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San Clemente

This classic Orange County beach town is the place for sunsets, surfing, and seafood

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It’s all about the beach in San Clemente, the oceanfront Orange County town set along four miles of gorgeous coastline. Easily accessible by Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and Metrolink trains, San Clemente is the dreamy Southern California of perfect waves, swaying palm trees, and shimmering sunsets.

Beach life centers around the landmark San Clemente Pier, the wooden structure that extends nearly a quarter mile out above the waves. With a license, you can fish from the pier, or get your seafood the easy way while also enjoying gorgeous views at the Fisherman’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar; the favorites include the oysters Rockefeller and whole Dungeness crab. For a nice introduction to the San Clemente oceanfront, cruise by Bear Coast Coffee for a latte before you bike or walk along the city’s 2.3-mile Beach Trail, which passes the pier as it connects North Beach and Calafia Beach.

San Clemente is one of the country’s leading surfing destinations, especially because of Trestles, the legendary series of five breaks at San Onofre State Beach along the border with San Diego County. Trestles draws surfers from all over the world and hosts major professional surfing events thanks to waves that are considered among the very best off the U.S. mainland.

If you’re not quite ready to take on Trestles, you can learn to ride the waves with lessons at the San Clemente Surf School, or stop into the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center to see its big collection of vintage boards. Speaking of boards, Icons of Surf is a shop that carries everything a surfer needs, as well as a distinctive selection of surf fashions. San Clemente is also home to the iconic flip-flop brand Rainbow Sandals, which operates its factory and a store in town, and the Outlets at San Clemente offer an ocean-view bargain shopping experience (the outlets are also home to the California Welcome Center).

With all of the time you’ll spend in the waves or in retail stores, you can build up a pretty big appetite—and thirst. Sonny’s Pizza & Pasta is a classic old-school spot beloved by San Clemente locals, who since 1980 have come to the restaurant for its crispy thin-crust pizzas. The popular Nick’s San Clemente has a beautiful modern interior with wood and brick details, the perfect setting to enjoy contemporary American favorites, including a delectable cioppino positively swimming with seafood. San Clemente also boasts a lively craft beer scene: Two of the top spots are Lost Winds Brewing Co., known for its Belgian-style ales, and Artifex Brewing Co., where the creations include Orange You Different, a citrusy New England–style IPA.

And for a romantic vision of San Clemente’s past, take a self-guided tour at Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens, the gorgeous blufftop 1927 Spanish Colonial Revival estate of city founder Ole Hanson. The views are spectacular and Casa Romantica also hosts music and dance performances.

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