Intermission II: The LA Tourist Speaks

I asked my sister, Katherine, to list her LA: Top 5. Being a first timer in the city, I’m not surprised that she responded with the following:

1. Hiking to the Hollywood Sign.

2. Walking Hollywood Boulevard.

3. Driving through Orange County – to Laguna Beach and San Clemente.

4. Exploring Beverly Hills and witnessing everything it is known for – the Lamborghinis; the brand name stores – Gucci, Prada; Rodeo Drive…

5. Drinking a Moroccan mint matcha latte at Urth Caffe in Santa Monica.

Though I’m a resident of LA, even I get excited when I glimpse the Pacific Ocean’s shimmer on a sunny day, take a Star Line tour of Hollywood stars’ homes, and hopscotch the Hollywood Walk of Fame. While Kath’s Top 5 may read like that of a guidebook, it’s a worthy list that reminds me that all that glitters in LA really is gold to the tourist.

My sis and me peeking over the fence at "that" sign

My sis and me peeking over the fence at “that” sign

Hollywood Sign c/o the iphone

Hollywood Sign c/o the iPhone

Top of the Sign

Top of the Sign


Looking over LA

Kath looking over LA


Lucille Ball's old home

Lucille Ball’s old home in Beverly Hills

Bijan's Bugatti

Bijan’s million+ Bugatti on Rodeo Drive

Harry Winston store on Rodeo Drive

Harry Winston store on Rodeo Drive





Oz premiere on Hollywood Blvd

Oz premiere on Hollywood Blvd


Chilling at the pool at the Loews Hotel hollywood

Chilling at the pool at the Loews Hotel Hollywood

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach


Warming the fingertips - Montage Hotel Laguna Beach

Warming the fingertips – Montage Hotel Laguna Beach

Photo Shoot at Treasure Island Park, Laguna Beach

Photo Shoot at Treasure Island Park, Laguna Beach

The Pacific

The Pacific

San Clemente - through Katherine's rose coloured glasses

San Clemente – through Katherine’s rose coloured glasses

My sis, Kath, with her fave Moroccan Mint matcha drink at Urth Caffe

My sis, Kath, with her fave Moroccan Mint matcha drink at Urth Caffe


Alluring San Clemente – Orange County, CA

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).

Please enjoy!


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.

Nixon’s Home in San Clemente ~ Photographer: Everett

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 relaxes by his swimming pool in San Clemente, CA.
RNWHPO: White House Photo Office Collection (Nixon Administration) / NARA

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.

San Clemente is prettier thanks to its manicured gardens. You’ll see cacti, California lilacs, hot-pink bougainvillea, bright-red bottlebrush, Mexican sage, and palm trees.

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.

All the while, the Pacific provides a captivating backdrop. Sometimes it’s calm, sometimes it’s wild, sometimes it’s hidden under a layer of fog.

Suffice to say, San Clemente is alluring. I wonder if we’ll ever return and stay again for a while.

A Glimpse: Kaleidoscopic Kalifornia

Looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses…

Well, any pair of sunglasses will do as a sun-drenched Southern California – affectionately referred to as SoCal – naturally dons a pink tinged hue.

Having lived in San Clemente and Los Angeles for two years, it was exhilarating to return to the old stomping grounds after over a year-long absence. Complete immersion meant a daily embrace of the great outdoors; watching the changing colours of an always spectacular sunset; and falling, with ease, into a laid-back lifestyle that included much coffee-and-carb indulgence by day, and pressing of lip-to-champagne flute by night.

Sun-soaking and gastronomy aside (these activities were/are by no means mutually exclusive), admiring SoCal’s vistas was a soul-awakener. Appreciating its wild and urban landscapes through a fresh pair of eyes inevitably brought to mind the cliché: “The grass is always greener…”

What I love about SoCal are those pops of colour that are woven into its fabric, be it natural or with compliments of a street artist. Like a daily vitamin boost, the bright paintbox used to decorate the region provides a natural high; the various shades of bright-against-brighter are a quick fix to lift the spirit, even when rolling out of bed to welcome a fog-induced or overcast day.

All the while, a predominance of pink against green abounds.

During my travels in SoCal, I attempted to throw any, and all, of its stereotypes to the wind. I wanted to appreciate it from a grass-roots level; at the same time, acknowledge those industries – film, architecture, arts – that put its cities on the map.

I achieved that as best I could in a short space of time. The evidence is in the details.

Enjoy the prologue to a series of posts that I’m looking forward to dedicating to SoCal’s natural and urban palette. Starting from the southermost point of the trip, in Carlsbad, and ending in Los Angeles County – to the north, I hope you’ll join me on this trip.

A note of caution: the communities of SoCal are so diverse and spread out, you may feel as if you’re jumping from town, to ‘hood, to hilltop – all in one post. No fear: this is simply an introduction.

I’d be interested in your feedback – opinions, perceptions, and experiences – of Southern California. What you love about it, and what you don’t; what you may associate with it, and what may come as a surprise to you.

“Every time you can walk in another person’s shoes, the world is a slightly better place.” ~Anthony Bourdain

For now, enjoy an introduction to the makeup of SoCal!


A blindingly bright sun, vast spaces, and the smell of a nearby ocean are instant reminders as to why Southern California is one of the best places to live well.


The Flower Fields are located in the coastal city of Carlsbad – a necessary stop for those who have always dreamt of being engulfed in a mass of blooms, not unlike those of Dutch tulip fields. Here, the slopes of the hills at Carlsbad Ranch are painted in stripes of yellow, white, purple, orange, and red, in a grid-like formation; crops of ranunculus flower for 2 months of the year during the spring. Symbolic of new life – regeneration through replanted bulbs – this sea of blooms set against a backdrop of infinite blue is a dazzling sight.

Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts. ~ Sigmund Freud

I’ve always thought my flowers had souls. ~ Myrtle Reed

A scenic drive, further up the coast…


… along Route 5, a highway edged by palms and decorated with a glistening ground-cover of the flowering evergreen Purple Ice plant; past the military site of Camp Pendleton, after which the road eventually leads into the Nixon-associated town of San Clemente, in Orange County (OC).

The hot pink of Bougainvillea is so prominent; the plant’s foliage and blooms spill over the terraces of Spanish Colonial styled villas and fringe the pathways of San Clemente’s residential streets.

A sparkly ocean mesmerises visitors and residents; its waves seduce surfers. Located close to the equator, the sun always shines brighter in this vacation town.

A little more north…


A leisurely twenty minute ocean-side drive ebbs and flows as the road leads into luxe Laguna Beach. Inspiration for artists since the 1800s, its steep cliffs are testament to the beauty of an unspoiled landscape; their rugged faces filled with homes, as well as an assortment of native shrubbery and flowers, punctuated by statuesque palms along the upper edges.

Laguna: a retreat for writers, Hollywood stars, and artists. Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Rudolph Valentino, John Steinbeck, and Mickey Rooney escaped here. The house below is located in the space where Bette Davis’ former home stood.

The expanse of blue hues viewed from the Rooftop Lounge of the historic La Casa del Camino Hotel call for endless champagne toasts. Twist my arm.

I’ve always found that seafood served near the ocean tastes better. Decadent eel sushi and cold bold sake at Hapi Sushi; the restaurant’s name, perhaps a spin on the oft-felt emotion of travelers and residents who wrap themselves in Laguna’s lush surroundings.


Traveling a couple of hours, away from the OC and into Los Angeles County. The freeway traffic flow is a steady one, for the most part.


In an inland direction: LA’s urban sprawl is made up of a number of vastly different communities. The city boasts an enviable sunset – its brush stroke of pink, yellow, purple and gold along the horizon is best seen from Griffith Observatory, up in the hills near Griffith Park.


Minutes away – say 15 or so, sans traffic – downtown LA bustles. Surprisingly easy to navigate, this part of the county is undergoing a revival. Art galleries, historic architecture, and new dining spots feed off of one another in an area on the up. Downtown living means escapism in the midst of skyscrapers. Perfect example: Figueroa Hotel’s pool terrace is a resting spot for the uninhibited in the midst of surrounding commerce.

Nearby, the fruits borne by a neighbourhood undergoing gentrification: lofts, Porshes, and blushing blooms.

In the midst of it all, a creative community resides; its art colours a still-industrial neighbourhood.

In another part of downtown, more art abounds. Amongst institutions dedicated to contemporary works and music, stands an undulating design by Frank Gehry: the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Reminiscent of SoCal’s natural surroundings, a part of its architecture takes on the look of an unopened tulip; even a rosebud, nipped.

Further afield, close to downtown LA…


Los Angeles County Museum of Art makes for a bold statement through design, colour, and a palm-dominated landscape. Its exterior is as beautiful as its art filled interior.

Better still: the Renzo Piano designed outdoor/indoor dining space – Ray’s and Stark Bar – doesn’t shy away from serving up heady liquid artworks of its own. Tequila, orange, and ice – such are the beverages prepared by innovators manning the liquor cabinet.

Onwards toward creative pastures of a different nature, not too far away…


Overcast skies don’t darken or dampen the ambiance of bohemian Silver Lake; the neighbourhood brims with street art, reflective of a creative community, alongside modern architecture. Case in point: modern architect Robert Neutra’s former office is located here, by Silver Lake Reservoir.

What’s more, the resident trend-setters take their coffee very seriously. Artisans on the rise.


The plush and posh Beverly Hills is emblematic of hedonism and history; well tended gardens, magnificent mansions, grand tree lined streets; once home to Marlon Brando, Lucille Ball,and Doris Day, and now home to Bill Cosby, Rod Stewart, and Diane Keaton.

Along its wide streets, playful architecture draws on LA’s cinematic roots….

.. and gives way to classic icons -pretty in pink, the famed Beverly Hills Hotel graces Sunset Boulevard.

Close by…


A place where all the touristic action takes place. Yes, one may immediately think: Walk of Fame, the Wax Museum, and the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with handprints of celebrities implanted by its entrance. Think this once: see it all, appreciate it for what it’s worth, and move beyond the crowds.

Seek out the Cirque du Soleil, Kodak Theatre, Capitol Records Building, Amoeba Records; perhaps make some time for a glass of bubbly at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Hike even, and be wowed by viewing the Hollywood Reservoir and landmark Hollywood sign, up close.


Spectacular architecture is built into Hollywood’s hilly backdrop; the Hills are alive with modern homes, Mediterranean inspired villas, and imaginative designs of a whole other level – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House made famous by Bladerunner, and John Lautner’s Chemosphere House (below), are a couple of impressive name-droppers.

Meanwhile, modern lines and pink storefronts dominate on nearby Melrose Avenue, in West Hollywood.

Back to the coast…


Dr Feelgood: breathing in the salty air, courtesy of the Pacific, does the soul alot of good.

In this part of LA, multi-million dollar homes line the water’s edge and are set into its steep hills. Malibu Pier offers spectacular 360 degree views – for free.

Malibu – home to alcoves and private beaches, wineries, acclaimed Nobu restaurant, and the delightful Mediterranean-inspired Getty Villa. From this museum, you can view the ocean whilst staying cool in the mountains.

Its gardens are worthy of a visit alone.

Down South from Malibu…


This is the place for beachside city living and a haven for outdoor exercise pursuits – located only a half hour away from the Hollywood Hills. It’s expanse of beach is interrupted by a few volleyball courts, lifeguard huts, and a boardwalk catering to cyclists, dog-walkers, joggers, roller-bladers, and leisurely strollers.

The Santa Monica Pier can be seen from miles away; so much larger upon closer inspection. A few streets back from the beach, the city offers boutique shopping and a location of the ever-popular Urth Caffe – this is an excellent spot for coffee and farm-to-table dining.

Adjoining Santa Monica is the trendier…


Art colours the streets; restaurants are full at noon; galleries, boutiques, and homewares stores are made for window shopping and browsing. Whilst it may be known for the famed boardwalk along its Muscle Beach, a stroll along Venice’s main street, Abbott Kinney, and a meander alongside the town’s canals is a much more pleasurable experience.

In closing…

Southern California, from sunrise (if you’re up) to sunset is a beautiful area of the US. By virtue of geographic location alone, the light that colours the horizon is sublime; its ever changing hues gently unfurl from pink, to purple, to burnt yellow, to gold. Yet it is the added drama of the region’s bold urban and natural landscape that makes the experience all the more unique and memorable.

From one community to the next, colour abounds – in its architecture, natural landscaping, art, people. An entertaining kaleidoscope.

This is a sampler of SoCal; a taste of things to come.

Vintage Inspired California

Sweet life. A never ending stretch of palm fringed coastline. Rolling waves. Salty fresh air and long sunny days. Bougainvillea wrapped terraces. Glorious Pacific Ocean sunsets, from Aliso Viejo to Zuma. A gold-lit horizon. Cocktails served against infinite water views. This is Southern California.

Stretches of grassy spaces. Laguna’s steep cliff faces. Mountains overlooking a beautiful Malibu beach. Santa Monica and its famous Pier. The twinkling lights of a widespread LA. Winding hikes through Runyon Canyon. Ah, those uphill climbs! Don’t despair – they’re worth the million dollar views, once you get to the top.

From Hollywood Hills to Beverly Hills. Immaculate gardens and imaginative homes. Clean architectural lines and ranch designs. All things retro-inspired. Traditional colonial Spanish styles: elegant archways and terracotta tiles. Deck chairs, cabanas; lunch served poolside. A climate that inspires outdoor living. Such a sweet life.

The eternal glitter of The Golden Age. Silver screen and Technicolour. Hollywood stars – always remembered, never forgotten. The glamour and the rock’n’roll.  The music; the movies; and, the awards. A place of Oscars-worthy moments. The buzz of the paparazzi. The bustle of the press – the who’s who, and the best dressed. The show goes on.

Inspired, this is Southern California in monochrome style, with a splash of colour. Enjoy!

Keith Richards and Ron Wood, Los Angeles, CA, 1979 ~ Copyright Henry Diltz

Capitol Records in LA, 1959 ~ Unknown

Night: New Host International restaurant at Los Angeles airport, 1962 ~ Photograph by Ralph Crane

Los Angeles Development Boom, 1953 ~ Photograph by J.R. Eyerman

Actress Martha Hyer talking on the phone in the living room of her luxurious home, Beverly Hills, 1959 ~ Photograph Leonard Mccombe

The two photographs below show a “A landmark image in the history of modern architecture: Julius Shulman’s nighttime shot of Ann Lightbody and Cynthia Murfee in Case Study House No. 22, the Stahl residence in the Hollywood Hills, overlooking Sunset Boulevard. Architect: Pierre Koenig. The photo, taken with a Swiss-made Sinar 4×5 view camera, is a double exposure: Seven minutes for the background, then a flash shot for the interior, the house lights having been replaced with flashbulbs.”

Julius Shulman photographing the Stahl residence

Night time shot of the house, 1960 ~ Photograph by Julius Shulman

Rosen House In Los Angeles ~ Photograph Michael Rougier

Segel House on Carbon Beach, Malibu ~ Photograph by Julius Shulman

Marilyn in Malibu, 1962 ~ Photograph by George Barris

Malibu, 1938 ~ Photograph by Alfred Eisestaedt

Malibu, 1961 ~ Photograph Allan Grant

Seaside Home, CA, 1945 ~ Photograph Nina Leen

President Richard M. Nixon's Residence In San Clemente ~Photograph Arthur Schatz

Actress Singer Doris Day driving Universal Production Dept. golf cart as she waves at a saluting security guard at Universal's movie lot , 1963 ~ Photograph John Dominis

Street set used in production of movie westerns on Paramount Studios ranch, Hollywood, 1937 ~ Photograph Margaret Bourke-White

Gregory Peck at Universal City construction site, 1963 ~ LIFE magazine

Actors (L-R) Gregory Peck, Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, Sophia Loren, Doris Day (back to camera), Cary Grant, Ronald Reagan and Dorothy Malone listening to director Parker during rehearsals for 30th annual Academy Awards

Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, David Niven during a break from rehearsals for 30th annual Academy Awards show at the RKO Pantages theater, 1958 ~ Photograph Leonard Mccombe

Natalie Wood & Warren Beatty at Academy Awards, LA, 1963 ~ Photograph by Allan Grant

Audrey Hepburn wins Oscar for Best Actress in Roman Holiday, 1953 ~ Unknown

Photographers with Grace Kelly and Marlon Brando, Oscars winners for Best Actress & Actor at the 27th annual Academy Awards ceremony, RKO Pantages theater, 1955 ~ Photograph by George Silk

The 1958 Governors Ball; Elizabeth Taylor with her first Academy Award for Butterfield 8 in 1961 ~ LIFE magazine

Actor Paul Newman as a guest on Hollywood Diary Program, 1958 ~ Photograph Leonard Mccombe

Alfred Hitchcock with the MGM lion, 1958

Looking east towards Hollywood and Vine, LA, 1945

Hollywood Blvd, 1953

I love Los Angeles. It reinvents itself every two days. ~ Billy Connolly

New Host International restaurant at Los Angeles airport, 1962 ~ Photograph by Ralph Crane

'Beatles' arrive at airport on 2nd US tour, LA, 1964 ~ Photograph by Bill Ray

John Lautner’s Chemosphere house, 1961 © Julius Shulman J. Paul Getty Trust

Interior of Segel House (shown previously) ~ Photograph by Julius Shulman

Actress Bette Davis skimming through the morning papers, Beverly Hills, 1939 ~ Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Hollywood Guides, 1938 ~ Photograph Alfred Eisenstaedt

Joan Crawford at home in LA, 1949 ~ Unknown

Palms, 1932 ~ Photograph Alfred Eisenstaedt

Humphrey Bogart in his Hollywood Home ~ Architectural Digest

Hollywood Hills, 1938 ~ Photograph Alfred Eisenstaedt

Hollywood -Night Beverly Hills, 1938 ~ Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Schwabs on Sunset Blvd, 1960

Drive-In Movie, LA, 1949 ~ Photograph J.R. Eyerman

Silvertop Hollywood Dawn, 1972 ~ Available at Michel H.Lord Gallery

Happy New Year Wishes ~ An Autobiographical Post

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I find that a good quote sgive me the perspective that I need.

Closer towards the end of this year, I started this blog so that I could share stories about what I love to do most: travel. Along the way, my husband bought me a camera. And with that, another passion was born. The gift is as much about learning a new art as it is about cultivating patience.

Capturing everyday moments in NY is so much fun. Near Radio City Music Hall

Writing and photography have brought me a lot of joy over the past couple of months — I didn’t realise how much until I started compiling photo-essays and sharing them with others. In turn, I am so grateful to the supportive blogosphere and the talented authors and photographers of inspiring posts.

Whether armed with a list of resolutions or not, I hope the following quotes will inspire you for the New Year. All photographs, except those credited to Antony Schuster, are my own.

Wishing you all a very safe, healthy, and wonderful 2012!

Celebrate what you want to see more of.” ~ Tom Peters

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

“Each day is a new life. Seize it. Live it.” ~ David Guy Powers

Ground Zero

“A misty morning does not signify a cloudy day.” ~ Proverb

Golden Gate Bridge , San Francisco

“For me, the cinema is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake.” ~ Alfred Hitchcock

Mount Rushmore in Pennington County, South Dakota

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” ~Andy Warhol

Warhol monument in Union Square, NY

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” ~ Andre Gide

Sydney, Australia

“The world is round, and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.” ~ Ivy Baker

San Clemente beach, Orange County, CA

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” ~ Plato

New York Public Library, NY

“From small beginnings come great things.” ~ Proverb

St Louis Gateway Arch, Missouri

“The journey not the arrival matters.” ~ T. S. Eliot

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” ~John Lennon

At The Guggenheim Museum, NY

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which those who dream only by night may miss.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe

At the Monaco Montecarlo Railway Station, Principality of Monaco

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, or a new country.” ~ Anais Nin

Our May wedding day in Sydney, Australia ~ Photograph by Antony Schuster

“To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life.” ~ Pablo Neruda

Family Love in Sydney, Australia ~ Photograph by Antony Schuster

“Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.” ~ Alan Cohen

One of my first outings with the Nikon in Park Slope, Brooklyn

“I took some time out for life.” ~ James L. Brooks

Near Radio City Music Hall at Xmas, NY

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ~ Confucius

“Gran Elefandret” by Miquel Barcelo in Union Square, NY

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” ~ Goethe

Grand Canyon, Arizona

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” ~ Brian Littrell

“Holiday Under the Stars” at Time Warner Centre, Columbus Circle, NY

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” ~T.S. Eliot

The New York Public Library

“Drink and be thankful to the host! What seems insignificant when you have it, is important when you need it.” ~ Franz Grillparzer

Drinks with family and friends in Sydney, Australia ~ Photograph by Antony Schuster

An Ode to San Clemente

Beautiful palm trees

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.

View from San Clemente’s Pier

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.

Ocean view as one descends to the beach

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.

The start of Avenida Palizada, the main street through the town

San Clemente’s surfers

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.

The ocean view from street level

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.

Rail route through San Clemente

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.

Blue Danube