Why go now: The surf’s up, but the pace is slowed down in this charming small town, where fine wine and farmstands meet big waves and a chill surfer vibe.
Easy-peasy pull-over: It’s right off I-5, so you can’t beat it for beach convenience.
Or go carless: Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner chugs alongside San Clemente’s sandstone cliffs and stops in town (amtrak.com).
Main drag: On downtown’s laid-back Avenida Del Mar, it’s easy to forget the freeway just north.
The look: White stucco adobes with red-tiled roofs line the curvy streets, making this town feel like a “Spanish village by the sea”—just what founder Ole Hanson envisioned back in 1925.
Walk on water: The fishing pier stretches 1,300 feet into the Pacific.
Weekend sweet spot: Show up on Sunday mornings at Sugar Blossom Bake Shop for buttermilk cinnamon rolls with macadamia nut glaze (204 Avenida Del Mar; 949/429-5555).
Gardens with a view: Wander Casa Romantica, a Spanish colonial revival estate turned cultural center with killer views (415 Avenida Granada; casaromantica.org).
Park it by the ocean: Between State Beach, Calafia, and Lobeiro park, you’re in for a coastal three-in-one at San Clemente State Beach. Which to pick? State is the largest, with calm surf perfect for swimming and bodyboarding. On Saturdays, pop into the visitor center, with a room dedicated to surf memorabilia. Calafia (pictured) is just north, where steep sandstone cliffs make a dramatic backdrop for sunbathers. Or follow the path from Calafia to Lobeiro park for a picnic on the lawn with ocean views. parks.ca.gov
Quirky shopping: Looking for a cast concrete birdbath in the shape of a rhubarb leaf, a vintage mirror, or Chuck Berry Greatest Hits on vinyl? Look no further than La Casa Verde de Granada, an artists’ co-op that feels more like a funky antique store, with fun finds from estate and garage sales. 130 Avenida Granada; 949/498-2560.