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.