I can't believe I've lived here in Orange County for 25 years now and never went to this place before. Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point is a wonderful beach for families.
Ironically, it was recommended to me by my neighbor buddy who moved here from New Jersey recently. Ironic.
There are two trivial negative sides to this beach. One is that parking isn't free; it's not a big deal since it's only about $1.00 per hour, or you can use the OC Parks pass. The second issue is that to get to the beach you actually have to walk down a long and steep hill, this is especially concerning for families. Keep this in mind if you're bringing a lot of stuff like umbrellas, or a canopy and toys, chairs, and stuff like that.
Overall, I really like this beach because the sand was soft and fine, the beach is wide and flat so you can really play around and pick just the perfect spot to settle down.
When we went we were towing our Wonderfold Wagon with a lot of beach stuff so we didn't wander far from the location you end up when you make it down the hill.
At the bottom of the hill, there is also a Zack's shack, unfortunately, the place was closed so I can't tell you if it's any good, but a very low rating from 32 reviews on Yelp suggests we were lucky they were closed.
Overall, this beach trip was fantastic. The kids had a blast playing in the sand and in the water. It was peaceful, refreshing and a small reminder why Southern California is an amazing place to be.