California Weekend Getaway San Clemente

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ALL ABOARD — Amtrak's scenic rail route travels right through the heart of the San Clemente Pier area. Photo by Cary Ordway

The International Feel of San Clemente

Those driving south on Interstate 5 to San Diego will know exactly what we mean when we say there just is no more spectacular ocean view than the one you encounter while making your way through San Clemente. On a clear, sunny day, and most of them are, it's hard to keep your eyes on the road as you take in a landscape that includes San Clemente's neatly terraced, palm tree-studded hills and the vast blue ocean with its distant horizon.

These very same views no doubt influenced Richard Nixon in his decision to buy an estate in San Clemente that would become the Western White House during the early 1970s. The president would have Air Force One land at El Toro and then take a Marine helicopter to a San Clemente beach area where he would ride a golf cart the final few yards to his prized estate, La Casa Pacifica.

Today the estate still is there on a bluff overlooking one of California's most pristine beaches, but it's really only possible to get a glimpse of parts of it from the beach below. Just to get in position to view La Casa Pacifica, it's a mile-and-a-half walk from the nearest beach access point at San Clemente State Beach. But what a great mile and a half it is.

The beach, to us, is one of the main attractions of San Clemente — it's possible to walk five miles altogether on a beach that is wide, scenic and, best of all, hardly used. There is no stumbling over other beach-goers as you search for some solitude among the masses. At this beach, there is nothing but solitude along great stretches of sparkling sand where you can plop down anywhere you like, set up your blanket, chairs and cooler and pretend that you're Robinson Crusoe for at least the afternoon.

There of course is a good representation of surfers on any given day along this beach; this is prime territory for those in search of consistent waves. Boogie-boarders too are drawn to the beach to ride a curling surf that, in some places, offers a thrill a minute. But most of the people you see here are simply beach-walkers, enjoying a gentle stroll on wide sand that seems to go on forever.


A few miles north from San Clemente State Beach is the pier area, a part of San Clemente that attracts visitors and locals alike. If you're looking for a weekend getaway, this may well be the spot with its charming village-like atmosphere where you can dine in sidewalk cafes, visit the local market or walk out on the pier for some great views of the surfers and the entire coast. A number of lodgings are available in this area, many with spectacular views of the ocean and pier area.

One of our favorite things to do is to stop at the pier on our way through San Clemente. It's just a little over a mile from the freeway and it's a rewarding mini-getaway just to drop in at Fisherman's Restaurant on the pier and enjoy fresh fish and a microbrew while basking in the sun and soaking up the seaside atmosphere. On a recent weekend, the restaurant's considerable outdoor seating was fully occupied through most of the afternoon, a sign that we're not the only ones who have discovered this delightful seaside respite.

Whether over nighting or day tripping in San Clemente, one of the first things you notice is the Spanish street names. Not uncommon in California, the San Clemente city fathers have taken it one step further with a kind of prohibition against any street name that does not look or sound Spanish. But all of that just adds to the charm and blends well with the Spanish architecture that is so dominant along the gently sloping hillsides of San Clemente.

Come to find out, the Spanish feel of San Clemente is quite intentional and was brought to the city not by some Spanish conquistador, but rather by the former mayor of Seattle. Ole Hanson founded the "Spanish Village by the Sea" way back in 1925 with strict guidelines that called for Spanish colonial architecture with red tile roofs and white plaster. In other words, Hanson proposed a theme town before theme towns were cool.

The town retains a historical flavor and visitors are encouraged to see remnants of the original "Spanish Village by the Sea." The former City Hall is now an antique gallery. Casa Romantica was Hanson's own Spanish compound that he lost in the stock market crash of 1929; it is now owned by the city. A San Clemente visitor center and museum offers visitors a quick overview of the attractions they'll find in San Clemente.

Another thing that becomes obvious is that there are few streets in San Clemente that are straight. Because of the hilly and sloping topography, most roads weave through and around the hills, again adding a special kind of Mediterranean flavor to the town. It may be a little harder to find your way from Point A to Point B, but you will enjoy the figuring out how to get there. And of course it's difficult to get truly lost when the ocean is visible from just about anyplace in town.

While in San Clemente, you'll want to stroll down Avenida Del Mar, where you'll find a wide assortment of shops in a lushly landscaped setting. This is not some famous shopping district with designer stores and celebrities; rather it's Main Street USA with the kind of shopping you might find in your hometown — a varied collection of shops, boutiques, antique stores, galleries and sidewalk cafes. It's a fun place to spend a little bit of your San Clemente getaway.

San Clemente is an ideal day trip for Southern California residents, but it's also an excellent base of operations for those coming from farther away. There are close to 20 different lodgings to choose from, ranging from bed-and-breakfast inns to motor inns to seaside condos. If you base in San Clemente, you'll find many attractions are located within a short drive from the city. For example, Dana Point, once the only major harbor between San Diego and Santa Barbara , is just north of the city.

The same harbor that attracted those earlier mariners is still very much a port of call, but leaning more toward pleasure craft with its 2,500 slips that are usually occupied with a wide selection of expensive yachts and small boats that would make any boat show proud. The Dana Point Marina, of course, becomes the centerpiece to the area and the focus of pictures and paintings that are readily available in local gift shops.

The Dana Point Marina is not just a bunch of boats. A whole village has grown up dockside to offer tourists shopping and places to enjoy lunch or dinner. Some 25 shops and 20 restaurants are open in Dana Wharf, Mariners Village and Mariners Alley. But the boats are a big part of its fun — it's great strolling along the docks, daydreaming about owning one of these beautiful craft.

San Juan Capistrano is close by as well and it's easy to drive from San Clemente to the famous Mission at San Juan Capistrano where you can tour the picturesque grounds. Just a bit farther up the coast is Laguna, where you'll find great shopping, a vibrant arts community and Orange County chic.

Nixon did indeed know what he was doing when he set up his Western White House in San Clemente. It's about as far away from the pressures of Washington politics as a president can get.

For more information on San Clemente, please go to www.californiaweekend.com

San Clemente has earned a well deserved reputation as the resort beach town in Orange County. Long, white sandy strands invite you to take slow sunset strolls. But beautiful beaches and 342 days of sunshine a year are only part of the appeal that makes people want to call San Clemente home.

San Clemente is experiencing a quiet renaissance. Newcomers and long-time residents alike are taking care to preserve and revitalize the timeless charm that makes San Clemente such an attractive place to own a Southern California home. You are personally invited to live life at a slower, more considered pace – which is exactly what Ole Hanson had in mind when he founded San Clemente in 1925.

Ole wrote, "I envision a place where people can live together more pleasantly than in any other place in America." San Clemente still embodies this vision.

The heart of Ole's "Spanish village by the sea" still beats true, and downtown, with its antique shops, boutiques, art galleries and outdoor cafes, is the cultural soul. Friends and neighbors stop to chat as they stroll along the palm-lined sidewalks of Avenida Del Mar. The weekly farmers market and monthly crafts fair draw residents and visitors from all over Orange County and Southern California. Great events and wonderful people is what San Clemente is all about.

At water's edge, you'll find the crown jewel of Avenida Del Mar, the San Clemente Pier. Surrounded by hotels and outdoor cafes and bistros, the pier has lured locals and fishermen since 1928. It is also the gathering place for some of San Clemente's best-loved traditions like the annual clam chowder cook-off and the Ocean Festival.

San Clemente's Avenida Del Mar is a dream come true for antique and art lovers, with numerous galleries, antique and collectibles shops dotting the street. Gift and jewelry shops, book stores, clothing boutiques and surf shops offer enough variety to please even the most discriminating shopper.

The newly remodeled Casa Romantica is a cultural, educational, and social center for the San Clemente community.

Widely acclaimed for its innovative educational programs, the Capistrano Unified School District serves the City of San Clemente. Five of the district schools have been recipients of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program and 17 schools in the district have been designated as California Distinguished Schools.

Residents have access to both public and private schools. Among the public schools currently serving our community are Vista del Mar, serving grades K-8, Clarence Lobo Elementary School, which provides preschool through grade 5 education, Bernice Ayer Middle School, serving grades 6 through 8, and San Clemente High School, which now serves 2,400 students from San Clemente, Capistrano Beach and portions of San Juan Capistrano. The private schools accessible to residents of San Clemente include Our Savior's Lutheran School, St. Michael's Academy and Our Lady of Fatima School.

San Clemente Hospital and Medical Center has served south Orange County for over 25 years. Focusing on building a healthier community and continuing to expand services in response to needs of residents, the hospital's mission is to provide high quality, personalized care in a cost effective manner. The hospital has received the distinction of "Accreditation with Commendation," the highest level of accreditation a hospital can receive for outstanding patient care.

San Clemente is conveniently located off the I -5 Freeway. Quick and easy access to other Southern California destinations is also made possible by the nearby San Joaquin Transportation Corridor (73).

San Clemente residents who commute to Los Angeles can relax or catch up on work while riding the rails of Metrolink. Traveling at an average speed of 50 miles per hour, Metrolink's Orange County train service runs from Oceanside through Orange County to Los Angeles' Union Station, and stops at ten train stations along the way, including San Clemente.

San Clemente is just 30 minutes from John Wayne Airport in Newport Beach and less than an hour from San Diego International Airport.

Links to other Globally Locally Community Guides 

Palm Desert, California 
Laguna Hills, California 
Mission Viejo, California 
Dana Point, California 
San Clemente, California 
Laguna Niguel, California 
Fountain Valley, California 
San Juan Capistrano, California 
Desert Vacation Rentals 

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