The 52nd annual Festival of Whales was held this past weekend, offering events and activities that provided Dana Point’s various nonprofits a chance to shine.
Festivalgoers embarked on special whale-watching excursions, enjoyed live music and art displays throughout the harbor, tasted local business clam chowders at the cook-off and raced cardboard dinghies.
Speaking with the Dana Point Times on Monday, March 6, Mayor Mike Frost said that the Festival weekend gives nonprofits and local community groups the chance to shine, starting with the Dana Point Surf Club and members of the indigenous Acjachemen Nation who gathered at the beach behind the Ocean Institute for an opening ceremony and paddle out. Frost joined members of the Dana Point Surf Club for the annual paddle out.
“I speak (as) half the mayor or councilmember and half as just a resident but these events are great; not only do they help us focus on our ocean concept in our town, but we get to highlight a lot of good community groups,” Frost said.
The opening ceremony and paddle out had more attendees this year than ever, with more than 200 people gathering, Festival of Whales Chair Donna Kalez said.
Local whale-watching companies Dana Wharf Whale Watching & Sportfishing and Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari were also highlighted with Donna Kalez of Dana Wharf and Giselle Anderson of Captain Dave’s honored as this year’s parade grand marshals.
“We love to wave to all the people, the community, it’s so funny how you see so many people that you know that come out for the community parade,” Kalez said. “It was a wonderful honor and I’m very thankful that I was able to do that.”
Last year, the “Magical Migration” parade honored the festival’s founder, Don Hansen.
“Last year, I was on the float in honor of my father, so this year being on the float as the co-grand marshal was very honoring,” Kalez said. “It just means a lot. It was a very emotional day because every time I think about my father.”
At the Clam Chowder Cook-Off, local restaurants were featured as each vied for recognition as having the best clam chowder.
Proceeds from the Clam Chowder Cook-Off benefit Fish for Life, a nonprofit that offers free fishing trips out of the Dana Point Harbor for special needs kids and their families. Coastal Kitchen took home the People’s Choice and Mayor’s Choice Awards while the Wind & Sea won Best in Show.
On Saturday morning, March 4, visitors lined the sidewalks as the “Magical Migration” parade was underway. Classic cars, marching bands, and dignitaries paraded by, and giant whale, orca and turtle balloons floated down Island Way.
With Dana Point councilmembers getting to ride in the “Magical Migration” parade, Frost described the annual occurrence as one of the small-town events where “you get to see all the people you know and it’s a lot of fun.”
Speaking with the DP Times on Saturday, Orange County Board Supervisor Katrina Foley said she enjoyed getting to ride in the parade below the big balloon orca.
“I didn’t actually know the whale was behind me, I turned around and I go, ‘Oh my gosh, look at the whale,’” Foley recalled. “It was fun seeing all the little kids out. It was just a great community activity and I’m really enjoying getting to know all the locals here in Dana Point and finding ways that we can help serve them.”
This was Foley’s first Festival of Whales, she said, adding that she loves “how this community has so many charitable causes that they support through the Festival of Whales.”
“I’ve been getting to know all the different nonprofits that support people who are disabled, environmental groups, sailing groups; it’s just been so fun today,” Foley continued.
Foley especially enjoyed getting to ride in the Cardboard Classic Dinghy Dash’s business barge race in Performance Paddling’s makeshift boat, she said.
“That was my favorite part, riding in the cardboard dinghy and not sinking,” Foley said.
In the Dinghy Dash, Performance Paddling won the Business Barge and Judges Choice Award while Mary Conlin Co. won the People’s Choice Award.
Brandi Hartigan, a science teacher at St. Mary’s School said she loves to bring students out to participate in the annual Cardboard Classic Dinghy Dash as she finds it’s a great learning experience.
“We did some pre-activities the week before and we built smaller boats and came up with different ideas, tried to look at what worked and what didn’t,” Hartigan said. “We’re coming back because it was a really great experience, we had so much fun, the kids loved it and it’s just a really fun experience for our school.”
Hartigan encouraged other science teachers to bring a team to compete because “it’s a great bonding experience.”
Assemblymember Laurie Davies said the Festival of Whales is one of her favorite events to attend each year.
“It’s an honor to be part of the Parade as the Assemblymember representing Dana Point and South Orange County,” Davies said in a text on Monday.
“Supporting local businesses by promoting tourism here in Dana Point and celebrating these magnificent creatures by getting people down to the water—helps drive home how important it is that we come together now to preserve our beautiful coastline,” Davies continued. “Big thanks to organizers for including me in what looks like the biggest Festival yet.”
On Saturday, festivalgoers could walk around the Whales, Tails and Ales Street Fair, sponsored by the Pet Project Foundation. The street fair featured craft beer and food for purchase, live music, slides and kid-friendly fun at the Dave & Buster’s booth, a dog costume contest and local artisans and dog-friendly vendors.
“We’ve heard from both the Clam Chowder Cook-Off and the Whales, Tails and Ales event that it was their most successful fundraising year at the Festival yet, which is very exciting,” Dana Point Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vickie McMurchie said.
Throughout the weekend, festivalgoers could learn about water stewardship at the Wyland Clean Water Exhibit Learning Experience, enjoy a guided walking tour by the Dana Point Historical Society and walk through the Art in the Park, where local artisans showcased their artwork.
Walking throughout the harbor, visitors could enjoy live music in the Dana Wharf Courtyard area in front of the El Torito and along the Harbor Walkway in front of Coffee Importers. In addition to the live music, the Dana Point Fine Arts Association displayed artwork along the Harbor Boardwalk and Classic Cars were on display throughout the harbor parking lot.
This year’s Concert at the Cliffs event was the festival’s first Saturday evening event.
“It was something that both Vickie and I loved the idea of having something on Saturday night when the Festival ends because it’s over, like Whales, Tails and Ales ends at 4 p.m., the chowder cookoff ended at 3 p.m.,” Kalez said. “So, there’s historically never been an evening event after the Festival on Saturday.”
“So, it was really a new event that we were very excited for,” Kalez continued.
Despite technical difficulties and a late start, Sheena Easton and Tayor Dayne gave it their all at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa Concert at the Cliffs on Saturday evening.
Doors opened at 3 p.m. After announcing technical difficulties, Easton took the stage at 7 p.m., two hours after the advertised start time, with Dayne taking the stage at 9 p.m.
“Our heart broke for the Marriott because they were obviously very excited for the event to put on something for the community,” McMurchie said. “We know as an event coordinator, anytime that you’re battling A/V or technical difficulties, it’s a bit of a heartbreaker because you want to do the best possible job for the community.”
McMurchie added that the Festival of Whales Foundation was, “like everyone else, obviously we were disappointed about the delays because we were really excited about seeing the artists and can understand the frustration.”
“But we look forward to seeing what else they have planned for the community,” McMurchie continued. “I’m sure that it’s a good teachable event.”
Frost added that the Marriott and has been working hard to host events that engage locals and visitors alike.
“The Marriott and specifically, their new general manager has made a good effort on being more connected with the community and getting locals involved,” Frost said. “Obviously, improvements need to be made but you’ve got the right guy who cares about the community there to fix it.”
Laguna Cliffs General Manager Jeff Perkins explained that the Festival of Whales event was the hotel’s second Concert at the Cliffs, with the inaugural Concert at the Cliffs held during Labor Day Weekend 2022.
“Bringing the Dana Point and Southern California communities to our resort for Concert on the Cliffs as part of the Festival of Whales weekend was truly an honor,” Jeff Perkins said in an email.
“This was our resort’s opportunity to support the Festival of Whales with a portion of the ticket sales going directly to their ocean life protection and preservation efforts,” Perkins continued. “We look forward to hosting more unique events in the future as we continue to invite our community to the heart of Dana Point.”
On Sunday morning, March 5, families gathered at Baby Beach to dig for treasure and raise money for various children’s charities through the Monarch Beach Rotary Club during the annual Diamond Dig event.
In the afternoon, singer and guitarist Andrea Sheva, the Moondog Miller Band and The Reflexx rocked Baby Beach during the free concert on the water.
Barbeque specialties were available for purchase, benefiting Dana Hills High School’s Athletic Department. A Spirit Garden for those 21 years of age and older offered beverages with proceeds benefiting the Marine Corps League South Coast Detachment 022.
Reflecting on the weekend, Frost said the Festival was “two days of a lot of fun with some of our other community groups, Pet Project (Foundation), Westwind Sailing, VFW, Marine Corps League, all of the great community groups that help us have a fantastic and, more importantly, authentic city.”