San Clemente, San Onofre, San Juan Capistrano, California

Genie Davis November 8, 2010 No Comments

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Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner San Clemente

Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner San Clemente

South of Los Angeles you’ll find beach towns beginning with “San,” Spanish for saint. Our favorite saint destinations for family outings are the beach at San Onofre, the small seaside town of San Clemente, and the well known mission and historic town of San Juan Capistrano.

San Clemente is a charming, laid back sort of community, and you can start relaxing before you even arrive if you travel by train – in fact, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner stops right at the pier. The train ride itself, whether you’re coming from Los Angeles, San Diego or farther originations, is a great treat for kids. Watching the ocean-front scenery slip past is fun for adults, too. If you’re into trains, reaching San Clemente via the railroad offers some R & R to parents used to spending too much time behind the wheel and a novel alternative for the kids compared to other forms of travel. It’s a promise: your kids will love taking the train here. If you’re taking a car-less trip, you can literally just sit back and watch the city fall away and as you arrive along the coast, the ride transports you to another time as well as place – a gentler, easier life style.

San Clemente Pier Southern California

San Clemente Pier Southern California

But however you reach the San Clemente pier, once you get there, you’ll get the relaxation vibe going quickly by strolling it. The pier itself is long – over twelve hundred feet – and offers some of the best sunset viewing in SoCal. It also offers a fine fish lunch or dinner at the aptly named Fisherman’s Restaurant which has a glassed-in deck right on the pier. The ocean views are wonderful. You can often catch a surf competition in San Clemente on the weekend, and you’ll have a great view from the restaurant or the pier.

San Clemente’s old fashioned homeyness continues at the San Clemente Inn, which offers warm, comfortable and commodious rooms, large enough for a family of four, and it’s close to the beach. The Beachcomber Motel has smaller rooms but is ocean front, and features a fire pit for night time marshmallow roasting. The beach itself is clean, broad, and soft; the water’s warm here by Southern California standards.

Just south of town is another fine beach, the long sandy stretch known as San Onofre. San O is also home to a large nuclear power plant at the southern end of this state park sand. Despite the tell-tale power plant domes, this park is a beautifully untouched beachfront. At the end of the beach closest to the plant is a stretch of beach territory known as “Old Man’s.” This area has the gentlest surf, and surfing and boogie boarding schools often rely on this area to teach. It’s also a great spot for kids, as the coastal waters are gentle and shallow for a long stretch. Be sure to wear water shoes though, the sand is interspersed with rocks and pebbles here. This is a great spot to spy dolphins in the water and whales during migratory season. And there are playgrounds and thatched straw huts shading picnic tables located along the sand, making the beach even more child friendly.

At the other end of the beach you’ll enjoy watching world class surfers at Trestles, named for the railroad tracks nearby. A long and leisurely beach walk from Old Man’s to Trestles is a lot of fun, although it can be a long walk back, for little feet. Speaking of walks, there are some easy trails to take along the sandstone bluffs that offer a lovely view of this three thousand acre coast and canyon-land park.

If camping is your thing, San Mateo campground just above the beach has coastal views, hot showers, and comfortably spacious campsites with fire rings. We’ve come on several visits here enjoying the excellent star gazing. It’s an easy stroll, or easier still drive, from the beach below. A pleasant nature trail leads from the camp grounds down to the Trestles end of San Onofre beach; and San Mateo Creek offers enjoyable wading and rock collecting near by. We found the atmosphere here to be very family friendly; maybe it’s the fact that the camp ground is easy to navigate and not in a wilderness area, or the relaxed atmosphere on the beach, but there are usually many families staying here.

And for our last ‘sainted’ stop – San Juan Capistrano. This community is Orange County’s oldest, and as such contains many lovely and historic buildings and monuments. The best known is the Mission, which along with its status as the seventh of twenty-one missions formed across the state, is also home to a lush and lovely multi-acre garden filled with flowers, plants, and fountains. Our kids loved seeing the koi fish and the humming birds frequenting the flowers. The mission also memorializes California history, with a museum that explores Native American, Spanish, and European history pertaining to the mission. While much of the mission has been rebuilt, there is an original chapel still standing. The grounds make a great place for children to explore, with its gardens, many door ways leading into recreations of living spaces, and the church itself with its beautiful alter. There are almost always butterflies to chase, too.

San Juan Capistrano Mission Southern California

San Juan Capistrano Mission

The Living History Society of Mission San Juan Capistrano provides authentically costumed guides on the second Saturday of each month, and they serve as a font of information about the mission’s history and operation.

After exploring the mission, smaller travelers will enjoy a brief walk just down the street and across the railroad tracks to Zoomars Petting Zoo. This sweet, clean, and well maintained zoo features goats and chickens, rabbits, sheep, and other baby animals. It’s totally tot sized and the staff is friendly and kind.

Time for lunch or ready for dinner? We like Ciao Pasta right on the main street, Camino Capistrano, and across from the Mission. The pastas are great and while this is a fine dining establishment, families are welcomed. day, the outdoor patio is a lovely spot to enjoy some house made pasta while listening to the Mission bells mark the hour.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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