The 52nd annual Festival of Whales celebration will take place on Friday March 3, 2023 to Sunday, March 5, 2023 in Dana Point, California. The Dana Point Festival of Whales celebrates the migration of the California Gray Whale which start its migration in November and ends in March at Dana Point shores. The annual festival includes a parade, street fair, kids’ activities, Ocean Awareness Day, dining, drinks, music and many other fun diversions.
Dana Point is the West Coast’s whale watching capitol, especially from late December to early April when the grey whale migration is moving through Orange County’s local waters. These magnificent thirty to forty ton marine mammals make for fascinating seasonal neighbors, and that’s exactly what’s celebrated at Dana Point’s famous Festival of Whales.
What happens at the Festival of Whales? Grab your sunscreen and your binoculars, because we’re about to tell you everything you need to know about one of Dana Point’s best events of the year.
Dana Point Festival of Whales
53rd Annual Dana Point Festival of Whales
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Friday, March 3, 2023 – 4:45 PM – 9:00 PM
Saturday, March 4, 2023 – 10:00 AM – 9 PM – 4:00 PM
Sunday, March 5, 2023 – 9:00 AM – 9 PM – 4:00 PM
Dana Point Harbor Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629
Dana Point’s Festival of Whales has been a local tradition since 1973. The Festival of Whales runs two weekends in late winter/early spring, generally in March. It’s timed to run during the gray whales’ winter migration as they make their cruise south to warmer waters. The Festival doesn’t just aim to celebrate whales… it’s intended to educate festival-goers about them.
This family friendly beach party runs for two weekends only and has everything you want when it comes to a seaside celebration: food, fun, sand, surf, concerts, classic cars… in fact, it’d be easier to list what doesn’t happen at the Festival of Whales than it is to list all the events, celebrations, activities and food.
Let’s start with the basics…
Festival of Whales Hours
There will be a kick off ceremony and reception on Friday March 3rd at the Ocean Institute at Dusk. The kickoff ceremony is free to attend.
Events generally begin at 8AM on Saturday and 10AM on Sunday (be sure you check the event listing to be sure) and runs to 5PM.
Parking and Shuttles
Parking might be at a premium at the Festival of Whales, but don’t worry. There are quite a few designated lots to choose from. Even better, there are shuttles available at seven stops that run from 10AM to 4PM, so you can park and ride at your convenience. The shuttle service is free and designed to make it easy to get around the festival.
Pro-Tip: Extended shuttle hours are in effect the morning of the parade and the afternoon of the Whale of a Concert.
Be aware that while the parade is going on, a different shuttle route will be in effect. This one only goes between Doheny State Beach and the Golden Lantern at Dana Point Harbor Drive.
Pro-Tip: If you want to take advantage of shuttle access to your car at any time during the festival, parking at either of these lots is your best bet.
Fun Fact: Gray whales migrate from the Bering Sea to Mexico and back again every year. And you thought the commute on the 405 was tough!
Things to See and Do at the Festival of Whales
Festival of Whales Parade
The parade can be viewed from sections of the Island Way bridge, and along Dana Harbor Drive. The parade features giant parade balloons, marching bands, military units, floats and local entries.
The Parade route begins at the R.H. Dana statue on the island side end of the Island Way Bridge, heads north on the bridge to Dana Point Harbor Drive and then turns right (east) toward its terminus at Golden Lantern.
If the weather cooperates you’ll see gray whales, orcas, and octopi swimming through the skies near the beach (great for families with young children interested in ocean animals!). It’s the coolest parade outside of Disneyland!
*Note: The parade is weather-dependent, and there is no make-up date/time for a cancellation.
Concert & BBQ
This free outdoor concert is held on Sunday at Baby Beach with three bands performing atop a floating stage. Bring your beach chairs and blankets and enjoy an afternoon of great music.
BBQ specialties will be available for purchase and a Spirit Garden for those 21 years of age will also be available.
If you love sand and art, the Festival of Whales has several outlets for your creativity… but the best one is definitely the sand sculpting competition. Bring your buckets and shovels and have a go at creating your best ocean-themed sculpture. Walk-up spots are available, but beware, they’re on a first-come-first-served basis. You can get your sculpt on starting early in the morning… judging is in the afternoon.
Dana Point Fine Arts Association Show and Sale
If you like your art with a little less sand and a little more ability to be hung on your wall, then stroll on over to the Fine Arts Association Art Show. You can browse gorgeous works by talented local artists while enjoying a sea breeze… and a portion of the proceeds goes to support the Art Department at Dana Hills High School. The Dana Point Fine Arts Association is a nonprofit organization. *Weather Permitting.
Ocean Institute Education Center
The Festival of Whales is about education as much as it is about having a great time at the beach. The Ocean Institute hosts a talk on the history of whaling in Dana Point, complete with rare artifacts. History buffs, make sure you make time for this!
Sailing Rides and Paddling Clinics
Party on the sand, party on the water… The Festival of Whales will help you learn to be a better sailor with half-hour sailing rides (includes instruction) and 45-minute stand-up paddling clinics. There is an age limit (5 years old for sailing, and 12 for the SUP), and a small separate fee.
Kids Fun Zone
If your kids (and you) still have energy after beach walks, sailing, art strolls, and whale watching, head over to the Kids Fun Zone where the littles can have a great time bouncing on the inflatables and playing games.
The Festival for Everyone
We’ve listed some of the enduring attractions, but there’s so much more to the Festival of Whales. It’s got live music, art, classic cars, history, and science… and whale watching (watch from land or get close to these magnificent marine mammals on a narrated cruise). There’s not just something for everybody… there’s a lot of something for everyone in your family. The Festival is a great way to spend an idyllic weekend enjoying beautiful Dana Point and her biggest seasonal residents.
So… when are you going?
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Kelly Smith is a freelance writer living in Southern California with one dog, two cats, two guinea pigs… and the rest of her family. She writes about Orange County, faith, family, special needs and tea, and world-builds science fiction universes on the side. Find her at www.bluerosecopywriting.com.