7 Best Things to Do in San Clemente

Updated: November 26, 2021 | Has affiliate links

Best things to do in San Clemente
San Clemente represents the typical postcard-perfect California beach town. Full with California vibe, San Clemente has developed in recent years into a true tourist attraction both for locals and visitors from far away. Come along with me as we explore my favorite things to do in San Clemente.

My Favorite Things to Do in San Clemente

San Clemente Pier seen from Casa Romantica vista point
San Clemente Pier seen from Casa Romantica vista point
See my photos from San Clemente

Here is a short list of my favorite attractions in San Clemente.

The San Clemente Pier area is the main attraction because of the beautiful views and restaurants.

The beaches at San Clemente are at the heart of San Clemente’s appeal, especially in the summer.

Casa Romantica is a beautiful Mediterranean historical building with gorgeous views of the pier area.

San Clemente Coastal Trail is a beautiful walking trail running parallel with the coast.

Del Mar Street winds it’s way down to the beach and it is lined up with restaurants and shops as well as beautiful houses.

The San Clemente outlets is a newly designed shopping area filled with every brand you can think of.

1. Walk on San Clemente Pier

San Clemente Pier is among the best things to do in San Clemente
San Clemente Pier seen from the beach
See my photos from San Clemente

Originally built in 1928, rebuilt twice since then, and renovated in 2009, the San Clemente Pier is the city’s most recognizable landmark. Visiting the 1,296 foot long pier is one of the things to do in San Clemente, as it has some of the best ocean views, with waves visible on either side of the pier. Walking back to shore, there are views of San Clemente’s hills and mountains.

The Pier offers plenty of things to do in San Clemente. In the evening, the sunsets are picturesque to watch. Benches on the pier invite people to sit down and fish, take pictures, people watch, or to enjoy the ocean and beach views. A bait shop sits near the end of the pier. Surfers catch waves measuring 3-4 feet from the pier’s north side.

San Clemente Pier Visiting Tips: The pier is open from 4 AM to Midnight. Metered vehicle parking is available at the San Clemente Pier Bowl Parking lot on Avenida Victoria. If you don’t fish, you can still enjoy fresh seafood at the Fisherman’s Restaurant on the left hand side of the pier or at the Fisherman’s Bar, on the right hand side of the pier.

2. Go to the Beach in San Clemente

Surfers coming out of the water at San Clemente beach
Surfers coming out of the water at San Clemente beach

One of the key things to do in San Clemente is to spend time on one of the city’s many beaches. San Clemente’s beaches stretch along the coast for four miles. Most of the beaches are narrow and have high bluffs, with railroad tracks at the foot of the bluffs. The beach vibe is laid back, making the beaches ideal for swimming, surfing, sunbathing, picnicking, and family fun.

Surfers flock to San Clemente’s beaches to catch challenging waves. In the spring, San Clemente beachgoers can witness nighttime grunion runs. Children can take a break from water fun at playgrounds located at some beaches. Evening bonfires occur at five San Clemente beaches. Many visit San Clemente’s beaches just to view spectacular sunsets.

San Clemente Beaches Visiting Tips: Amtrak and Metrolink trains stop at the stations adjacent to North Beach and San Clemente City Beach. Metered and paid parking areas are located at or near each beach. The state-run beaches have campsites that require advance reservations. The main lifeguard tower at the San Clemente Pier Beach is staffed from 8:20 AM to dusk. Lifeguard towers at other beaches open later and close earlier.

3. Visit Casa Romantica

Casa Romantica overlooks the beach and the ocean
Casa Romantica overlooks the beach and the ocean

History buffs will find touring the Casa Romantica and its grounds one of the things to see and do in San Clemente. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens was the home of San Clemente founder Ole Hanson. Designed by Carl Lindbom, Hanson built the Spanish Colonial-revival house in 1927 and used it as a model for developing the rest of San Clemente. Following a 2001-2003 renovation, The Casa Romantica reopened to the public as a cultural center.

The Casa Romantica hosts many things to do in San Clemente, including concerts, workshops, classes, recitals, film screenings, holiday events, and lectures. A self-guided audio tour highlights the house and the 2 1/2 acres of gardens that are divided into ten separate sections with an emphasis on coastal landscaping. Some of the plants are original to the house.

Casa Romantica Visiting Tips: Admission tickets must be purchased in advance. There is free admission on the first Sunday of each month. Groups of four or more may arrange for a docent-led tour. The Casa Romantica is closed on Mondays and federal holidays. Event schedules are posted on Casa Romantica’s website.

Casa Romantica Website

4. Walk The San Clemente Beach Coastal Trail

The San Clemente Beach Coastal Trail runs parallel with the beautiful coastline
The San Clemente Beach Coastal Trail runs parallel with the beautiful coastline
See my photos from San Clemente

The San Clemente Beach Coastal Trail, 2.3 miles long, connects San Clemente’s beaches, allowing walkers, runners, and bicyclists to travel between San Clemente’s North Beach and Calafia Beach. The flat, scenic trail provides fabulous views of the ocean, bluffs, and railroad tracks, making it one of the more picturesque things to do in San Clemente.

Railroad tracks run along the San Clemente Beach Coastal Trail, with the tracks crossing the trail twice. The trail surface is mostly compact beach sand. A quarter-mile long boardwalk bridge ten feet above the ground crosses a creek and a small brush forest. There are spectacular views of beach houses on top of the flora-covered cliffs. While Calafia Beach is the end of the trail, those who journey beyond the trail, past the beach, may be rewarded with a glimpse of migrating whales and frolicking dolphins.

San Clemente Beach Coastal Trail Visiting Tips: Train riders can access the Trail from the North Beach and San Clemente Pier stations. Parking is available at or near most beaches. Bicyclists are limited to speeds of 10 MPH and there are areas where you must walk your bike. You can rent a bicycle at Bicycles San Clemente. Dogs must be on a leash. Dog waste bags and containers are located throughout the trail. There are cafes at either end of the trail and the Fisherman’s restaurant and Fisherman’s Bar are at San Clemente Pier.

5. Walk Around Avenida Del Mar

French Pastries for sale on Avenida de Mar
French Pastries for sale on Avenida de Mar
See my photos from San Clemente

Strolling along Avenida Del Mar on a pleasant day is one of the top things to do in San Clemente. One of San Clemente’s main streets, Avenida Del Mar is the hub of the city’s downtown, with locally owned shops, restaurants, and services. Many of the buildings feature Spanish architecture. Trees line both sides of the pedestrian-friendly street.

Avenida Del Mar’s shops include several boutiques featuring fashion-forward, vintage, bohemian, and resort apparel. Two popular surf shops are located across Avenida Del Mar from each other. A variety of restaurants offer indoor and outdoor dining and takeout. A winery and a brewery have tasting rooms on Avenida Del Mar. For those seeking coffee or ice cream, there are independently owned coffee cafes and ice cream shops.

Avenida Del Mar Visiting Tips: While Avenida Del Mar runs from El Camino Real to Alameda Lane, the shops and restaurants are located between El Camino Real and Calle Seville. Avenida Del Mar has limited street parking. A public parking lot is located behind the San Clemente Library. Two annual events, a Classic Car Show in June, and a Street Fair in August, take place on Avenida Del Mar.

6. Ride the San Clemente Trolley

A San Clemente trolley stop near the train station
A San Clemente trolley stop near the train station

In the summer months, the San Clemente Trolley takes passengers to all of the things to do in San Clemente. The Trolley, the city’s free public transportation system, operates from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, with occasional weekend service running through Veteran’s Day. The trolley-shaped buses run along two separate routes at fifteen minute intervals.

The Trolley’s Red Line stops at the Pier, Avenida Del Mar, and other downtown San Clemente destinations. The Blue Line stops at Mira Costa and San Gorgonio Parks and connects to neighboring Dana Point’s free seasonal trolley service. Both lines service the Outlets at San Clemente, a shopping center with Spanish architectural style buildings, which, for serious shoppers, is on top of the list of things to do in San Clemente.

San Clemente Trolley Visiting Tips: San Clemente Trolleys pick up and drop off passengers at clearly signed trolley stops. The trolleys run from 12 Noon to 10 PM during the week, from 10 AM to 10 PM on Saturdays, and from 10 AM to 8 PM on Sundays. Holiday schedules will vary. Some trolley stops are also serviced by Orange County Transportation District buses and Metrolink trains. A downloadable San Clemente Trolley route map can be found at San Clemente’s city website.

San Clemente Trolley Website

7. Shop at the San Clemente Outlets

Outlets at San Clemente have become a recent tourist attraction
Outlets at San Clemente have become a recent tourist attraction
See my photos from San Clemente

A somewhat recent addition to San Clemente are the new outlet stores. Featuring all the major fashion brands and many smaller ones, the San Clemente Outlet Mall has become a tourist attraction in itself.
San Clemente Outlet Stores

Plan Your Trip to San Clemente

Stay in San Clemente at the idyllic Beachcomber Inn with a gorgeous view of the beach and pier area.  Located right on a small hilltop overlooking the beach, this place exudes California vibe. For more options, you can also look for other budget hotels in San Clemente.

Is San Clemente Worth Visiting?

San Clemente has become one of our favorite California beach towns. We love walking down to the pier area and looking back at the hillside, with its rows of old Spanish style houses lined up and meandering on their way to the beach area. Small and quaint, San Clemente is a beautiful place to visit on a sunny weekend or even take a week to explore this beautiful area in and around San Clemente. I would definitely say yes, San Clemente is worth visiting.

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