Summer fun in our own city

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Dana Point? Doheny State Beach? Whale Watching? Sailing? Yes, Dana Point is home to some of Southern California’s most popular beaches and ocean activities, but there is more to this part of the coast than Dana Wharf. Dana Point is also home of the Ocean Institute that has been offering hands-on opportunities, one-of-a-kind experiences and using the ocean as their classroom for over forty years.

Ocean Institute is a highly respected ocean science, maritime history, and experiential education nonprofit. Its modern campus is adjacent to the Dana Point State Marine Conservation Area and encompasses 33,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits, science labs and an aquarium collection of 1,100 live specimens of local marine life.

Central to its unique identity throughout California, Ocean Institute operates two impressive tall ships, Spirit of Dana Point and Pilgrim, a replica of the ship made famous by Richard Henry Dana Jr. in his epic memoir “Two Years Before the Mast.” Ocean Institute also operates the 70-foot Research Vessel Sea Explorer.

A visit to Ocean Institute is a great way to see sensational marine animals, learn, and interact with the sea. All programs and activities are designed to maximize immersion, spark curiosity, and inspire a deep commitment to learning.

Here are ten activities to do with your kids!

1.      Whale & Marine Life Tour: An Ecosystem Excursion for all ages: Join Ocean Institute’s marine educators in exploring the ocean from the top to bottom, while searching for some of the world’s largest and smallest creatures during our 2.5-hour long marine life tour.

2.      Guided Tidepool Hikes: The hike will take you into the Marine Conservation Area. Some kids love creepy, crawly critters and there is no better place to see them up-close than the tidepools! Let your kids get hands-on with this guided tour where families can explore the area and search for snails, crabs, sea stars, and other animals that make the tidepools their home. Must be at least 5 years old to participate

3.      Public Beach Cleanups: Ocean Institute beach cleanups removed over 1,000 pounds of trash in 2018. Help us prevent more trash from entering our ocean in 2019. Wear closed toed shoes & bring a refillable water bottle. 16 & under must be accompanied by an adult

4.      Harbor Walking Tour: This family-friendly tour teaches about the history and development of the harbor, from Native Americans to the recreational harbor we have today. On the tour, you will explore historically significant spots with our expert guides who will teach you how to spot local marine animals along the way.

5.      Engineers Wanted: ‘Behind the Seas’ Aquarist Experience: Explore behind the scenes and see how aquarists care for animals: including the engineering of our filtration system and habitats. Guests get the exclusive opportunity to prepare food and feed our animals. 

6.      Killer Dana Tour: Cruise the beautiful Dana Point Harbor during this family-friendly harbor cruise. Learn the history of the harbor, from Richard Henry Dana’s visit in the 1830s to world renown surf spot and recreational harbor.

7.      Daily Weekday Tours: Go behind the scenes of a learning center, historic ship, or the dockside Maddie James Seaside Learning Center. Explore Headlands & Beyond with an intertidal touch tank, artifact displays, pop-up experiments, & more.   

8.      Brig Pilgrim Tours: Travel back in time to explore Ocean Institute’s Brig Pilgrim. You will learn the history of the ship, Richard Henry Dana Jr., and get a glimpse of life as a sailor in the 1830’s.

9.      Adventure Sail: Set sail aboard the schooner Spirit of Dana Point and experience California from the perspective of an early tall ship explorer. Join the crew to help raise sail, handle lines, and steer the ship, or simply sit back, relax, and enjoy the majesty of sailing the seas aboard a tall ship.

10.   Tall Ships & Ocean Festival: Mark your calendars for September 6th – 8th for the 35th Annual cultural event that brings together over 10,000 Orange County adults, children, and families. In celebration of California’s rich maritime history, Ocean Institute annually hosts a fleet of historic tall ships that sail into Dana Point Harbor. This festival provides fun for the whole family with concerts, games, sailing, and you can watch history come alive as crews from each ship, along with historical re-enactors, engage the public in cannon battles, mermaid encounters, ship tours, and more.

To get exact dates, times and costs for the above, please visit or call (949) 496-2274.

In addition to these ten activities, Ocean Institute continues to enrich the lives of California students on field trips throughout the year. Ocean Institute serves over 100,000 students, teachers, and families each year with a hands-on approach to ocean-related science, research, and conservation. Ocean Institute’s diverse elementary, middle and high school program inventory is STEM-focused and aligned with California Common Core Standards.

To learn more about Ocean Institute, including the Annual Jazz Festival (March) and Summer Camp programs (June – August), please visit