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By Kristina Pritchett

If you ever wanted to feel like a pirate or see a mermaid swim, your chance is coming to the Dana Point Harbor.

The Ocean Institute’s 33rd annual Tall Ships Festival will take place in the Harbor from Sept. 8-10 with a variety of activities to celebrate maritime history.

“Originally, it was created to help the Harbor and the merchants and expand the summer,” said Dan Goldbacher, director of maritime programs at the Ocean Institute. “It helped bring people down here and helped support local businesses.”

Goldbacher said the event has grown over the years from a few visiting ships and now features cannon battles, pirate lessons, breakfasts with mermaids and tall ships.

This year, the Institute expanded their educational area.

“We’re going to have different classes; the Bowers Museum will be there and there will be a pretend city,” Goldbacher said. “There will be different craftsmen, candle makers and even wood carvers.”

Goldbacher said it’s not just a festival, but it’s also a course in academia.

“There’s different things for everyone,” Goldbacher said. “If they’re interested in science they’ll get to learn about science, boats and mermaids.”

Along with the informational events, there are ship tours, demonstrations, naval education shows, interactive displays and more.

Every year, the Ocean Institute hosts visiting ships, and this year is no different. This year, the America, a replica of the first vessel to win the America’s Cup will be visiting; the Californian, the Exy Johnson and the Irving Johnson will be visiting. The Institute’s Spirit of Dana Point and the Brig Pilgrim will be joined by the Curlew, all of which reside in the Harbor.

Schedule of events

The three-day festival is jam packed with family-fun activities sure to entertain guests of all ages.


  • Parade of Sail, from 4-7 p.m., kicks off the event. Guests can jump aboard a tall ship and participate in a sunset sail by helping the crew haul up sails or sit back and enjoy the ride.
  • Sails N’ Ales, from 6-9 p.m., starts a few hours later. Guests can head to the Sails ‘N Ales party with craft beer tastings from five different California breweries, listen to live music and watch the sunset parade.

Saturday and Sunday

  • Mermaid Breakfast, from 9-10:30 a.m., kicks off both weekend days with story time, a mermaid swim show and an under the sea crafts session. According to Alexandra Latona, director of public programs for the Ocean Institute, the mermaid breakfast is a “really fun event and makes everyone feel like a kid again.”
  • Festival Adventures, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., will encompass tours, pirate tales, mermaid encounters and vendors. A Sierra Nevada Beer Garden will also be onsite. The Ocean Institute has partnered with Los Rios Rock School to provide music during the festival too, with students of all ages playing classic rock, according to Latona. Kids can also participate in a squid dissection while other guests board one of the ships and participate in the cannon battles starting at 4:30 p.m.

Parking and transportation

Guests can utilize free parking options via the assistance of a shuttle service. Parking will be free in designated shuttle lots located at Strand Vista Park and Dana Hills High School.

Parking will not be available at the Institute nor county lots in the Harbor.

The shuttles will run from 8:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. from all lots on Saturday and Sunday. The last shuttle will leave the Institute 30 minutes after the cannon battle ships have returned.


Ticket prices range depending on the event.

Adult tickets for the Mermaid Breakfast are $50, children ages 2-11 are $45 and infants one and under are free. Prices include a Tall Ships Adventure Pass for admission into the festival. Ocean Institute members receive a 10 percent discount.

Tall Ships Festival Adventure Passes include all day admission into the festival, a tour of the Pilgrim, Spirit of Dana Point and all visiting vessels, and more. Tickets are $9 for adult members, $7 for children members, $10 for non-member adults, $8 for non-member children and a family four-pack is $30.

The Sails ‘N Ales kickoff party tickets are $30 in advance and $40 at the door.

The sunset parade tickets are $50 for adults and $40 for children.

Cannon Battle tickets are $70 for adults, $60 for children. Children must be at least four years old to attend. Adventure passes are also included with the Cannon Battle tickets.

For more information, visit

Stay connected with the Dana Point Times

Unable to attend this year’s Tall Ships Festival? Follow the Dana Point Times on Facebook, on Twitter @DanaPointTimes and on Instagram @danapointtimes for live updates, video streams, photos and recaps all weekend long. Search for the hashtags #DPTimes, #DanaPoint and #TallShips.

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