Built in the 1920s as a “Spanish Village by the Sea” by former Seattle mayor Ole Hanson, San Clemente has about 300 sunny days annually and some of the best surf on this coast. The town was largely home to hard-core surfers and military personnel from Camp Pendleton, but many of the military folks have moved out, replaced by a wave of young professionals (some 20,000 new residents in the past decade).
Hanson’s Mediterranean architecture still rules in the quaint stucco-and-red-tile-roofed homes and popular civic buildings such as the Ole Hanson Beach Club, the Community Center, and the harborside pier. And, though it took a few years of growing pains to accommodate the recent influx of L.A.-style development in the hills behind town, the newcomers have adopted the untucked-shirt-and-flip-flops attitude. Now, their taste (and money) helps support a new breed of boutique shops and gourmet restaurants.
The Pacific Ocean, Dana Point Harbor, and the coastal range mountains behind the forests of Camp Pendleton from the blufftop
neighborhoods above town.
Your Main Street has: Every kind of food on Avenida Delmar, which goes all the way to San Clemente Pier. Everybody hangs out at Nick’s and heads to El Ranchito for Mexican food, Captain Mauri’s health food store for cleansing smoothies, Tina and Vince’s Italian Deli for a night out, and Beach Fire for a young crowd, cocktails, and exotic eats. The town’s library sits on Avenida Delmar, too, and the San Clemente Art Gallery is just off the main street for a touch of convenient culture.
Any one of many along this perfect coastline, including San Onofre for world-class beginner surf, the beach at the pier for
city life and ice-cream shacks, or Trestles to watch top surfers work their magic.
Your favorite place to eat could be: Iva Lee’s for Southern-style comfort food, a cozy scene, and good blues music. It feels like home the first time you walk in.
On the weekend you might: Take the Metrolink train down the coast to San Diego. Or stay in town for an event at another of Ole Hanson’s legacies, the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens. Locals partake of music, art and nature workshops, literary readings, and food events.
Surf lovers, but they don’t stop there—San Clemente also maintains a host of art galleries. And this is California, so good,
healthful food is always being cooked and shared in someone’s home.
Visiting San Clemente: Stay a week: Casa Tropicana Boutique Inn has eight romantic rooms in a five-story Spanish-style building overlooking a palm tree-lined beach and the 1926 San Clemente Pier; 800/492-1245 or casatropicana.com. Stay a month: A three-bedroom, two-bath cottage that sleeps eight in a quiet neighborhood, from $4,000/month; vacationrentals.com (Listing ID 41075).