#233–San Clemente at Last

In January 2019, Theresa Baer and I planned a trip to San Clemente to include the Laguna Beach area where she had gone to high school. She looked forward to seeing her old stomping grounds, and I looked forward to some warm, dry weather in Southern California. We planned to go in April and Theresa made lodging reservations. We were excited and ready to go.

Then in March, her stepdad, John, took a fall where he hit his head. The injuries turned out to be fatal, and we postponed our trip. Theresa needed to be there for her mom.

Theresa was ready for a vacation.

The trip was postponed until my next trip down in December and the motel graciously moved our reservations.

Day 1, Thursday, December 12––I arrived at Theresa’s on the 11th and the next morning, the truck was loaded and we left about 11:30 a.m. We were headed to the beach, to the ocean.

We took a less direct, scenic route closer to the San Gabriel Mountains. Still there was lots of traffic. It was LA after all! And the traffic was moving right along.

We stopped in Dana Point for lunch. It was an organic foods place. I had lots of interesting stuff on top of slices of sweet potato. Good but really different. Theresa had a veggie burger. We were able to get coffee next door and ate outside on a terrace that served both places.

Judy at the pier in San Clemente.

The nicest part of the trip was driving along the ocean. When we finally got to San Clemente, we couldn’t find the hotel. On our third pass through town, we found it—the Volare. It was on the street one block east and parallel to 101. Parking was scarce. So we were glad that there was underground parking. We were on the second floor, facing the ocean with a balcony. We arrived before dark, which was our goal.

It was quite a nice room and the complimentary breakfast buffet had a lot of choices. Our only disappointment was that there was no restaurant as advertised. There was an eating area, but it was only open one night, which we didn’t hear about until a couple days later.

Since there was no dinner at the hotel that first night, we walked into town. It was not far. We went into a place where they had wine on tap, and we had tapas with wine. The food was quite good. No idea what the place was called. We walked home and watched a couple episodes of “Naked and Afraid,” which was totally crazy! The beds were comfortable and we slept well. Theresa thought the pillows were the greatest she’d ever met!

The pier at San Clelmente.

Day 2, Friday, December 13––The morning routine was that I got up and did my exercises and got ready and headed off downstairs to the breakfast buffet.  It was a very full buffet, with lots of choices. Theresa, not being an early breakfast person, waited to eat until I brought her coffee and a heated, buttered bagel out on the balcony when I returned. One could get spoiled.

The Greeter at Greeters Corner in Laguna Beach was still there.

The weather was perfect. The plan was to check out Laguna Beach. Theresa was amazed over and over again at how much it had changed and how easy it was to get lost. She said that she felt totally gobsmacked! So we spent some time exploring the countryside on our way to various places. It was all unfamiliar to me. If I had ever been there, I must have been just passing through because nothing was familiar.

Although much was unfamiliar to Theresa, she did see some familiar sights in Laguna Beach. Some businesses were the same, and the statue of “The Greeter” was still there.

We walked around and found lots of great shops. One was Ryan’s Art for the Soul. That’s where we bought some fabulous stemless wine glasses decorated on the bottoms with flowers. They weren’t identical but very much alike. On this trip, we used them for drinking wine on the balcony after dinner. And they worked very well for that.

One of our fabulous stemless wine glasses.

After exploring the Laguna Beach area by truck, we headed up the coast and stopped at Newport Beach. We explored the town and then the neighborhoods, where we admired the houses as well as the Christmas decorations.

It was in a lovely neighborhood that we found a spot for lunch. It was the Succulent Coffee Company and Café. Funny thing, the coffee was terrible, but the food was terrific. This time I had a veggie burger and a mountain of fries. Almost more than I could eat. Theresa had mac and cheese that she shared with me and a fabulous chicken sandwich with her own mountain of fries. The fries were delicious but totally unexpected. We were stuffed!

Casa Romantica is today a cultural center and gardens open to the public.

We got lost heading back to San Clemente, so we explored more countryside. That evening, we had no dinner because we were still full. We sat up late drinking wine and talking on the balcony.

Day 3, Saturday, December 14––After our breakfast routine, we spent this day in San Clemente. We visited Casa Romantica, the lovely Spanish Colonial Revival style home of Ole Hanson, one of the founders of San Clemente. It is now the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens. In the courtyard and outside of many rooms are various gardens. We especially enjoyed the many and unusual succulents. And were surprised to see so many absolutely lush with fruit.

Cactus and succulents were tucked in everywhere.

While at Casa Romantica, we got to see the artwork of an artist from San Diego, whose work was on exhibit. Her name is Erin Hanson, an oil painter who uses vivid colors and lots of paint. We both greatly admired her work. 

We continued down to the picturesque pier. There was a seafood restaurant there, Fisherman’s, and we had a great lunch. We had yummy coconut shrimp appetizers, then a cup of chowder for me followed by a pail of mussels. I just love mussels. Theresa had grilled seafood on a skewer plus another mountain of fries. We were eating on the deck with the waves directly below. It was ideal––until I bumped my bucket of mussels, which knocked over my giant glass of water. Not only did it get all over stuff on the table, but on Theresa too. Fortunately, it was a nice warm day, so that helped. I felt like such a klutz!

Even the ceiling was interesting at Casa Romantica.

Later we explored the area partly by foot and partly in the truck. And we even went for a walk on the beach. As it grew dark, we headed back and parked downtown.

We walked around, enjoying the trees along the sidewalk all decorated with Christmas lights.

Some of the cactus were most unusual.

Then we had dinner at an upscale Mexican restaurant—South of Nick’s Mexican Kitchen. Both of us had killer lobster rellenos. They were absolutely delicious as long as I kept eating. When I stopped, the burn kicked in. Theresa pointed out that there were small slices of jalapeno pepper hidden within. I found some and deleted them. I got so hot that I had to mop the perspiration off my forehead, and my mouth and lips burned. But I ate it all. It didn’t bother Theresa.

We saw this sign on our beach walk. Not exactly inviting! We thought it rather priceless!

Later, we relaxed with wine on the balcony.

Day 4, Sunday, December 15 After our breakfast routine, we explored up the coast and saw some interesting cars. Because Laguna Beach and San Clemente are quite upscale as well as parts of Newport Beach, we saw a lot of expensive cars. We saw many a Lexus, Mercedes, and BMW and a few Maseratis and Ferraris. But when we saw a sporty convertible with unusual rearview mirrors mounted on stems attached at the rear of the fenders that looked like a Batmobile from the rear, we took a second and third look.

When we pulled alongside, I couldn’t resist. I rolled down the window and shouted to the young, good-looking driver that it was a really cool car, but what was it? He shouted back that it was a Bagami or so I thought. Then I asked again and heard the same plus he added a second name, which I didn’t catch at all.

Pagani Huayra price tag is in the millions!!.

When I looked it up on my iPhone and we saw the name on the back a little later, I realized that what he actually said was Pagani and it was the Pagani Huayra. We were stunned to find that it costs $2,500,000-$2,800,000. Yes, millions! Like I said, an upscale neighborhood. It has a 750-horsepower engine, a mid-engine design, and very low production numbers. Of course, we both wanted one. Can you imagine how frustrating it must be to have 750 horses under the hood on clogged Southern California freeways? We did see it zip around cars, and eventually it was out of sight.

Mission San Juan Capistrano.

We continued on in Theresa’s almost 20-year old red Ford Ranger in our quest to find San Juan Capistrano. It took a couple of tries and exploring more countryside, but we found it. On past excursions in California, we’ve checked out nearby missions, so this was not unusual for us.

We did not expect to see exposed ruins.

But San Juan Capistrano is special. It is large and had some of the original ruins that were not embedded within different restorations. It was fascinating to see the ruins, and Serra’s Church within the mission was quite large. There is a museum and many rooms were open and provided a peek into how life used to be. We ended up in the gift shop where I bought a Christmas ornament—the one thing I collect.

Nearby was a Basilica. Since it was Sunday and services were being held there, we got to see and hear beautiful bells ring out.  

The statue of Father Junipero Serra.

On the way back, we had lunch at Siesta Café in San Clemente.  It was a typical Mexican restaurant and the food was good. I had enchiladas with rice and beans. Not too hot, this time. It was a fairly late lunch, so we skipped dinner. We still enjoyed our wine on the balcony. And this night, our last night, had a beautiful red sunset. Just gorgeous!

Day 5, Monday, December 16––We continued our breakfast routine each day of our trip.  This morning was different, though; we were leaving. The weather had been perfect every day, and our room was very nice. We loved the balcony. From our perch on high, we felt like we got to know some of the neighbors and routines on the street.

Inside the Serra Church at San Juan Capistrano.

We packed up and checked out at 10:40 a.m. Just made the 11 a.m. check out deadline. By 11 a.m., we were on the road.

Later, we stopped in Newport Beach and had lunch at Mama’s Comfort Food & Cocktails right on the harbor. It was a bit funky and had the most incredible menu. It must have had 100 items or more on it. The food was great, and, once again, very filling. I had a lobster roll and Theresa breakfast sliders and fries.

We had some terrific meals on this trip. I guess we could call our trip how Judy and Theresa ate their way around Southern California.

We took a more direct route back––the Pacific Coast Highway up to Hwy 55 to the 405 freeway. What a slog along the 405––soooo much traffic and barely moving! Poor Theresa was worn out by the time we got to her place in Porter Ranch by 3:35. She had wanted to be back before 4 p.m. That’s when traffic really gets bad! Hmm!

The ocean between San Clemente and Laguna Beach and part of our memories of this trip.

It was a wonderful trip. A chance for Theresa to get away and for me to get some warmer weather. And for both of us to enjoy a chance to be together to enjoy each other’s company. . . . Now we have to think about where our next trip will take us.

About crossingsauthor

Judy Fleagle spent 22 years teaching 1st and 2nd grades and 21 years as editor/staff writer with Oregon Coast and Northwest Travel magazines.Since 2009, she has written five books: "Crossings: McCullough's Coastal Bridges," "The Crossings Guide to Oregon's Coastal Spans," "Around Florence," "Devil Cat and Other Colorful Animals I Have Known," and "The Oregon Coast Guide to the UNEXPECTED!!!."
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