San Clemente, The Spanish Village by the Sea
by Caitlin Antonios
It’s 2 p.m., I’m done with classes for the day and there’s no way I’m just going to sit in the library and study. Newport is too expensive, Huntington is too far, Laguna is too crowded and as lovely as Irvine is, getting out every once in awhile is necessary.
I was lucky enough to move to San Clemente seven years ago and it quickly became my favorite place on Earth. The incredible 75 degree weather, friendly people, unique shops, and, of course, gorgeous beaches made my decision to commute to Irvine simple.
Del Mar Street, at the heart of downtown SC is host to small boutiques, amazing restaurants, and fun antique shops for people to sift through. One of the more popular restaurants, Nick’s, has one of the best butter cake desserts I’ve ever tasted. While it’s a bit on the expensive side for students on a budget, it’s a great place for a date night or a celebration. A more affordable, but equally delicious place is Pedro’s Tacos, Orange County’s first ever fish taco stand. With two of its five locations in San Clemente, Pedro’s remains a staple for community members and visitors. At the top of Del Mar street, up some narrow brick steps sitting above a Baskin Robbins is one of SC’s hidden treasures — Lavender Lounge, an intimate tea shop with fresh, exciting blends that is guaranteed to satisfy anyone, even non-tea drinkers.
A few streets over is another hidden gem. Antoine’s Cafe is the perfect spot for a quick brunch. Its authentic French cuisine and sweet desserts makes it one of the best places to catch up with friends. The mochas and freshly prepared Nutella crepes are so good that you don’t even feel guilty about eating a plate of dessert for breakfast at 11:00 a.m. Similarly, Bagel Shack, one of the best bagel places in world is just a few blocks further down. It can fill any breakfast desire, whether you’re in the mood for a hearty egg and bacon sandwich on a freshly baked onion bagel or a simple chive cream cheese plain bagel. With breakfast options like these, it’s the only part about mornings that I actually enjoy. Keeping with the breakfast theme, Ellie’s Table near North Beach provides a wonderful array of breakfast, lunch and dessert items. Their gourmet macaroons are addictive and the small salads and freshly baked croissants and sandwiches are almost as good as the ocean view a few steps from the cafe’s doors.
Lastly, is a personal favorite of mine. Zebra House Coffee is a sweet, small coffee shop in South SC that, in addition to wonderful coffee, has slam poetry nights and live music in the evenings. Those are the nights where everyone is crammed into the small space with bodies spilling out the door. You don’t have to love the music or care about the poetry, but people come out and support each other anyway because they’re all part of the same community, which gives you a sense of what it’s really like to live in San Clemente. The wooden, rustic decor on the inside gives the room a warm, welcoming feel. The mismatched sofas and thick rugs invite guests to stay for hours drinking coffee or catching up on some homework.
Although SC does have an abundance of restaurants, there’s more to the city than just the food. The Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens provides a picturesque view overlooking the SC Pier and the beach below. As the host of creative workshops, film festivals, arts shows and live music, there is always something going on. You might run into a wedding or two considering the incredible view that makes for perfect photos. The SC Pier itself is a beautiful structure that’ll improve anyone’s Instagram feed without extra filters needed. Extending over 1,200 feet, the pier provides an incredible view of the coast and the beautiful town.
For music lovers, Moldy Toes Record Store is a wonderful place to spend hours agonizing over every CD, vinyl or cassette you want to buy but know you don’t have the budget for. With a mix of new releases, classics and used music, you should always expect to leave the store with a new purchase. Recently, Moldy Toes, in partnership with other record stores around Orange County, held a record store showcase at San Clemente High School. Vendors from all over sold their vinyls at incredibly cheap prices and the turnout was huge. After a trip to buy some music, Village Book Exchange is the next place to go for some new and used books. The warm, small shop hidden away on the corner of a street is a great place to spend hours upon hours surrounded by an incredible collection of books and a friendly cat which walks around the shop. San Clemente also has a variety of thrift stores for those who enjoy thrift shopping. Because each store is so wildly different, it’s a great way to spend the day going from store to store and picking up one-of-a-kind items that can’t be found anywhere else.
Aside from food and shopping, the natural beauty of San Clemente cannot be overlooked. The weather is almost always perfect, the sunsets look like a perfect photoshop job, and the hiking trails would make anyone want to get out and exercise. Over the summer, the beaches are filled with so many people that it’s hard to see the sand. Despite the changing of seasons, the consistency of warm weather allows people to enjoy that summer beach time all year round.
San Clemente has so much to offer that these few highlights don’t even cover half of the places in the city, but they’re a good start to explore. It is one of the most underrated towns in Orange County and despite its growing popularity, it is still overlooked. A day trip, or even a weekend trip, to SC is affordable and easy for students. Whether it’s renting a ZipCar and taking the 35 minute drive down south or using the train which drops passengers off at the heart of SC, it is a great alternative to places like Newport and Laguna. The culture, hospitality, and general good vibes in SC are unbeatable and students should take advantage of such a wonderful place so close by.