Alluring San Clemente – Orange County, CA

Were it not for President Richard Nixon, San Clemente may have remained a relatively unknown spot on the Pacific Coast. Which would have been fine — it could have just rested on its laurels — but the heightened interest helped a bit.

I didn’t know much about San Clemente, the so-named “Spanish Village by the Sea,” when I moved there four years ago. Although my husband and I were lured back to NY within two years, when we visited the seaside town last week, it felt as if we were “home.”

Reflecting on my time in San Clemente, I realise how much I love it, which was something that didn’t strike me as obviously when I lived there. San Clemente was where I spent my early thirties. It was where I fell in love with the Southern Californian way of life. Looking around, I take in the town’s colourful, hilly landscape, the dazzling infinite ocean. I realise how lucky I was to live in its warm climate, I recall how comfortable it was to exist in its relaxed vibe. I associate an extremely precious memory with this town: 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 simply some historical facts here along with a series of recent photos (as well as two borrowed vintage ones).

Please enjoy!


If you’ve seen Frost/Nixon, you may have heard San Clemente mentioned in passing. This is where the 37th American president built a part-time home in 1969. Nixon named it “La Casa Pacifica,” which ended up nicknamed “Western White House.” Influential figures – Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, Mexican President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, and Henry Kissinger amongst others – stopped in San Clemente while visiting the mansion. Not bad international exposure.

Nixon’s Home in San Clemente ~ Photographer: Everett

Having had to resign after the Watergate scandal, Nixon moved  to San Clemente full time to write his memoirs. In 1980, he and his wife relocated to the East Coast. Today, his former estate exists as a divided lot and a large proportion of the house was rebuilt.

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

Nixon’s home was built in the town’s signature Spanish Colonial style. The gardens were flush with bougainvillea, the city’s flower.

After Ole Hanson founded the city in 1925, he’d said, “I have a clean canvas and I am determined to paint a clean picture.” He saw the potential of San Clemente as a retreat from urban life; he thought the coastline was romantic.

The passing train hoots its horn whenever it passes through San Clemente — the blare scares every single person exercising along the graveled walkway that runs by 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, San Clemente Pier station sees about 25 passengers daily. Remember, this is a vacation town, and nearly everyone else drives.

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, readying to catch the next wave. Plenty of people visit Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant. Located at the beach-end of the pier, its dining room and terrace, which hangs over the ocean, are supported by stilts.

At various times of the day, the pier is lined with fishermen, patiently wait for bite. Ocean gazers abound.

San Clemente is prettier thanks to its manicured gardens. You’ll see cacti, California lilacs, hot-pink bougainvillea, bright-red bottlebrush, Mexican sage, and palm trees.

If you spot a hummingbird, count it your lucky day. They’re so fun to watch, these small birds with a beaks as pointy as tapestry needles. Their wings flutter hundreds of times a minute as they hover mid-air. Blink, and they’re gone.

All the while, the Pacific provides a captivating backdrop. Sometimes it’s calm, sometimes it’s wild, sometimes it’s hidden under a layer of fog.

Suffice to say, San Clemente is alluring. I wonder if we’ll ever return and stay again for a while.

60 thoughts on “Alluring 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.


    • 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.


      • 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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