The sea cliffs at Dana Point are revered by historians as the site where Spanish vaqueros threw hides over the cliffs and down to waiting ships as described in Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast. Today, the sheer cliffs remain, but much of coastline below is occupied by the 2500-slip Dana Point Marina. Just west of that marina, though, you'll find a fine, wild stretch of rocky beach and dramatic headland -- a little piece of Old California that can be fully explored on foot during low tides. Tides reach their most favorable nadirs (near minus one-foot or lower) this fall season during the afternoon on the following dates: October 17-19; November 2-4; November 14-17; November 30- December 5; and December 12-17.
To reach the starting point (Dana Point Harbor), exit Interstate 5 at Pacific Coast Highway and proceed west for two miles. Just past Dana Point's "downtown," turn left on Street of the Green Lantern. Go two blocks south and turn left on Cove Road. Cove Road descends to Dana Point Harbor Drive and a parking lot for Dana Cove Park. There you'll find a replica of the Pilgrim, the sailing ship that author Dana sailed on during the early 1800s, and the Ocean Institute museum.
On foot now, walk past the museum, descend a stairway to the beach, and pick your way westward along the beach toward the rocky headland of Dana Point itself. Soon you'll be forced into picking your way across storm-tossed boulders underneath the looming cliffs. The wonderful variety of mostly metamorphic rocks underfoot have weathered out of the conglomerate cliffs above.
There's a sea cave at the end of the walkable section (0.7 mile from Dana Cove Park), and plenty of small sea stacks just offshore that catch the incoming waves and breakers and turn them into white froth. The coastal tidepools here are of fair quality. Travel beyond the sea cave is more difficult, but with a low-enough tide you may be able to negotiate a route across the rocks to the smooth sand of Strand Beach to the north.