The Allure of San Clemente – Orange County, CA

Were it not for President Richard Nixon’s ties to the town, bougainvillea-wrapped San Clemente may have remained a relatively unknown spot on the Pacific Coast. Not that it needed an excuse to rest on its laurels, but the heightened interest did help a bit.

San Clemente is a hub for surfing activity, a vacation spot, a home to ocean-and-sun worshippers; it holds a great amount of beauty along a considerable stretch of the rugged Pacific coastline.

Of course, I didn’t know much about any of this before I moved to the “Spanish Village by the Sea” – so named by its residents – four years ago. Despite being lured away after a near two-year residency by the bigger LA, and subsequently back to the even bigger and bustling NY, paying a visit to the town a week or so ago felt a little bit like returning ‘home’.

Reflecting on my time in San Clemente, I cannot help but wax nostalgic; I associate a large part of myself with the town – something I didn’t realise until I’d left it. San Clemente played host during the first years of my thirties. It was there that I fell in love with the Southern Californian way of life: I embraced its lush colourful hilly landscape, and the dazzling ocean scapes that seemed to stretch to infinity; I reveled in its warm climate, and found comfort in San Clemente’s relaxed vibe. This is a town filled with precious moments; it is where I got engaged and married to my wonderful husband.

As I have written a short memoir of my time in San Clemente here: An Ode to San Clemente, I will continue that conversation by sharing slivers of facts and history along with a series of recently taken photos (as well as two borrowed vintage ones).

NB: it is no coincidence that the glistening Pacific is my favourite vista.

I hope you enjoy and take something away from the documentary.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you’ve seen the movie Frost/Nixon, you may have heard San Clemente mentioned in passing. This is where the nation’s 37th president built himself a part-time home, back in 1969. Nixon named it, “La Casa Pacifica”; it fostered the nickname, “Western White House.” Influential figures – Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, Mexican President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, and Henry Kissinger amongst others – passed through the town on their visits to the mansion. Not bad for international exposure.

Nixon's Home in San Clemente ~ Photographer: Everett

Having resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal, Nixon moved  to San Clemente full-time; this is where he wrote his memoirs. In 1980, he and his wife relocated to the East Coast. Today, his estate no longer exists in its former glory; the lot was divided up with a large proportion of the house being rebuilt.

Nixon relaxes by his swimming pool in San Clemente, CA.
RNWHPO: White House Photo Office Collection (Nixon Administration) / NARA

Architecture similar to that of Nixon’s home is so prevalent throughout San Clemente. Spanish Colonial is the town’s signature style; Bougainvillea is the city’s flower.

Ole Hanson, who founded the city in 1925, was quoted as saying, “I have a clean canvas and I am determined to paint a clean picture.” He saw the potential in San Clemente as a respite for urban dwellers; he thought the coastline romantic.

Hanson ensured the buildings adopted a Spanish style; terracotta tiled roofs can be spotted all over town.

A train track (really does) run through it…

The horn of the passing train is a regular sound as it passes through San Clemente; a blare that continues to scare, I’m sure of it, many a soul out of their sneakers as they exercise along the graveled walkway that runs alongside the scarcely barricaded train track.

Known as the Pacific Surfliner route, the train track hugs the coastline between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, and make stops at Los Angeles and San Clemente Pier (sometimes) enroute.

Noted as the 60th busiest Amtrak station out of 73 in California, Amtrak calculated that 25 passengers board and detrain at the San Clemente Pier station daily. A sure sign of a vacation town.

Crossing the train tracks leads you to San Clemente’s Pier and beach, the most populated part of the town.

Here, you’ll see surfers either waxing their boards, or floating on the Pacific – perched, waiting, and ready to catch the next wave; satisfied restaurant patrons walk the length of the Pier after a filling meal at the Fisherman’s Wharf. Located at the beach-end, its dining room and terrace balance over the water lapped shoreline, supported by the Pier’s stilts.

At various times of the day, it isn’t uncommon to notice patient fishermen by the Pier’s balustrades, in hopes of reeling in a bite. Ocean gazers abound.

The views on and from the town’s hilly terrain are worthy of a pause too – cacti, California lilacs, hot pink bougainvillea, bright red bottlebrush, Mexican sage, and the ubiquitous palm tree are part of the flora that make up the town’s landscape. As is typical throughout California, San Clemente is made all the prettier for its manicured gardens.

Spot a hummingbird; it’s your lucky day. So fun to watch – small, with a beak like a tapestry needle – they flutter their wings hundreds of times a minute whilst hovering mid-air. Blink, and they’re gone – off to their next hovering spot.

All the while, the Pacific provides a captivating backdrop. Whether it paints a scene that glistens under the sun’s rays, or something a little wilder – crashing waves under a cover of fog; either could be listened to/watched for hours.

Such is the allure of San Clemente.

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60 thoughts on “The Allure of San Clemente – Orange County, CA

  1. I can see why you loved living here Marina. The relaxed lifestyle and beautiful beach also reminds me of Australia. I was going to say, except for the train track so close to the water’s edge but now I think of it we have a train track behind beautiful Leighton Beach here in the West!

    • Thanks Jenny! When my dad saw that train track, he couldn’t believe it was so close to the water’s edge – he works for the RSA in Sydney. Ahhh, I could return to that lifestyle – in Cali or Australia. Great to hear from you Jenny!

  2. Another great post, Marina! Aaaahh, to be sitting out on the Fisherman’s patio with a tall refreshing drink!! We’re actually going to be taking the Pacific Surfliner this weekend to go down to San Diego for a little weekend getaway. I’ll be taking photos, but not like yours….You are one talented photograher!

    Thank you so much for showcasing Southern California so beautifully. Makes me proud to call it home.

    daisy

    • Oh, thank you so much Daisy – it’s easy for me to write about SoCal. I just love it. Do you live near San Clemente? I did visit the Creperie many times – does your cousin still own it? I hope you have a great time in San Diego, and I thank you for the comment about the photos – you’re way too nice because I think you take excellent photos!

      • I live in Long Beach. My brother-in-law and his family live in San Clemente. Every year, my in-laws rent a condo overlooking the pier (the one above the parking lot) and we go down and stay with them.

        The creperie was originally owned by my cousin who handed the reins over to her sister. Now she owns a restaurant in Long Beach.

        I am such a beach bum! I grew up here in SoCal and would frequent beaches up and down the coast from Santa Monica all the way down to San Diego. But, I also love the big city, especially NYC.

        I look forward to your posts, as they always take me away to a beautiful place.

        Thanks for your compliment about my photos. Eight months ago, I didn’t even know how to use a DSLR. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I can see how much I’ve improved.

        daisy

      • Oh that so cool – what a small world it is! I think I have a photo of those apartments that overlook the Pier :) You’re so lovely with your compliments about my blog – it’s so nice to read! I wish we had visited the Creperie again but it seemed that they were closing up for the day. And re: taking photos with a DSLR – If you click on my link in the post – Ode to San Clemente – you’ll see my ‘before’ photos! ;) I love the beach too.

  3. Great pics Marina… and even a lovelier write up… I wish I can be a better writer!! BTW, to me you are Mrs. San Clemente :) Every time I put a post about it I wonder if it will meet your approval or not :) lol Have a great day.

    • That is WAY too funny! I look forward to your San Clemente posts actually, and they have met my approval ;) My photos are really the accompaniment to the text; you’re a great photographer and show me that I have alot to learn. PS Did you recognise the train track?!

      • I knew you’d recognise the track after that great shot you posted a few days ago :) I thank you again for the writing comment – it has made my Tuesday :) Here’s to more San Clemente shots from you ;)

  4. I can see why you were drawn to the place. Interesting the photo of Nixon by the pool. I want to be there and experience what the mood was then! Also interested to see the vision Ole Hanson had he must have been really inspired and excited at the potential to create a new lifestyle.

    • Hi Claire – Nixon looks quite different in that photo by the pool doesn’t he? I love the feel of old photos – I’d love to have experienced being there too, seeing Secret Service guarding every move! Ole Hanson was a visionary, that’s for sure. Thank you for your comment!

    • Thanks Roger – I am glad you enjoyed the post. As for the final image, the seagull was so unaffected by being photographed; he was probably stunned that paparazzi was pestering him, and chose to simply turn away. :)

  5. Great post again Marina! The ocean is clearly in your blood. I loved the affectionate nature of the narrative accompanying your lovely pictures. Your love of the place came through loud and clear. The first picture is a really nice composition and I love the seagulls. :-)

    • Thanks so much Adrian! The seagull was posing for me – I don’t think he moved all throughout lunch! Being able to compare a big city to a small one like San Clemente drew out some comparisons in the post; I am glad you appreciated the writing :) When i took the first shot, I didn’t realise how much it would sum up San Clemente. Thank you!

    • Hi Val – thank you! I am so glad you like these shots and the info – it’s a little different to the more urban posts :) I love NY, but I have that pull to places like San Clemente. Even for a stay over short while, being near the ocean feels good.

  6. Ah beach…how I yearn for it. This living inland stuff is a bit claustrophobic. I didn’t realise you were married in San Clemente, how beautiful! I can see why a piece of you still lives on there. lovely post once again.

    • Hi Kerrie! I completely agree – I need a coastline, preferable one lapped by the waves of the ocean :) It must be the Aussie in us – the largest island in the world :) Yes, I have two wedding anniversaries – one on US time; one on Aussie time. I love that as I have such good memories from each :) If you’ve been to Terrigal on NSW North Coast, you’ll kind of understand San Clemente (but San Clemente is more quaint). Thanks!

  7. Alluring and romantic for sure! Ah, the colours and ocean views. Gorgeous! I’m not sure I’d want to leave if I lived here! :)
    Marina, your written commentary, as always is wonderful.

    • Hi Karen! It’s always the way isn’t it; that the grass is greener. I think I want to experience so many different places in the world, that moving becomes something that I desire(if that makes sense). That said, it’s always a wonderful feeling returning to the old stomping grounds because so many experiences were shared there. Thank you for the comment about my writing :)

    • Barbara – I have noticed blue skies in NY recently. As for the sweeping ocean vistas against blue skies – yes, that’s is definitely something I suffer withdrawal from! Today was delightful in NY!

  8. What a gorgeous trip through this wonderful West Coast town! Love the flowers as usual and craving the sun and the sea. Looks brilliant. I bet you are missing it (just a little)! Happy Day Marina! xo

    • Hi Shira, thanks for your lovely comment. I do miss it! But looking at the photos helps :) And NYC wasn’t actually too cold to come back to. I’m learning to enjoy the moments, otherwise it is too hard to ever ‘leave’ a place! I am sure you’re counting down to summer in France!

  9. Hi Marina. Thank you for your lovely post about my hometown. I live in San Clemente since almost 13 years and love it. Funny that as a photographer I never thought I could blog about my own home town. I am glad that you did and you captured it all, even the forever posing seagull.

    • That seagull was a good sport; probably waiting for a bit of food as that was taken at the Fisherman’s Wharf. I remember getting a good old scare from the train’s blare; do you agree? I am so pleased you liked the post, especially as it is about your hometown. I hope to see a blog about it from you soon! Thank you!

  10. No wonder why you fell in love with this place, it’s absolutely gorgeous! I would love to live somewhere on the coast :) I will have my SPA somewhere in Cornwall :) The pictures are beautiful. It must have been so nice to het married in such a lovely place :)

  11. Pingback: Super-Seventies Movie! The Nixons & John Wayne, the Gabors, Mary Tyler Moore, Glen Campbell, Lawrence Welk & More! « Carl Anthony Online: Presidential Pop Culture, Mythic Americana, Holidays, Legends, Politics, Pie & Dogs

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