Travel // San Clemente, Laguna and the OC {California Part Three}

February 02, 2019

Gahh... San Clemente. What a place. This little beach town, completely unexpectedly, turned out to be probably our very favourite part of this trip. We booked it, not really knowing anything about the town, simply because my husband was searching for accommodation after Airbnb didn't seem to bring anything that inspiring up for a bit further north around Laguna where we had planned to stay. Everything seemed pretty expensive. But then he found this pretty reasonable resort, in San Clemente. It was refundable up until a few days before our trip so thought, let's just book it and see if we find anything else in the meantime. It turned out to be the best serendipitous find as we completely fell in love with San Clemente and pretty much started planning a future trip there for another January before we'd even left. The most special spot with magical sunsets and fire pit evenings, cute little town and a pier where we loved watching the surfers. The kind of place that you actually really want to keep a secret but equally shout from the rooftops about. So I'd love to share more about our trip, and this area in Orange County, our daytrips to Laguna and beyond, below if you'd like to see. 

In short;

// San Clemente
- we stayed at this resort, as mentioned above. It was a self-contained apartment on a mini complex just one street back from the beach. SUCH a perfect location and although we didn't pay or book a sea view, we still had one. It had a mini kitchen and daily maid service {better than airbnb for this respect} along with beach chairs, umbrellas and towels to borrow. Not the most stylish of accommodation but we had no complaints.
- We mainly cooked in during this week, going to Trader Joe's to pick up things for dinner but there are lots of restaurants around the town.
- If you're into coffee, Bear State Coffee opposite the pier was always recommended and super popular.  
- An evening, or two, by a firepit on the beach to watch the sunset is a MUST. In summer or weekends, reserve them early {we saw others leaving beach chairs/marquees by them to stake theirs around 8am on a Saturday so did the same until I then sat on the beach by it for the afternoon. It's really safe. But the other evening that we did it, they were all unoccupied on a weekday in January at 4pm}.
- For a firepit you'll need a pack, or two, of wood from any pharmacy, firelighters, matches and then s'mores ingredients! {Graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate and skewers for your marshmallows}.  
- San Clemente has a beach walking trail running for about 5 miles. From the pier you can go left or right. We loved both, and saw dolphins twice during our walks {as you're looking at the sea} to the right along the boardwalk. We LOVED these beautiful mornings.
- There's a mini hub near the pier but the main street/town is around Avenida Del Mar with some gorgeous shops and restaurants. For ice cream don't miss South Swell and for frozen yogurt, Active culture was my favourite.
- We stumbled across the super cute farmer's market on a Sunday morning. Such a fab town.
- From here we drove out to various shopping areas, like Mission Viejo.
- There's a cool train line running along the beach, with the Surfliner Amtrak running between LA and San Diego. We thought the trainline would be annoying right behind the beach but it was fun to spot the trains, it seems like a big part of this town and there are plenty of crossing points along the coast path so that it doesn't impact on the walks or beaches. 

// Laguna
- Just along the coast, up Highway 1, is Laguna which is a definite must see. Almost tropical, this beach town full of palm lined coves is beautiful. The town itself has an art vibe, with lots of high end galleries and gorgeous little cafes and shops. You won't find many big brands here.
- Nick's is practically an institution in Laguna that people travel to just for the food here. We didn't eat here but it will be on my list for next time.
- The Deck was recommended for dining on the beach. Expect it to be busy at weekends.
- Zinc Cafe & Deli is a cute hedged patio area serving gourmet food and coffee, this was packed on the Monday morning we visited.
- Urth Cafe from LA has recently opened in Laguna, a good spot for brunch/lunch.
- Thousand Steps beach is a gorgeous cove, with a workout getting up and down there.
- Treasure Island Beach Park is worth a look too on a clear, sunny day.
- And our favourite was the walk up the steps from Laguna's main beach towards the right {as you look at the sea} along the headland towards Heisler park with the Gazebo area and beyond. There are so many gorgeous views from here. We actually went on a fairly windy/choppy day and it was incredible but I imagine, and have seen photos of, a still day where the sea looks so clear and turquoise.

// Crystal Cove
between Laguna and Newport, is a favourite spot of ours from back in 2012 during our first OC visit. It's such a special place, and a national park. Kind of annoyingly, parking is $15 here in the official parking across the road, that you then walk under the underpass to the beach. Or on this visit, we parked in the shopping area just along the coast and walked the coast path there as we were less than an hour.
- Ruby's Shake Shack at the top, is a must visit for lunch or a shake. We'd eaten lunch in Laguna so just shared a shake but it was one of the best shakes we've had. Expect long queues here but it's worth the wait, especially for the view.
- For food down at Crystal Cove, The Beachcomber is a really popular and highly recommended spot.
- You can also pay and book a beach bonfire here, I think through the Beachcomber, which would be magical at sunset. We were about 45 minutes from here so decided to stick to our beach to do it.
- There are cute little cottages down at the cove. Imagine staying in one and waking up to that beach every morning!
- The rockpools are worth a look here. We didn't sit on the beach in January but have done during the hot summer days before. {side note, my Dad actually lost his wedding ring in the sea here playing ball with my brother a few years back!}. 

// Further afield;
- Huntington Beach is an area we've stayed in twice before. It's known as surf city, and is a great base around this area with a fab pier, huge wide beach, those typical Cali lifeguard huts {with a manned beach}, and so many restaurants and shops. We didn't make it there on this visit as felt like we'd done it a lot before but it's great for families. 
- Newport Beach is another great area to base yourself for this area, with lots going on, beaches, Balboa Island, Fashion island for all the shopping you could imagine and not too far from LA/Disney/outlets etc if you're looking to do things like that. 
- Catalina Island, reached from Newport or Dana Point by ferry, looks like a gorgeous day out. We'd have loved to have gone but ran out of time, and it seemed fairly pricey for the day. But next time, this is going on my list.

We arrived just in time for sunset. And hadn't realised *just* how close to the pier, and perfectly located our accommodation would be! This was the view from the office where we picked up the keys, we knew we'd struck gold at this point and couldn't wait to watch the sunset every night from now on. 

Nothing beats a West Coast sunset. Oh Cali... 

As I mentioned above, our accommodation wasn't the most stylish but it certainly wasn't bad! A great spot for our 5 nights {which I actually wished could have been longer.}

Our first stop was Ralph's, just at the top of town, to pick up some dinner for the evening and breakfast supplies for the morning. I spotted this beautiful VW Beetle with that sunset sky behind. 

Morning came, and we got into the swing of this OC life for a few days. Every morning, we'd wake up and see the sunrise from our balcony. Pink palmed skies and the view of the waves from our living area whilst we ate breakfast. We made wholegrain waffles, with berries and yogurt, most mornings and I loved that morning ritual. Then we'd go down to the beach for a morning walk, deciding whether to go left or right, it would be about 2.5 miles each way with ocean views the whole time.

The pier was one of our favourite spots too. Especially in the mornings watching the surfers, some of them so skilled. Our favourite were the paddle boarding men who would use their oars to paddle and catch the waves, balancing just before it got too big and then would paddle back out again. It almost inspired me to start surfing, or paddle boarding {if I wasn't pregnant right now}. Although there have been Great White attacks in this area eeek!

 San Clemente didn't feel touristy, like Huntington/Newport might feel up the coast, it seemed like this secret little spot and we were so happy to have discovered it. A lady who I talk to on Instagram who lives in LA told us that this is her favourite spot each summer and we were geniuses to have discovered it, but warned me not to shout about it too much. Haha, and I definitely felt like in so many ways we wanted to keep this special spot to ourselves. 

Powered by the ocean, and that sunshine. The mornings really were especially beautiful here and we were so lucky with the weather. Although I say that we were lucky, I think pretty much everyday looks like this out here. 

I think one of the reasons I loved this place so much was for the beach, palm lined and not too wide like most typical Californian beaches. This one seemed almost resort/tropical like? In the mornings, the tide would be up like this, but then by lunchtime, it would look much bigger.

We joined all of the others out at this time, dog walkers, runners, groups of walkers, old couples, women with their babies, cyclists. Such a great vibe.

Such a scenic train track/view.

You can walk along the official track, or cut onto the empty, almost wild bits of beach.

Hello little bump!

HOW is this Winter. Best January ever. 

We kept talking about how we just want to bring a toddler here in a couple of years. There was the most scenic swing set right on the beach that I could imagine us returning to, talking about this trip where it all began <3. 

On our first day, we took a drive out to Trader Joe's/the pharmacy for firepit supplies, a quick stop at the shopping centre for a browse and then In n Out. Since it had been too long since our first in LA already. This actually turned out to be the best In n Out burger we've ever had. I don't know what was different about it but we were both pretty wowed. 

When in Cali, right?!

And then to the beach! With a chair on my back and a book for the afternoon. 

Ben stayed back at the apartment for both afternoons I spent on the beach which was perfect for us both. Especially on the Sunday with two huge NFL games. 

My dream kind of Saturday. Where I learned how to sunbathe on my front with a bump for the first time... dig a hole in the sand! Genius. Thanks Instagram.

Ben came down in time for sunset and our firepit, with a little picnic dinner before our s'mores. 

Sorry for the huge amount of photos you're about to see... 

This was probably my favourite night of the whole trip. A firepit, s'mores making and a sunset. 

Thanks to this chief firelighter!

I couldn't resist setting up the tripod to take some photos of the evening. Just in time for a surfer to walk into shot! 

Toasting marshmallows.

Soo yummy. I'm guessing you know how to make the classic campfire/firepit s'mores? You toast a couple of marshmallows and sandwich them between graham crackers and chocolate. The heat should gently melt the chocolate and then you eat the whole thing like a sandwich.

One of my most treasured photos in this bump journey so far... 

Especially with the sky that kept changing.

And no filter skies.

I took a lot of photos of our view like this during the week. Sorry, not sorry. 

Just the dreamiest mornings. I miss this view already.

Cactus, with bells on.

Loved this boardwalk. This is where we spotted the pod of dolphins from.

I wanted to just live those mornings on repeat forever.

On a Sunday morning walk, we stumbled across the farmer's market. 

Buying mid-morning cake, and trying lots of fresh samples. Giving us yet another reason to love this town.

I made a new friend! She was just 8 months old. SO gorgeous. 

and the shops felt almost Australian? {I feel like I say that a lot, I mean it in the best complimentary way. It seems like that's always my benchmark style wise!}

Palm lined streets, and pretty spanish kind of architecture.

On Monday, we spent the day in Laguna. 

Starting at 1000 steps beach. 

Watching all the locals do their workouts up and down the stairs, and ogling at the properties above. In fact, there were so many gorgeous houses around Laguna. Did you ever watch the series Laguna Beach? I didn't but visiting made me want to suddenly watch it and just see more of this dream lifestyle.

Tried on some gorgeous dresses in a surf shop, but in the end realised that none were quite right.

We walked around Laguna town and then along the coast path from the main beach.

Just SO many pretty vistas.

As I mentioned at the start of the post, it was almost tropical looking. And had it been a calm day, the sea would have been ever more turquoise I think.

I immediately wanted to move to Laguna. 

Just loook at this cove! I imagine that sunsets here look incredible too.

Our next stop was Crystal Cove. With some of my favourite Highway 1 views out across the ocean. Cue, George Ezra's Shotgun playing on repeat for this little roadtrip.

side note - I just love all the beautifully manicured shopping areas around this part of Cali. Complete with palm trees. Everywhere is just so clean as well, plenty of parking, water fountains and clean restrooms practically everywhere. England could learn a lot. 

As I said above, you have to visit the Crystal Cove shake shack, at the top of the cliffs. 

The shake tasted as good as I remembered from 6 years back! We went for the mud pie without the coffee. You can actually mix any shake flavours here as they're all made to order. 

It was just a bit too windy to sit and enjoy the beach properly. Still a favourite spot of mine though, and you can walk for miles in either direction.

Just, er, watch out for the rattlesnakes! {although we saw these signs across Cali and didn't come across any}. 

Morning run skies. 

I thought it would be a good idea to test my fitness with these stairs, since most of the beach running routes were flat compared to the hills I'm used to at home. Baddd idea, I think pregnancy makes me so much more out of breath! But the stairs and view were pretty.

Please let us come back here, I said to my husband every single day out in San Clemente. With morning views like these especially.

Our last couple of days were spent just soaking up this town and the sunshine. I liked that we didn't have to do anything big each day, and just enjoyed being here without a huge agenda.

An afternoon walk to town for fro-yo. Cali holiday rituals.

We still had some logs and s'mores supplies left from our first firepit, so decided to do one more evening on our last night before heading to Palm Springs. It was such a beautiful evening.

Finishing with the prettiest pink skies.

We stayed until after dark this time. Not quite wanting to leave the beach. {in January, the sun sets just after 5pm so by 6pm it's pitch black and you're left with a long evening to fill! Sometimes we'd go shopping, as everything is open late, and other times we'd just watch some good tv}

One last morning walk. We both took half an hour of work calls in this spot, a surreal kind of office. {when on one of my calls E said 'is that the ocean I can hear?! You're killing me!}. 

Wow, that was a lot of photos. If you've made it this far then thank you for indulging me!

We can't wait to come back already San Clemente. And I was really wishing we'd had maybe one or two more nights there just for those morning walks. 

Next stop, Palm Springs! 

R <3 xx 

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