A little over a decade ago I moved from Portland Oregon to Orange County. Naturally I settled first in Dana Point. It makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that there are several things that are a little Portland-y about this So Cal city.
1. Dana Point is damper, chillier and foggier than many other parts of the OC. This results in a population that often slightly out of sync with the seasonal fashion trends observed by the rest of the county. Like to wear flip flops and a parka? Uggs and shorts? Dana Point is for you!
2. Dana Point is fiercely independent, a town where people choose their own house colors and you might find a mansion parked next door to a surf shack. Further proof of their independent ways? There’s still not a Starbucks Café anywhere along the Dana Point Harbor. Keep driving (or sailing) if you’re looking for a franchise outlet.
3. Dana Point has a reverence for kitsch and a studied lack of social pretension that magically combine to create the perfect environment for “keeping it weird.” It’s not quite hipster, but it does lead to something as spectacular and un-missable as Illuminocean, a 40 night festival of lights running in Dana Point now thru January 4th.
Illuminocean is magnificently whimsical, nostalgic and trippy at the same time. Spanning nearly a mile along the harbor front, you will find large interactive light sculptures celebrating the season and the location. Sea turtles with bubbles, diving dolphins, singing mermaids, a Puff the Dragon-esque Sea Monster and a Santa crab are the appetizers. The biggest sculptures invite you inside: cruise through a giant pirate ship and snap a photo in the belly of a blue whale. You’ll want to be sure to don your 3d glasses (complimentary from local businesses – just ask) as you stroll through the two light tunnels. The effect is pretty psychedelic. You’ll see whales everywhere there are lights. Just be sure to take the glasses off before you drive home or you’ll be seeing orcas in oncoming traffic. My teens enjoyed the 3d effect just as much as my 6 & 10 year old sons.
There’s not a lot of things that delight such a broad range of family members, and for this reason I highly recommend Illuminocean as an outing for the entire family this holiday season.
If you attend on select weekend nights you can also catch the boat parade, but note that parking can be tricky on parade nights. Get there early or consider parking at one of the 4 local hotels that are participating in the festivities with their own light sculptures and special events. They all offer free shuttles to the harbor.
After you’ve toured the light sculptures, stop for cocoa at one of the independent shops along the waterfront and enjoy the people watching. You’ll see families of all shapes and sizes, dogs in strollers, caroling teenagers and brave first –daters. Dana Point is weird all righty, and this holiday season it’s wonderful.
For a full schedule of activities, boat parade times and happenings at participating local hotels visit My Dana Point’s Illumination information page.