15 Best Things to Do in San Clemente (CA)

San Clemente is a coastal city of about 64,000 people situated in Orange County. The city is located halfway between the major cities of Los Angeles and San Diego, both of which are about an hour away.

San Clemente is known for its beautiful beaches, pleasant year-round climate, and stunning scenery that includes views of the ocean and mountains. It’s also known for its surf culture and world-class surfing locations that feature perfect waves.

Due to the abundance of Spanish Colonial-style buildings, the city has earned the nickname “Spanish Village by the Sea.”

In San Clemente, there are many parks, cultural attractions, restaurants, and shopping areas, such as the Outlets at San Clemente, Ocean View Plaza, and Talega Village Center.

The small-town charm of this little beach city is really noticeable in the colorful downtown area – in particular, on Avenida Del Mar, which is home to many of the city’s cosy cafes, antique shops, and art galleries.

A number of festivals and events take place in San Clemente throughout the year, including the San Clemente Ocean Festival, San Clemente Street Fiesta, Aguas Frescas Festival, Hawaiian Festival, and San Clemente Art Festival.

Below are 15 of the best things to do in and around San Clemente, California.

1. Learn about Local History at the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens

Casa Romantica GardensSource: Dawn Damico / shutterstock
Casa Romantica Gardens

Casa Romantica is a historic home constructed in 1927 for the city’s founder, Ole Hanson.

Today, the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens are open to the public. The house itself is situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean and the San Clemente Pier.

Inside this beautiful seven-bedroom house, you’ll take a trip into the past and learn about the region’s history and culture. As you explore the interior, you’ll see stunning architecture, period furnishings, and various artefacts.

The property is surrounded by five acres of stunning gardens featuring walking paths and many plants such as cacti and shrubs. Guided tours of the house and garden are available, or you can explore the property on your own.

A gift shop is on-site, and throughout the year, many events take place, including performances, lectures and workshops.

2. Stroll Along the San Clemente Pier

San Clemente PierSource: Christian Tjernagel / shutterstock
San Clemente Pier

One of the most popular gathering spots in San Clemente is the San Clemente Pier. Situated close to the downtown district, this scenic pier is surrounded by sandy beaches and uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean.

Whether you go during the day or into the evening, there’s always something to do, and the atmosphere is always lively. You can sit on one of the benches and people-watch or listen to the waves.

Fishing is another popular activity on the San Clemente Pier, and there are various eateries -from fast-food joints to fine dining restaurants – where you can grab something to eat or relax with a coffee or beer.

3. Learn to Ride the Waves at San Clemente Surf School

Surfing in San ClementeSource: kesterhu / shutterstock
Surfing in San Clemente

One of the popular activities that visitors to San Clemente should try is surfing. Surfing is such a huge part of the culture here, and at the San Clemente Surf School, local expert surfers can show you the ropes.

When you learn to surf with the experienced surf instructors at the San Clemente Surf School, you’ll work yourself up to the point where you’ll be riding some of the best waves on earth.

Lessons are available for all levels, from beginners to old pros wanting to improve their skills. Each lesson starts with an on-land safety run-down and introduction to surfing and beginner techniques.

Once in the water, you’ll practice standing and balancing on the board before finally riding your first wave. All the equipment you’ll need is provided, including a board and wetsuit.

4. Spend a Day by the Ocean at San Clemente State Beach

San Clemente State BeachSource: SunflowerMomma / shutterstock
San Clemente State Beach

San Clemente State Beach is a popular beach park in the region. Surrounded by views of the hills, mountains, and coastline, the park is mostly known for its long, sandy beach suitable for swimming, snorkelling, diving, fishing, and surfing.

Hiking, cycling, bird watching, and wildlife viewing are also popular activities near the beach, and there’s an Environmental Learning and Visitors Center on-site.

If you wish to spend more than a day at San Clemente State Beach, there’s a campground available; facilities include bathrooms with showers.

5. Grab a Bite to Eat at Nick’s San Clemente

Nick's San ClementeSource: Nick's San Clemente / Facebook
Nick’s San Clemente

Since 2008, Nick’s San Clemente has been serving delicious, high-quality meals in a friendly, comfortable environment. This eatery specializes in traditional American cuisine with a modern twist.

On the menu, you’ll find a variety of items, including appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and house specialities such as pan-seared Scottish salmon, San Francisco cioppino, buttermilk fried chicken and baby back pork ribs.

The extensive beverage menu includes Scotch and a variety of wines, beers, and signature cocktails.

6. Spend a Day on the Greens at Talega Golf Club

GolfSource: Mikael Damkier / shutterstock
Golf

Situated in the nearby hills of San Clemente, Talega Golf Club is an 18-hole, par-72 championship course that’s said to be among the best in the state.

The course is surrounded by spectacular scenery, and there’s a driving range available.

Also on-site are a pro shop and a gift shop. The Signature Grille and Bar serves a variety of dishes at breakfast and lunch, and a patio is available for outdoor dining.

7. Shop and Eat on Del Mar Street

Del Mar StreetSource: tracie7779 / Flickr | CC BY-SA
Del Mar Street

The centre of all the action in San Clemente is in the downtown district – in particular, on Del Mar Street, or Avenida Del Mar, as it’s known locally.

This lively street is an exciting place to be any time of day. It’s lined with boutique and speciality stores such as Killer Dana, Rascal’s, and Angel Wings and Bliss.

Cafes, restaurants, and bars also line the street. Carbonara’s Trattoria, Mexican Siesta, and Del Mar Sushi are just some of the eateries available.

A number of art galleries and chic wine bars are also located on Del Mar Street.

8. Walk or Bike the San Clemente Coastal Trail

San Clemente Coastal TrailSource: Wayne Via / shutterstock
San Clemente Coastal Trail

While there are many places to enjoy the coastal views of San Clemente, one of the best places is along the San Clemente Coastal Trail.

This 2.3-mile trail is a multi-purpose trail popular with walkers, runners and cyclists. As you make your way along the trail, you’ll see spectacular views of the coastline and sandy beaches, and you’ll pass by various parks, restaurants and attractions.

Bike rentals are available through Bicycle San Clemente, and public restrooms are accessible along the way.

9. Take the Kids to Courtney’s SandCastle Universal Playground

Courtney’s SandCastle Universal Playground is famous in San Clemente for being the only playground designed for differently-abled children.

Named after Courtney Faye Smith, who used a wheelchair, the playground’s goal is to provide accessible fun to children of all ages and backgrounds.

On the grounds of this beautifully-maintained playground, you’ll find sandboxes, climbing rocks, a ship-themed play structure, climbing rocks, and swings. Also on-site is a sensory garden with flowers, a musical path, and interactive water features.

10. Browse the San Clemente Farmers’ Market

Farmers MarketSource: Javani LLC / shutterstock
Farmers Market

Since 1995, the San Clemente Farmers’ Market has been a weekly fixture along several blocks of the downtown district.

The main draw at the market is the fresh, local, organic produce available every week. As you browse the many vendors, you’ll find a wide variety of items, including flowers, honey, baked goods, and pre-prepared dishes.

11. Visit the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center

Surfing Heritage and Culture CenterSource: Surfing Heritage & Culture Center / Facebook
Surfing Heritage and Culture Center

Surf culture is alive and well in San Clemente. The Surfing Heritage and Culture Center honours the sport by preserving the history and culture of surfing.

This museum promotes this culture through a variety of exhibits showcasing the development of the sport from its beginnings up to today. Many artefacts are on display, including photos, documents, videos, and surfboards from various eras.

A variety of events, including educational programs, are held at the centre throughout the year.

12. Sample Local Craft Beer at the Artifex Brewing Company

Artifex Brewing CompanySource: Artifex Brewing Company / Facebook
Artifex Brewing Company

At the Artifex Brewing Company, you’ll enter a lively and relaxing atmosphere perfect for socializing over some quality, tasty brews.

Inside the brewery, kick back in a stylish setting with striking design features. Outdoors, you can relax on the patio and enjoy the views and fresh ocean air.

A wide variety of beers are available on tap, including Afternoon Tea Brown Ale and No Name IPA. On certain days of the week, food trucks are parked outside, so you can enjoy some tasty snacks with your beverages.

13. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Sugar Blossom

CupcakesSource: Natalia Semenchenko / shutterstock
Cupcakes

Sugar Blossom in San Clemente is a boutique bakery serving a wide range of baked goods in a chic and relaxing cafe-like atmosphere.

Choose from a variety of pastries, cupcakes, cookies and more. Everything is made on-site daily using only the highest-quality ingredients available.

14. Hunt for Bargains at the Outlets at San Clemente

Outlets at San ClementeSource: David Tonelson / shutterstock
Outlets at San Clemente

When you go shopping at the Outlets at San Clemente, you don’t just find bargains; you get the whole deluxe shopping experience.

This outdoor outlet mall features stunning ocean views and luxury outlet stores, eateries and entertainment options.

Some of the shops you’ll find on-site include Levis, Calvin Klein, Sunglasses Hut, and Under Armour. Free Wi-Fi service is available throughout the property.

15. Spend a Day Outdoors at San Clemente North Beach

San Clemente North BeachSource: Idealphotographer / shutterstock
San Clemente North Beach

San Clemente North Beach is another popular beach in the city. Besides swimming and other water activities, you can also enjoy hiking on the trails and picnicking. Many people also come here to have bonfires in the evening.

On-site amenities include barbecue facilities, bathrooms, concession stands, and a children’s playground.

 

Where to stay: Best Hotels in San Clemente, California (CA)
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15 Best Things to Do in San Clemente (CA):

  • Learn about Local History at the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens
  • Stroll Along the San Clemente Pier
  • Learn to Ride the Waves at San Clemente Surf School
  • Spend a Day by the Ocean at San Clemente State Beach
  • Grab a Bite to Eat at Nick's San Clemente
  • Spend a Day on the Greens at Talega Golf Club
  • Shop and Eat on Del Mar Street
  • Walk or Bike the San Clemente Coastal Trail
  • Take the Kids to Courtney's SandCastle Universal Playground
  • Browse the San Clemente Farmers' Market
  • Visit the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center
  • Sample Local Craft Beer at the Artifex Brewing Company
  • Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Sugar Blossom
  • Hunt for Bargains at the Outlets at San Clemente
  • Spend a Day Outdoors at San Clemente North Beach