"People love the beautiful things." This from the founder of San Clemente, Ole Hanson. You heard me, Ole Hanson. I just love that name so much. You can't help but put on an old-timey voice on if you go to the San Clemente Ralphs because Ole Hanson first used it as a stable and then he opened up that same location as The Hotel For Sick People (aka a hospital). Now it's...
|The San Clemente Ralphs, once The Hotel For Sick People|
Ole Hanson started the town of San Clemente in the 20's. It was to be a Spanish City by the Sea. And it is. It's far enough from both nearby cities (San Diego and Los Angeles) to feel you've gotten away. And dude, I needed to get away.
Of course I love living in LA. I absolutely do. But if you don't go away once in awhile you have NO perspective on where you live. Someone important said that.
|Me on Vacation is a Happy Me|
San Clemente is really known as a surfer town and home to Camp Pendleton Marine Base. My friend Max's, Dad, was based here in the 60's where he learned to surf before being shipped off to Vietnam. He got his board from Hobie who had one of the first surfboard shops in the country right in Dana Point, which is the town just above San Clemente.
My husband likes to surf and I like to sit on the beach and do nothing so this seemed like a good place for us to go. And he already knew San Clemente. It's the town right above San Onofre where all good surfers (he is one) make a pilgrimage.
But the waves were rather flat the weekend we were there so we didn't really partake too much.
We did though swim in the water. It called to us. San Clemente has one of the nicest, most mellow and fun beaches in SoCal. I had no idea of course. And it's not hard to park there. I fear parking at beaches like nobody's business. It just sounds hard ALWAYS. Of course if you go to San Clemente and want to be very close then you should bring tons of quarters: it's 10 minutes per quarter. We on the other hand found a sweet parking place TWO DAYS IN A ROW right on the street. Parked for FREE whu-what? Two days in a row? Yep. Also the beach bathroom is clean (this from a girl who HATES HATES HATES public bathrooms) and the water is niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice.
Frankly, it really doesn't take much to make me happy. That's another way of saying money's tight. So why then, might you ask, would I choose a beach town at high season? Because I like to research and find the least expensive way to be happy. Presenting...
|Happy: The Patriots' Boutique Motel|
I did not take that picture. I found it on the internet. But you get the idea. The Patriots' Boutique Motel is a pretty plain place. In fact my husband thought they should go to a Hotel/Motel Art Fair and buy some more pictures. But in reality, neither of us could care less. The most important thing - and I mean like ESSENTIAL - was the bed was comfortable. And I mean it was outrageously comfortable. Like we didn't want to leave this super plain room because we loved the plain bed so damn much.
|Who needs art?|
As for the town itself, there are two main strips: El Camino Real and Avenida Del Mar. I'm not going to lie, it's okay. It's a mixture of Radio Shacks and Subways with cute boutique stores, restaurants and surf shops. Stand-outs include Reclamation, a lovely and beautiful shop that showcases reclaimed wood and bottles used to make one-of-a-kind furnishings and art, one very delicious olive oil store, a store about mermaids, the famed Ralphs, and a sex shop, ConRev, smack dab in the middle of El Camino Real. The girls that work there are really friendly and look you straight in the eye; they don't want you to feel shy. So don't go there if you think you can disappear. You can't.
As for the food, hmmm. Listen, this isn't the foodie capital of the world. San Clemente is a pretty straight-foward place. That being said, here are some highlights:
The Original Banzai Bowl located right on El Camino Real is a fruit, smoothie, juice place and also a hang-out for teens. I loved the interior. And concluded it's a good place to drop in if you want something refreshing:
For breakfast: My favorite place was Zebra's at 1001 South El Camino Real - which also was like a five minute walk from the motel. You walk to the left, past The Bagel Shack (which looked good and thatched), the famous Ralphs Hospital, and then you hit Zebra's.
The guy who owns it has the best beard I've ever seen in my life. The girl who works the counter has one side of her hair in blue WHICH matches her blue vintage car. The muffins are fresh-baked every morning with fresh fruit in them. Delicious! And their coffee hit the spot. You can trust that I know a decent cup of joe. I'm a major coffee snob, there are a million references about this on this blog, so if I say the coffee is good, it's an end-of-discussion moment. Also they play Bread and Three Dog Night and America and you gotta love a place that plays soft hits from the 70's.
The other stand-out for coffee was in Dana Point, just north of San Clemente. I have no pictures or cutesie stories about JC Beans but again, the coffee was tasty, it was a fast drive from our hotel, and I forgot my wallet and the girl told me that it was okay. No Problem. Just pay me next time.
I like beach people.
Lunch? I don't got nothin to say about that but for dinner, if you're smart, you will not listen to the locals and you'll listen to me. Avenida Del Mar is where all the main restaurants are. And nail shops (yep, we got a pedi at one of the two Minghee's)...
|Terry's first pedi|
But back to food. Everyone recommended we go to this one place that shall remain nameless. Here is the place that I want you to try: Village Mediterranean Rim. It's a Moroccan-y, meaty, Mediterranean-y place with so many choices for Tagines it's unbelievable. (Tagines are slow-cooked meat & veggie stews though I think at Village Med in addition to their meat one-pots there is also a straight-up veggie option). The food is fresh and delicious, stew-y and comforting. Though not all of it is tagined - they also offer entrees like Chermoula Encrusted Salmon ($27) and Braised Leg of Elk ($25). It's romantic, open-air, the service is a little slower than you'd like but you're on vacation so who cares? The owner was born in Damascus, trained in Italy and spent time in Morocco. And Brentwood where he had a successful bunch of restaurants. Now he's here, has been for awhile. He likes all of the freshest ingredients, has good taste and a good eye -- in other words, the ambiance is lovely. So for a romantic, delicious dinner, this is a safe bet. And for what it's worth I highly highly highly recommend the Lamb Meatloaf Tagine served with cous cous. Yumtastic. Tender, tasty, filling, original.
That being said, I cannot lie. My favorite meal was a Noosa Raspberry Yogurt mixed with some salty almonds that I got at Ralph's.
Because you don't really come here to eat. At least that's how I now see it. Truthfully, before we went I'm not sure what I expected or wanted out of our weekend away but what I got was one of my favorite visits to a beach in a long-ass time.
|This girl was so excited to be buried in sand. I swear, she was the most adorable thing on the planet|
Nothing much beats zinc'ing up your body with sun block (might I recommend Sun Bum Zinc Oxide 50 which we picked up at Hobie's on Camino Real and it was perfect) and chilling out on the sand with a fantastic book.
There were families everywhere, couples frolicking in the waves (yep, including us), kids on boogie boards, adults on boogie boards, surfers, sunbathers, joggers - it was like that scene from "Jaws" minus the shark business.
What a grand way to get out of town and less than two hours away (even less if you download Waze). So worth the drive. And so worth downloading Waze! If you haven't done so, chop chop!
|Pedi + Beach = Happy|
Directions: While it's just over 60 miles south of LA, San Clemente can easily inch into a mega slow drive. Normally you'd take the 5 from LA there and back. That being said, check out Waze. We did so much circuitous stuff I couldn't possibly repeat it but all I know is we loved how fast our route was. On a Friday, when we left at 3pm we got there at 5. That's pretty amazing considering that should've been the worst traffic on the planet. Do though be careful. If you go the weird Waze way you may end up on Tollroads. Those fees have to be paid relatively quickly. To find out how paying for The TollRoads works, click HERE.
Ralphs is at 903 South El Camino Real
Hobie's Surf Shop in San Clemente for Men is 100 South El Camino Real and for Women is at 151 Avenida Del Mar.
Info for The Beach at San Onofre
Info for The Beach at San Clemente
The Patriots' Boutique Motel is located within walking distance of the beach (and the owner even offered to drive us there. LOVE beach people!). Right now a Double during weekdays goes for $109, on the weekends it goes for $139 (not including tax and fees). Obviously this is subject to change. Book through their website for the best deal. They welcome dogs! 711 South El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA 92672. 949-218-6348.
Reclamation is at 105 Avenida Del Mar. 949-545-6400. They offer shipping.
The Olive Oil Store is actually called Oliver's Olive Oil. It's at 211 Avenida Del Mar. They offer shipping.
ConRev is at 401 South El Camino Real. It's right next to a Subway. I didn't see this location listed on their website so I included the link to their Yelp page.
Minghee's is at 132 Avenida Del Mar. Walk In's welcome.
The Original Banzai Bowl is at 120 South El Camino Real.
Zebra House Coffee is at 1001 South El Camino Real.
JC Beans is at 34114 Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point.
Village Mediterranean Rim is located at 123 Avenida del Mar. They do take reservations. 949-361-8970. Casual but nice attire.