The Only Romantic Place on the Coast, Dana Point

It is fitting the man who traveled in ships as a trader before there was a state called "California" would have a city named after him when he declared it to be the only romantic spot on the coast.

Richard Henry Dana, a ship-traveling fur trader for whom the city of Dana Point was named, is honored with a statue in the harbor. For those who are unaware of this 19th century voyager portrayed as a handsome, muscular, rugged man, the vistas in Dana Point are enough to satisfy the soul and allow each of us on our own to discover Dana Point's romance. Many vacations and weddings take place in Dana Point, and a visit to this Orange County coastal destination may convince you of the claim that is is romantic. We think it isn't the ONLY romantic place, but certainly among the top 10!

Dana landed there during the 1830's and described the charm of the steep cliff cove in his renowned book, "Two Years Before the Mast", written in 1840. In the days of the square rigged sailing ships, the rugged cove was known as Bahia Capistrano. It served as the primary port between San Diego and Santa Barbara. It is only natural that this scenic cove has become one of the most beautiful recreational harbors on the West Coast, and that the city incorporated in 1989, would be named after Richard Henry Dana Jr. (1815-1882).

Dana was an intelligent man, a Harvard-trained lawyer and seaman, who authored the classic sea journal, Two Years Before the Mast (1840). In his journal, Dana documents his voyage from Boston around Cape Horn to California on the merchant ship, Pilgrim. In the journal Dana describes the area once known as Capistrano Bay / Bahia Capistrano.

Here is an excerpt from that journal:

San Juan is the only romantic spot on the coast. The country here for several miles is high table-land, running boldly to the shore, and breaking off in a steep cliff, at the foot of which the waters of the Pacific are constantly dashing. For several miles the water washes the very base of the hill, or breaks upon ledges and fragments of rocks which run out into the sea. Just where we landed was a small cove, or bight, which gave us, at high tide, a few square feet of sand-beach between the sea and the bottom of the hill. This was the only landing-place. Directly before us rose the perpendicular height of four or five hundred feet. How we were to get hides down, or goods up, upon the table-land on which the Mission was situated, was more than we could tell. The agent had taken a long circuit, and yet had frequently to jump over breaks, and climb steep places, in the ascent. No animal but a man or a monkey could get up it. However, that was not our lookout; and, knowing that the agent would be gone an hour or more, we strolled about, picking up shells, and following the sea where it tumbled in, roaring and spouting, among the crevices of the great rocks. What a sight, thought I, must this be in a southeaster! The rocks were as large as those of Nahant or Newport, but, to my eye, more grand and broken. Beside, there was a grandeur in everything around, which gave a solemnity to the scene, a silence and solitariness which affected every part! Not a human being but ourselves for miles, and no sound heard but the pulsations of the great Pacific! and the great steep hill rising like a wall, and cutting us off from all the world, but the "world of waters" ! I separated myself from the rest, and sat down on a rock, just where the sea ran in and formed a fine spouting horn. Compared with the plain, dull sand-beach of the rest of the coast, this grandeur was as refreshing as a great rock in a weary land. It was almost the first time that I had been positively alone-- free from the sense that human beings were at my elbow, if not talking with me-- since I had left home. My better nature returned strong upon me. Everything was in accordance with my state of feeling, and I experienced a glow of pleasure at finding that what of poetry and romance I ever had in me had not been entirely deadened by the laborious life, with its paltry, vulgar associations, which I had been leading. Nearly an hour did I sit, almost lost in the luxury of this entire new scene of the play in which I had been so long acting, when I was aroused by the distant shouts of my companions, and saw that they were collecting together, as the agent had made his appearance, on his way back to our boat.

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