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San Clemente, California
Our favorite beach hotel
San Clemente is the first place we lived after we got married in 1968. Thirty years later after having lived in a lot of places, we are finally returning to spend a few nights in this beach town. We picked November because we knew that there was a good chance that the weather would still be warm and sunny, but the crowds would be gone.
We weren't wrong. A Santa Ana condition is in effect. That means that warm air is moving from the inland to the ocean giving us warm temperatures and crystal clear skies. It must be in the high 70's today.
San Clemente is located about 60 miles south of Los Angeles and 50 miles north of San Diego. Just to the south is the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base and San Onofre State Beach.
We chose to stay at the Sea Horse because of its condo style units. It's right across the street from the beach and the San Clemente Pier.
Surprising as it may seem there are only a few lodgings on the beach in San Clemente. Many places advertise to make you think they're on the beach but they're not. The few beach resorts are all right here in this area by the pier. It makes for a neat little beach community. There are several good places to eat, an espresso bar, pizza place, and a convenience market. Once you're settled in there is really no need to drive anywhere.
Its about 1:30 p.m. when we arrive at the Sea Horse. We'd wanted to be here earlier but you know how that is. There was a number of little things that kept getting in our way of leaving our home. But that was all behind us now.
Terry, part of the Sea Horse management team, gives us a very warm welcome and us the keys to our suite. The Sea Horse features suites ranging from studios to 2 bedrooms. The one and two bedroom suites have full kitchens. The studios have a microwave, refrigerator, toaster, and coffee maker. The Sea Horse has WiFi.
Walking into our suite we are attracted to the great view. The whole front of the suite, which includes the living room and dining area, looks out over the beach, the pier, and the Pacific Ocean. We drop our gear and rush to the window to soak up the view. Then we see that we have two decks, one off the dining area and one off the living room. Stepping out onto the deck off the living room we breathe in the great salt air and our cares of workday life vanish.
We hadn't stopped to buy groceries on the way down. So we get in the car one more time to go get food. The market we chose was Bristol Farms, about 12 miles inland, but well worth the trip. Bristol Farms is an upscale market chain. They have an incredible deli, great breads, and delicious desserts. Since we didn't want to do any serious cooking we bought Black Forest Ham slices, California Rolls, and a couple of prepared dishes that we could just pop in the microwave. We also got ice for the Margaritas.
Back at the Sea Horse, we unload the groceries and go for the first of several walks on the beach. San Clemente is blessed with one of the most beautiful beaches in Southern California. It stretches for several miles. On one side are bluffs and the other the ocean. There are several great surfing spots along the beach. Yet, the ocean is also very safe for swimming because of the generally even and gently sloping ocean bottom.
I remember body surfing at the end of "T" street (Trafalgar) when I used to live here when I was in the Marine Corps. That's where we're headed for now It's about 4:00 p.m. and there are lots of surfers out in the water. As we gt up to the staircase that comes down from "T" street we are amused to find that many of the surfers are young boys. My wife thinks they're probably third graders.
The scene is right out of an ad promoting the California lifestyle. While much of the country is hunkering down for winter, here kids are running down to the beach with their surfboards. Of course they all had on wet suits because the water is in the low 60's this time of year, not exactly tropical.
We watch several adults lead a large group of youngsters down the stairs . The adults have their arms full of hot dog roasting stuff. While they set up at several tables, their kids rush into the water with their surfboards.
This is a family beach and a family town. It's common to see a parent come down with her surfboard and her kids with their boards. The beach is safe and quiet. There are no busy highways to thrust there noise onto you.
Our bedroom is right off one of our decks. It's great to lie in bed and listen to the surf roll in. There are train tracks that run along the beach and several trains do come through during the night. I woke once but quickly was lulled back to sleep by the rhythm of the waves.
Saturday we slept in. After we finally got up and fix a light breakfast I walk down the street a few buildings to get a cappuccino. I take it back to our suite and join Pat sitting on the deck.
We are soon to be treated to a new site. Besides Amtrak running on this train track, we learned that the Metrolink runs a beach special down from the inland valleys of San Bernardino and Riverside. The train warning bells begin to clang and the crossing gates start to come down. We hear the whistle blow on the Metrolink train before we see it come into view. It's going slowly now as it prepares to stop in front of the pier. We wonder if a few people would get off the train. To our amazement, hundreds of people begin disembarking. They have beach baskets, beach toys, kids and stollers. It takes about five minutes before everyone is off and the train begins pulling away.
Would we have to deal with a mob of people on the beach today? Nope. The people quickly disperse and are absorbed by the long sandy beach. When we finally get around to going out to the beach, we only have to walk a few hundred yards to find a nice spot all to our selves. Both of us have books to read and I also have my boogie board and fins.
Oh, the warm sand feels so good to our bodies. We haven't stretched out on the sand for a long time. We are feeling very smug because we dodn't have to leave the beach tonight. We will leave when we feel like it to margaritas and our deck.
After awhile I finally get up the courage to try the water. It is cold for a minute but I adjust to it. And that's without a wetsuit. I dive into the next wave and then begin paddling my boogie board out to catch some waves. The surf is small and broken. It isn't great boarding but I have fun. I stay out for about 45 minutes. Then I need that nice warm sand. Soaking up the sun feels great.
Around 3 p.m. we walk back to our suite. Our son Bryce is coming down with his girlfriend, Jennifer, to spend the night with us. He showed up a little later. We sat on the deck, drank Margaritas, watched the Metrolink arrive and cart away its hundreds of people, and watched the sun set into the ocean.
For dinner we walk over to the pier and eat at the restaurant located on the pier. Because of its setting over the ocean, this is a very popular restaurant. Too popular for us. The waitress tells us the wait is 1 1/2 hours. We're too hungry to wait that long. So, we get into Bryce's car and drive about a mile from the beach to a restaurant that serves seafood. I end up ordering prime rim. Go figure.
Back at the beach we walk out on the pier to see what the fisherman are up to. It turns out that its lobster season. For $26 you can buy lobster catching gear. It consists of a net and 100 feet of rope. You put some bait in it. Most fisherman were using cut up squid for bait. Then you lower it over the side of the pier and let the net sink to the bottom of the ocean. You then have coffee, fish, eat, watch the ocean and then when you feel so suited, you pull up the net to see if a lobster has wandered in to it to eat the bait. We didn't see anyone with any lobster. We did watch a fisherman wage a fight to land what turned out to be a big rock.
The waves again that night work their magic on us as we drift off to heavenly sleep.
Sunday morning I'm up early for a bicycle ride. I get about 1/2 a mile when I see that a farmer's market is being set up. I rush back down the hill to the Sea Horse and into our suite. I tell Pat, Bryce, and Jennifer to get dressed quickly so that we can get to the farmer's market before the Metrolink comes again and disgorges hundreds of people.
As we stroll along the booths that contain fresh fruit, fish, and baked items, we learn that the farmer's market is, weather permitting, every Sunday morning. Just past the market place is a crafts bazaar. Here there are many homemade items of quite good quality and variety. The craft bazaar is the first Sunday of every month. Again, weather permitting.
Back at the Sea Horse, we make sandwiches and sit out on our deck. A surfing contest is being held just to the north of the pier. We walk down and watch for awhile and then take a walk out on the pier.
Our friends Ton and Kathy show up about the time that Bryce and Jennifer have to leave. We said goodbye to them and then went back to the beach with our friends who had driven down to have dinner with us.
Dinner is at Rick's Tropicana Grill, about 50 yards from the Sea Horse. They feature Mexican food but you can also get hamburgers, chicken, fish, and ribs. We stick with the Mexican food and eat at an outside table where we can see the ocean and watch the people board the Metrolink for their return home.
We all laugh at how this minor event has captured our interest and that we look forward to watching the train bring people and then take them away. I am very impressed that so many people will choose to leave their cars behind and take this relaxing way to the beach. It's very European. If all of these people had driven cars to the beach the street would have been jammed with people in cars looking for a place to park. Even on this autumn weekend there is little parking to be had near the beach. But we never feel like the beach is crowded. It remains wonderfully lazy.
Tom and Kathy leave after dinner and we settle in to enjoy the last of our beach nights listening to the surf ebb and flow.
Though San Clemente has grown in the 31 years we've been gone, it still has a sleepy kick back atmosphere to it. The Sea Horse is a beach place, a very nice beach place, with great views and a super management team. For example, on Sunday evening, Rob, called us to see if there was anything we needed before he and Terry went out for the dinner. If you're a beach person, you'll like the Sea Horse and love San Clemente.