Two favorite pier destinations for bagger riders are only 6 miles apart and offer spectacular riding. San Clemente pier and Dana Point Harbor are both nearby Ortega Highway (CA74) that leads from the ocean to popular biker hangouts, Hells Kitchen and at the very top of the twisty mountain road is the Overlook restaurant. Since we’re on the two theme, what better way to visit both piers than on the new Harley-Davidson Switchback, designed to be two motorcycles in one.
Dana Point Harbor is considered the best year-round whale-watching destination for migrating Gray whales from November through April and Blue whales visiting from May through November. The harbor is uniquely close to the spots where these animals are most often seen. At only 150 feet long, perhaps the pier itself is more akin to a freeway onramp but it’s what is next to the pier that’s important.
Oh, dem bones inside the Institute
With detachable hard bags and windshield, the Switchback is two bikes in one
Tours are available on weekends and your family will have to heave-ho the yardarms
The harbor and nearby point are named after the author Richard Henry Dana who visited here in 1835 while he was a sailor on the two-masted ship, the Pilgrim. The earliest maps (by Humboldt) of the area called the small bay, Bahia de San Juan Capistrano. A replica of Dana’s 19th century ship, the Pilgrim, is docked right next to the pier.
In addition, just up the street from the Pilgrim is the Orange County Marine Institute, a don’t-miss attraction for those interested in the sea. The Ocean Institute has become nationally known for its hands-on marine science, environmental education, and maritime history programs. One-hundred-ten-thousand K-12 students and 8,000 teachers annually participate in the Institute’s award-winning, immersion-style programs to learn about oceanography, science, and California history. Students voyage onto the ocean, study in labs, and live aboard tall ships or in the chaparral where they can feel and taste the salty seaspray and shiver their timbers. On weekends it’s open to the public to come explore the aquatic world of the Institute.
Pacific Coast Highway ends (or starts, depending on your point of view) in Dana Point, but travelling south turns into Coast Highway that continues for 6 miles where it ends in San Clemente and changes names again to El Camino Real. You ride that to Avenida Del Mar and turn right towards the ocean. San Clemente Pier is unlike most other piers that have a direct route to get to them; here one navigates through quaint downtown, residential neighborhoods, then suddenly the blue Pacific appears. It’s not full of tourists yet has two fantastic restaurants that flank the base of the pier; both with spectacular outdoor seating. The pier actually has its own Amtrak stop and several large hotels grace the area but my favorite is the Beachcomber Motel, a kitschy little place that literally overlooks the pier. The present owners of this historic motel have revived a plan to transform the quaint ocean-view bungalows into a five-story, 73-room resort and spa. In 2001, the plan was shelved because city staff had concerns about destroying the motel’s historic structure and its compatibility with the neighborhood. So it’s currently still there as it was originally intended to be…we shall see.
Built in 1928, the Beachcomber was a favorite site to smuggle liquor into the county during prohibition. The hurricane of 1939 destroyed much of the pier. The storms of 1983 tore out 400 feet from the end of the pier and 80 feet from the mid-section area, just past the surf area. When rebuilt, the end section was built 3½ feet higher, and polyethylene-coated steel pilings were used to hopefully better withstand winter storms.
The Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar has been here for more than 20 years. The menu for breakfast, lunch, or dinner is as spectacular as the view—whether morning or evening. If you want to impress a date, this is the place to go.