Last month, we flew back to Orange County for Thanksgiving and couldn’t have been more excited to visit. We made a special trip to San Clemente, CA, which is in southern Orange County and my hometown, to grab lunch with my best friend and her hubby at our favorite burger joint, Riders Club. We made it down there before them so we took some time walking around, admiring the beaches, ocean views and the latest developments in my sleepy yet beautiful hometown. I felt a panging in my heart for how much I actually missed my hometown. Don’t get me wrong, I love Denver and Colorado, but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for San Clemente and south Orange County. While Laguna, Huntington and Newport Beach may get all the spotlight and attention in the OC, there is a lot more charm and personality if you head a little more south. After looking online, I realized the lack there of a travel guide for southern OC. So I figured I would go ahead and create one reflecting the area that I am so fond of. I curated a well-rounded travel guide for south Orange County (San Clemente, Dana Point, and San Juan Capistrano) that features where to stay, eat, activities, and shop. I hope this helps the next time you travel to OC and to know there is much more to it than Disneyland, In and Out, and pretty beaches.
San Clemente Beach Trail
Where to stay:
St. Regis Monarch Beach
St. Regis Monarch Beach: If you want ultimate luxury, look no further than the St Regis of Monarch Beach. Classy and timeless, it is astoundingly beautiful. It has some of the best restaurants in south Orange County and complete with a 5 star golf course and beautiful private beach. However, comes at a hefty price tag for this kind of luxury but if your looking to treat yo self, look no further than the St. Regis. Prices from $195 USD
Sea Horse Resort San Clemente: This quaint hotel is located at the base of San Clemente Pier, the main beach in San Clemente. With the beach at your doorstep, this makes it easy if you want to relax at the beach, take the Amtrak train to either San Diego or LA (San Clemente is smack in the middle of the two & great to avoid the crazy So-Cal traffic), or walk into the heart of town for dinner, drinks or shopping. Prices from $129 USD
Blue Lantern Inn: While this hotel may not be in San Clemente, it’s in the town over, Dana Point. Perched up on the cliffs over looking the Pacific and the harbor, this luxurious B&B makes you feel a million miles away. You can truly leave your worries at home and enjoy yourself. Prices from $225 USD
Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa: This is another beautiful, luxury hotel with a moderately more affordable price tag compared to the other luxury resorts in the area (St. Regis, Ritz Carlton, Montage to name a few). It has a prime location in Dana Point overlooking the harbor, perfect for those who want to take in a day trip to Catalina or just hang out at the pool, enjoying a cocktail or two. Prices from $104 USD
Chloe & Phoebe enjoying San Clemente Beaches
Stroll along and shop Del Mar Street in San Clemente. This is “downtown” and in the heart of San Clemente. Del Mar is filled with adorable boutiques which makes for great shopping, lively restaurants for great eating, and wine bars for boozy evenings. You can find everything along the way. Perfect for a day of shopping or an evening of entertainment, look no further than Del Mar in San Clemente.
Take the Catalina Express to Catalina Island. About an hour away by boat, you can day trip to Catalina out of Dana Point Harbor. The cute picturesque island is quite small so a day trip is enough time to explore. While it is small, there is a ton to do in Avalon. You can head to Descanso Beach for drinks and food on the beach, zip line through the island, or simply just hang out in Avalon hitting up the cute shops and restaurants. TIP: Make sure to check Groupon, Living Social, or Travelzoo first before buying your round-trip tickets. They may have half off tickets on those websites saving you a good amount of money!
Surf any of the famous beaches. Trestles (Uppers & Lowers) or Salt Creek are two of the most popular beaches in the southland and you can sometimes watch pros hit the waves early in morning. Grab a coffee and breakfast burrito from Pipes Cafe and head down to watch some real surf talent.
The Mission in San Juan Capistrano: Ok, this whole area is so adorable and very well preserved. Check out the Mission for some history and head over to the Los Rios Historical District for lunch. There is a train stop nearby making it very convenient for those without a car and staying along the Amtrak train tracks.
The Mission in San Juan Capistrano
Southern California is extremely active and healthy; I mean take a look at how good the weather is! If you want to take in some cardio while you are in town, here are my favorite activities to stay fit.
Walk the beach trail in San Clemente. Extremely popular amongst locals and for good reason. Beautiful views and very bike, dog and family friendly, you can be sure to find this trail busy on a beautiful day. However, don’t let crowds hold you back, the trail is quite big and can accommodate big crowds even on the nicest of days.
Dana Point Stairs: This is a killer workout and popular as well. Located by the Dana Point Harbor at the end of the park of the Marriott Laguna Cliffs, you can find just over a hundred steps at a steep incline. Just a couple of those and you are ready to chill by the pool!
Kayaking or Paddle boarding in Dana Point Harbor: Both great workouts for arms and core and not to mention fun! Cruise along the harbor or brave your way into the Pacific. Whatever floats your boat, it will sure be fun!
Chloe & Phoebe at Marblehead Beach Trails
There is honestly so much good food in the southland I don’t know where to start. So, without much further ado, here are my favorites.
Riders Club : You must eat here if you come to Orange County, even if you’re staying more north. I repeat, you must eat here. Popular amongst both locals and tourists, I come here every time we’re home. Tucked away in an old Spanish influenced building, it doesn’t look like much from the outside but it is true to San Clemente form. Friendly staff, great food, and cherry environment, it’s hard not leaving there a big fan. You can add on almost anything to your burger, but I prefer the works, cheese with jalapeños to recreate a pepper jack and grilled onions. Also amazing with an over medium egg. Perfect to enjoy with a cold beer.
Sonny’s Pizza: Owned and operated by a local family, this has been a San Clemente staple ever since I can remember. Everything is good and everyone is very friendly. You leave feeling apart of their family. The best things on the menu are obviously the garlic bread, garden salad (huge!!), and we often make our own pizza of pepperoni and pineapple. So delicious!
Billy’s Meats : I have been coming here ever since I was a little girl. It’s a small deli with amazingly large sandwiches and all the delicious sides you can think of. I get the pepper turkey, avocado (you must get avocado on everything while in CA), and the works! They also have some of the best pasta salad sand cheesecakes! Oh my gawd, it’s so good!
The Cellar : This is my most favorite wine bar in all the lands. It’s small, yet cozy, and extremely lively. Get there early if you plan to go on a Friday or Saturday night. They also offer some of the best happy hour in the area and always accompanied by amazing live music. It is also dog friendly (which I love) and perfect for a date night or fun night out with girlfriends.
San Clemente Shoreline
Del Mar Street in San Clemente offers some of the best shopping in south Orange County. Cute boutiques, surf shops, and interior design stores offer great things for home, fashion and active lifestyles. It’s hard perusing downtown without buying something.
The Outlets in San Clemente: These are brand new, like brand spanking new. When we were home over Thanksgiving, they had just unveiled their first few stores and oh my, this place is beautiful. I mean just gorgeous. You can find the typical outlet stores like Coach, Nike, and Gap, but the grounds are impeccable with tons of parking making it ideal for holiday shopping.
San Clemente is home to many favorite brands such as Rainbow Sandals, making it fun to go shop at their main store and grabbing great items at a low prices.
San Clemente at Sunset
There it is folks! This part of the world has such a special spot in my heart that if you do stay in the southern tip of Orange County, please feel free to reach out to me for more tips on what to do, eat, and stay. Of course, the ones listed are my favorite and decently priced. While Laguna and Newport may be more appealing, staying a littler more south can save you serious bank and it’s only a 10-minute drive away.
As always, thank you for reading and checking out my page! If you have any additional questions, feel free to send me an email at Chloe at TimeTravelBlonde dot com.