Fun Things To Do In San Clemente: A Beach Lover’s Paradise

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Things to do in San Clemente include visiting the San Clemente Pier.
San Clemente Pier. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Welcome to the beautiful coastal town of San Clemente, California! Located in South Orange County, approximately halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego and a day’s drive from San Francisco, this charming destination combines stunning natural scenery, Spanish colonial architecture, and a relaxed beach atmosphere.

“Spanish Village by the Sea” is San Clemente’s city slogan. As the southernmost town in Orange County, it also serves as an ideal starting point for exploring the north and south coast. It shares a border with San Diego County.

Things to do in San Clemente include the San Clemente train stop near the San Clemente Pier (people on ebikes waiting to cross the train tracks, one holds a surfboard).
San Clemente train stop near the San Clemente Pier. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

History of San Clemente

Ole Hanson, the founder of San Clemente, was a real estate developer and former mayor of Seattle, Washington. He purchased coastal property in South Orange County and named the city after the neighboring San Clemente Island in 1925.

Hanson achieved success in promoting the new area and selling properties. He also constructed public structures such as the Beach Club, community center, pier, and San Clemente Plaza, now known as Max Berg Plaza Park. On February 27, 1928, the area was officially incorporated as a city.

Ole Hanson arrived in San Clemente with a plan to develop the city. He settled in a house he considered the perfect embodiment of his vision, Casa Romantica. However, he lost ownership of the property during the Great Depression when the Bank of America foreclosed on it.

The historic “North Beach” area is home to the Ole Hanson Beach Club and San Clemente’s Casino Building, renovated in 2010 and 2016.

San Clemente boasts La Casa Pacifica, the Western White House of former President Richard Nixon. The private residence, closed to the public, sits on top of a bluff with dazzling views of the West Coast’s premiere surfing spots, San Onofre State Beach and the Trestles, leaving a lasting legacy for San Clemente.

San Clemente is the place to be if you’re a surfer searching for the perfect wave, a nature lover wanting to explore scenic trails, or a food enthusiast looking for delicious eats.

This guide walks you through the best activities to do in San Clemente, such as enjoying sun-soaked beaches, visiting historic buildings, and strolling through lively downtown streets while you revel in views of the ocean.

Things to do in San Clemente include the beach and pier (people walking along the beach, to the right side of the pier extending outward).
San Clemente Beach and Pier. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

San Clemente State Beach and the San Clemente Beach Trail

Start your adventure at San Clemente State Beach, a pristine stretch of sandy shoreline that offers breathtaking ocean views. Stroll along the San Clemente Beach Trail, a mile-long pathway that winds its way along the coast, offering stunning vistas and access to various beach spots. Whether sunbathing, picnicking, or simply enjoying the salty breeze, this beach trail is a must-visit for beach lovers.

She Buys Travel Tip: Weekends are busy on the Beach Trail with pedestrians and dog walkers.

Things to do in San Clemente include the beach trail (people walking, one with a dog)
San Clemente Beach Trail. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

The San Clemente Pier and Avenida Del Mar

The San Clemente Pier is a renowned landmark in the city, built in 1928 and later reconstructed in 1939 and 1983.

No visit to San Clemente is complete without a visit to the iconic San Clemente Pier. Take a leisurely walk along the wooden planks, soak in the panoramic ocean views, and watch surfers catching waves.

She Buys Travel Tip: A large city parking lot with meters is a few steps away from the pier. You’ll want to arrive early in the day to get a parking space.

Afterward, head to Avenida Del Mar, the heart of downtown San Clemente. This charming street has art galleries, boutique shops, and delicious eateries, offering a perfect blend of culture and cuisine.

Surfing and Surfing Heritage

San Clemente is renowned for its world-class surf breaks and rich surfing heritage. Visit the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center to learn about the history of surfing and its impact on the local community. The Center boasts one of the world’s most extensive archives and collections of surfboards.

If you’re an experienced surfer, don’t miss T-Street Beach and Trestles, two popular surf spots attracting worldwide wave enthusiasts.

T-Street Beach, also known as Esplanade Beach, is located at the west end of Esplanade Street in San Clemente. It is a part of the San Clemente City Beach system. It is easily accessible by an overpass for pedestrians over the railroad tracks from the parking areas at the “T” intersection of Esplanade and Paseo De Cristobal.

T-Street Beach is surrounded by palm trees and is maintained by the city. Additionally, lifeguards are stationed there during busy hours.

Trestles was named after the wooden Trestles bridge that require surfers to walk under to reach the beach. The bridge was replaced in 2012 by a concrete viaduct.

Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens

Immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of San Clemente at the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens. This Spanish colonial-style mansion, a registered Historic Landmark, offers stunning ocean views, 30 beautifully manicured gardens, and a variety of art exhibitions and cultural events. Take a guided tour, attend a concert, or relax in the 2.5 acres of tranquil surroundings.

I was honored to photograph two weddings at Casa Romantica during my professional photography career. The setting is incomparable with the high wood-clad ceilings, arched doorways, and colorful Spanish tiles. Photo ops are around every corner.

Due to heavy rains in the winter and spring of 2023, a mudslide marred the exterior gardens and halted train service through San Clemente. Casa Romantica and trains were closed for almost a month.

Things to do in San Clemente include checking out the street art near the pier.
Street Art Near San Clemente Pier. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Outdoor Adventures and Nature in San Clemente

For outdoor enthusiasts, San Clemente offers a plethora of activities. Explore the San Clemente Coastal Trail, a scenic pathway that winds along the bluffs, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

Hiking and Biking

Hike or bike the Sea Summit Trail for panoramic views of the ocean and a chance to spot whales during the migration season.

Whale Watching

January to March is a perfect time to witness migrating gray whales along the California coastline. During this time, these whales can be seen traveling both northward toward the Arctic and southward toward the Baja lagoons.


If you’re a golfer, don’t miss the opportunity to tee off at the picturesque San Clemente Golf Course.

Dining and Shopping in San Clemente

After a day of adventure, refresh with the diverse array of dining options in San Clemente. From fresh seafood at Fisherman’s Restaurant Restaurant and Bar to farm-to-table delights at local eateries, there’s something to please every palate.

I like to combine the best of all worlds by dining at Fisherman’s Restaurant on the pier for brunch. The scenery, watching surfers, and meeting friends over a great meal and adult beverages or brews on a sunny day, can’t be beat.

Another of my favorite restaurants and one of the best wine bars on El Camino Real in downtown San Clemente is The Vine Restaurant and Bar. Rated #1 of 145 restaurants in San Clemente by TripAdvisor, The Vine offers a seasonal menu and a worldwide variety of wines, craft beers, and signature cocktails.

Be sure to explore the vibrant downtown area, where you’ll find unique boutiques, art galleries, and a farmers market that offers fresh produce and food trucks. The Farmer’s Market is rain or shine every Sunday in Old Town from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm.

The clear water, things to do at Laguna Beach
The vibrant colors of Laguna Beach make it one of the best destinations in California. Photo credit: Lauren Salisbury

Day Trips and Nearby Attractions

There are many exciting day trip options if you want to explore beyond San Clemente.

Visit the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano, just a short drive away, to learn about California’s Spanish colonial past.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is the home of the legendary return of the swallows every year and is celebrated with the Swallows Day Parade and other celebrations. However, the bird count is almost non-existent because of the mission remodel in the 1990s, and many swallow nests were destroyed. Artificial swallow nests installed near roof lines encourage returnees without much success to date.

Head north to Dana Point for two-hour whale-watching excursions at Dana Wharf Whale Watching and Sportfishing, enjoy family fun at Ocean Institute in Dana Point, take a scenic drive to Laguna Beach for its stunning coastline and vibrant art scene, or immerse yourself in the surf culture in Huntington Beach.

Final Thoughts

Visit San Clemente, with its sandy beaches, Spanish charm, and laid-back atmosphere. It is a real treasure on the Southern California coast. Whether seeking outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or a relaxing beach getaway, this coastal paradise delivers.

Julie Diebolt Price is an award-winning professional photographer, educator, author, and travel writer. She writes about two things – photography and travel (along with a little food and beverage). Julie educates and mentors aspiring photographers. As a journalist who loves to travel, she creates memorable experiences and shares them with words and pictures.
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