsets and a view of all the stars at night. Public showers and restrooms aren’t far to walk from the beach front campsites and if you didn’t bring enough food for your stay, there’s grocery stores and restaurants just outside the park that are within walking distance.

Doheny is one beach camping spot that’s a favorite, but keep in mind that the spots are close and on holiday weekends, many like to party hard and loud. So don’t expect peace and quiet. This site is more for a great weekend at the beach and the ability to enjoy family and friends in a familiar camping atmosphere. For more information, visit

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