TRAVEL GUIDE: San Clemente

San Clemente is a fun little beach town tucked along the lovely coast of South Orange County. While I was in college and lived inland, this was the perfect get away from the concrete jungle. When I needed fresh air, a change of scenery, and good coffee, my friends and I would head straight to San Clemente. Now that I live in Dana Point, it is only ten minutes down PCH and I head down there multiple times a week!  

San Clemente is the perfect blend of beach living, active lifestyle, and total relaxation. - Kari Norman


For this adventure, my sister-in-law Kari Norman is our local guide. She was born and raised in San Clemente and settled back here after college. Kari loves how her home town is able to maintain it's tight knit community in the hustle and bustle of Orange County. Kari is a nurse who works the night shift, so our first stop was obviously for coffee! 

Down here the sea is a constant companion and becomes part of who you are: lungs brimming with sea breeze, hair packed with salt, and ears filled with the sounds of crashing waves.
- KN


Ellie's Table

Even though I am always in the area I had never been to this hidden treasure! Ellie's table evolved from a husband and wife catering team that was started in 1967 into the quaint cafe you will find today! They take pride in their homemade recipes evidenced by their yummy dishes and drinks. It's no wonder their slogan is, "Happiness is homemade". The cafe is usually packed; so if you have an aversion to crowds, get there in the early afternoon closer to their closing time! Kari and I shared some absolutely delicious macaroons: lavender honey, pistachio, raspberry, and peanut butter chocolate (there was actual peanut butter inside). My favorite was the lavender honey!

Ellie's Table is in North Beach, so if you are further south, an option would be Zebra Cafe. It's a groovy spot thats all about their community. They feature work from a different local artist every month and  frequently have open mic nights! It's cash only though, so be sure to stop by an ATM if you are visiting. The coffee shop that I frequent is Bear Cost Coffee in downtown. A new location is opening soon near the pier, and I couldn't be more excited about it! 



Beach Trail

The San Clemente Beach Trail is a great way to get outdoors without getting too intense. The maintained path follows the train tracks and gives easy and beautiful access to most beaches.  It starts right next to Ellie's Table and runs all the way past the pier. If you are up to the challenge you could park your car at either end and walk! With the sea breeze keeping you cool it stays pleasant the whole way! Take note: on the weekends the trail is a popular place and is trafficked with  runners, beach cruisers, and dog walkers. 

Speaking of traffic: here are some ways to get down there without being stuck in the car for hours on end. If you are driving, there is basically one way in and out of  San Clemente off of the I-5. Especially on the weekends the I-5 can be pretty crowded, so traveling in the early morning and late evenings is the way to go. If you have to come during more congested times, you could make it fun and drive along PCH! Might as well have an ocean view while in the car. Another option would be to take the train! Both the Metro and Amtrak stop in San Clemente directly across from the pier. 



Avenida Del Mar is the main hub of down town life. There are a ton of cute boutiques, surf shops, salons, cafes, and restaurants. I am not a huge shopper, but I do love to day dream about future possibilities and a great place for that is at Tuvalu! It is a costal home furnishing store that is always bringing in new eclectic treasures.  Another great day-dreaming spot is the  unique Lavender Lounge! If you are a fan of tea, this place is right up your alley! They have a cute spot on the second floor with huge windows and a great view of the street. On Sundays, the street is filled with local produce and handmade crafts from the Farmers Market. If you follow Del Mar towards the ocean, you will end up right by the pier! The shops are conveniently less than a mile from the beach.  


Rancho San Clemente Ridgeline Trail is a local hiking spot; so much so that Kari was hesitant to give up this gem. I was happy she did because the view is stunning! The short paved road turns into a dirt trail and  winds back into the hills. From that point there is a breathtaking view of the coast. On clear days you can even see down to Balboa in San Diego.  We had a couple rains recently so the landscape is luscious and green. The spring and fall are the best times to come to the area for two reasons: the landscape is a lovely green and the crowds thin out during these seasons. The beaches and roads are packed during the summer, but this trail is off the beaten path and has endless opportunities for exploration!  

If you are looking for a killer view without the hike, head over to San Clemente's "top of the world." It's a great place to bring lunch or watch the sunset and definitely worth a visit. 

The Pier 

The Pier Bowl, the area and shops directly surrounding the pier, is worth the trip in itself. You can hang out on the beach, stroll the pier, fish off the pier, have crepes & coffee at La Galette Creperie, get drinks and food at the Fisherman's , and more. Not to mention the killer sunset views over the ocean. Kari and I walked the length of the pier soaking up the fresh salty air and watching the surfers. Even though this is a popular and crowded location, a good portion of those people are locals. A tip from Kari is to give a friendly smile, respect the community, and treat this place like home. 


- FOOD - 

Pierside Kitchen

After our walk, hike and stroll we were ready for some refreshments and food! From the pier we walked over to the Pierside Kitchen and Bar for happy hour. This great spot is located in the pier bowl with a killer atmosphere and unbeatable view! The Pierside has a great selection of  beer and fun cocktails to pair with their excellent seafood.  We were able to snag a table outside and sipped our Scratch Margaritas (with Jalapeño and mint) while watching the sunset over the ocean. If you are wanting live music then you will want to head back up Del Mar to The Cellar. They specialize in their wine and cheese, but all of their food is incredible. If you can't decide on what kind of beer/wine you want, be adventurous and  get a flight to share! Looking for a bite to eat in the morning or early afternoon? Try Café Mimosa! A perfect brunch location complete with lovely aesthetics and french flair! 



If you are coming to the area on vacation or for a special day I would love to photograph your adventure! Let's chat if you are interested!