Were it not for President Richard Nixon, San Clemente may have remained a relatively unknown spot on the Pacific Coast. Which would have been fine — it could have just rested on its laurels — but the heightened interest helped a bit.
I didn’t know much about San Clemente, the so-named “Spanish Village by the Sea,” when I moved there four years ago. Although my husband and I were lured back to NY within two years, when we visited the seaside town last week, it felt as if we were “home.”
Reflecting on my time in San Clemente, I realise how much I love it, which was something that didn’t strike me as obviously when I lived there. San Clemente was where I spent my early thirties. It was where I fell in love with the Southern Californian way of life. Looking around, I take in the town’s colourful, hilly landscape, the dazzling infinite ocean. I realise how lucky I was to live in its warm climate, I recall how comfortable it was to exist in its relaxed vibe. I associate an extremely precious memory with this town: it is where I got engaged and married to my wonderful husband.
As I have written a short memoir of my time in San Clemente here, An Ode to San Clemente, I will simply some historical facts here along with a series of recent photos (as well as two borrowed vintage ones).
If you’ve seen Frost/Nixon, you may have heard San Clemente mentioned in passing. This is where the 37th American president built a part-time home in 1969. Nixon named it “La Casa Pacifica,” which ended up nicknamed “Western White House.” Influential figures – Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, Mexican President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, and Henry Kissinger amongst others – stopped in San Clemente while visiting the mansion. Not bad international exposure.
Having had to resign after the Watergate scandal, Nixon moved to San Clemente full time to write his memoirs. In 1980, he and his wife relocated to the East Coast. Today, his former estate exists as a divided lot and a large proportion of the house was rebuilt.
Nixon’s home was built in the town’s signature Spanish Colonial style. The gardens were flush with bougainvillea, the city’s flower.
After Ole Hanson founded the city in 1925, he’d said, “I have a clean canvas and I am determined to paint a clean picture.” He saw the potential of San Clemente as a retreat from urban life; he thought the coastline was romantic.
The passing train hoots its horn whenever it passes through San Clemente — the blare scares every single person exercising along the graveled walkway that runs by the scarcely barricaded train track.
Known as the Pacific Surfliner route, the train track hugs the coastline between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, and make stops at Los Angeles and San Clemente Pier (sometimes) enroute.
Noted as the 60th busiest Amtrak station — out of 73 — in California, San Clemente Pier station sees about 25 passengers daily. Remember, this is a vacation town, and nearly everyone else drives.
Crossing the train tracks leads you to San Clemente’s Pier and beach, the most populated part of the town.
Here, you’ll see surfers either waxing their boards or floating on the Pacific – perched, waiting, readying to catch the next wave. Plenty of people visit Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant. Located at the beach-end of the pier, its dining room and terrace, which hangs over the ocean, are supported by stilts.
At various times of the day, the pier is lined with fishermen, patiently wait for bite. Ocean gazers abound.
If you spot a hummingbird, count it your lucky day. They’re so fun to watch, these small birds with a beaks as pointy as tapestry needles. Their wings flutter hundreds of times a minute as they hover mid-air. Blink, and they’re gone.
Suffice to say, San Clemente is alluring. I wonder if we’ll ever return and stay again for a while.