What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I was pounding the pavement under the warm sun, elbow to elbow with Angelenos out for a post-Thangsgiving breather. Today, the sky is moody and continually dropping rain. Outside, overflowing gutters are spluttering from exhaustion. The gardens, however, are rejoicing. Goodbye sunny temp, hello wintry December.
The first of June fell on a Saturday. The news promised temperatures in the three-digits*; luckily, it turned out to be pleasantly sunny and breezy. The beach beckoned – we responded.
(Again, I only had the phone on me but I aim to photograph with the Nikon… soon! Oh and, *, that’s in Fahrenheit.)
Located about 40 minutes away from Williamsburg, Brooklyn – a car drive that includes a couple of turns and two long stretches of road – lies Rockaway Beach in the borough of Queens. This is the largest urban beach in America; its wide stretches of sand and dunes extend along a peninsula that juts into the Atlantic Ocean.
Large apartment complexes and new residential developments line the Shore Front Parkway, along with a few green spaces and handball courts. From one of the only waterfront eating spots along the parallel Ocean Promenade Walkway, your meal choices start with fish n chip fare, and end with Oreo Cookie Italian Ice for dessert. Throw in a couple of margaritas from the adjoining Sand Bar, and enjoy the simple pleasure of watching life pass by; frequently interrupted by the sight of planes overhead, either taking off from, or approaching to land in, nearby JFK airport.
When I think back on the two years we lived in San Clemente, I begin to miss it. Living near the beach was always on my wish list, and that wish was granted when we relocated to the ‘Spanish Village by the Sea.’ However, a couple of years later, I felt the pull of the city and longed for the urban sprawl; our move to LA was short lived when a job opportunity came up in New York. I seized it; we moved back. Now, over a year later, I am frequently in a California state of mind. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
You may have heard of San Clemente through its associations with Nixon and his ‘Western White House.’ Perhaps you have spotted photos of residents such as actor Dominic Purcell, or professional skateboarder Ryan Sheckler, snapped unawares on their home turf, within the pages of a magazine. You may have even visited, lived in, or driven through San Clemente. After all, it is the midway point between Los Angeles and San Diego, and the final pit stop before you embark on a long stretch of uninterrupted army base. Maybe San Clemente is completely lost on you. Before relocating, I knew nothing of the place. I hadn’t even heard of it.
My first impression of San Clemente was that it reminded me of a beach town just outside of Sydney, Australia called Terrigal. About 25 years ago, my family used to pack up the car and set off on a week’s holiday to this beachside spot. But today’s Terrigal suffers from overdevelopment, and has lost its small town appeal. To me, San Clemente feels like Terrigal during its golden years, and I was immediately drawn to that. Until a huge hotel plops itself right across from the beach, San Clemente will continue to be a cute beach town in Orange County.
I loved to catch sight of the ocean on my daily walks. I remember breathing ‘wow’ as its blue would came into view. The Pacific Ocean was always welcoming, especially on sunny days when it would glitter and shine. On most days, the water looked like a still infinity pool, disrupted only by the waves as they lapped the shore. On other days, when the mist would fall thick and the waves would kick up a notch, surfers would suddenly appear on the horizon. They’d lay on their boards, perched like seals, in anticipation of catching the next wave. The haziness of such days was temporary as the sun would eventually peek out.
I also miss taking strolls in and around San Clemente’s maze of gently curving and undulating streets, quiet, except for the sound of an oncoming car or the blare of the train’s horn as it passed through the beachfront station. Each street was punctuated with Spanish Colonial style homes and fully tended-to gardens. On show: robust citrus trees, blooming bougainvillea, cacti, and if I was lucky, a hummingbird hovering over a bottle brush tree (this is when nostalgia would set is in as the bottle brush is endemic to Australia). As symbolic as palm trees are to the city of Los Angeles, San Clemente’s streets are filled with them. They are not the city’s official city tree – that’s the Coral tree — they aren’t even native to the terrain, but they look like they belong and the scene wouldn’t be complete without them.
Why all this reminiscing? Well, when I think of San Clemente, three things come to mind. The ocean, the outdoors, and the Blue Danube restaurant, which was the reason we moved to San Clemente. If it wasn’t for the Blue Danube, where my husband was offered a job, we might have never moved to the West Coast. And we recently found out that the restaurant will be closing its doors forever. San Clemente is not renowned for its dining scene; however, it is undeniable that the Blue Danube Restaurant is the grandest of all the dining establishments in the area, spanning 10,000 square feet. Its Austrian-inspired menu never failed to please with Weiner schnitzel, spaetzle and red cabbage. Formerly the site of San Clemente’s first jailhouse, the restaurant includes a number of themed rooms, including two jail cells that were transformed into private dining rooms.
We hold a great many memories at the Blue Danube. I remember feasting on gravy-soaked turkey and my favourite side of mash on the restaurant patio at Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and friends. I remember attending an elaborate family wedding – just when I had thought it would be impossible to use every square inch of the restaurant space, I was proven wrong on that day. I’ll never forget enjoying a delectable homemade cheese strudel with a Vienna coffee, appropriately surrounded by Gustav Klimt artworks. I’ll never forget the beautiful sounds of the piano, as the restaurant’s owner played classical music upon request. Not having the Blue Danube around means that it won’t be possible to create any more memories there. Aside from the memories, perhaps the thing that sticks out most in my mind is the love and support that the restaurant’s owners – Ali’s family – extended to us during our time in San Clemente. I hope their next adventure will be as exciting as the one of the past decade.
And San Clemente – we’ll be back sooner than you think.