As promised here’s the next leg of our epic Californian adventure this summer! If you missed part one you’ll find it here.
After we left Ventura Beach we headed straight (via a huge supermarket stop) to San Clemente which would be our home from home for the next 17 nights! It’s a small ocean front town about sixty miles south of Los Angeles and a similar distance north of San Diego.
You’ve probably never heard of it. I hadn’t until I followed one of my Instagram favourites, Rebecca at RVK Loves’ trip there in January and read her blog. Rebecca found it by accident as they were looking for a beachside town in the vicinity of Los Angeles (having visited the area many times before) and found the pricing to be a little more reasonable and then accidentally fell in love with it.
We did a bit of research and stalked the area on Instagram (it’s such a useful tool if you search a place) and realised that some of the US’s best surfers are based there -so that had James on board! It seemed like a small enough town that we would feel safe letting the boys explore on their own, the beach looked great and the downtown area really pretty so we found an Air bNb that looked like it might work and crossed our fingers!
As we arrived at Mariposa House we knew instantly we would be very comfortable there. It had everything we needed and the (steep) walk down to and back from the beach was only five minutes which was perfect. I’m going to be honest though and say that it took twenty four hours for the ‘vibe’ of San Clemente to sink in. I was a little worried at first.
In my head I’d imagined hiring a bike with a child seat on the back and while the boys all did the boy stuff, Lila and I would cycle to town, grab coffee, go to the park, have a mooch in the shops, go for a little paddle at the beach…… in reality the gradient of the hill between our house and the beach meant that that just wouldn’t be safe. It also took me a while to cope with the fact that all mornings are cloudy in this area. More often than not it’s baking hot and blue skies by 10am but sometimes it didn’t clear up until 2 or 3pm (like the days we first arrived.)
We also arrived on the weekend which has a very different (and much much busier) feel to it than weekdays. Traffic is awful and the beaches are packed. It also took us a while to figure out where ‘downtown’ (i.e the only road where you can actually walk between the shops, restaurants and coffee shops as opposed to driving the massive scary truck) was and to top things off the day before we arrived, the beach had been closed by lifeguards due to great white shark sightings. Yep…. it took us a few days to settle in.
But on the third morning James woke up and just said we all needed to just slow down and relax. 17 nights is a long time to get to know one place and as we’d been on the road with limited time to see everything we wanted to see we were all a bit wired. He was absolutely right. Almost a whole day pottering about doing very little and we all had little independent explores and suddenly San Clemente was all we needed it to be. we decided to plan out our days so that we stayed put at the weekends and did a few jollies and adventures in the week when it was quieter and that seemed to work perfectly.
First jolly was a trip back towards LA to Laguna Beach. This is the real heart of Orange County – you can imagine the Real Housewives lunching here easily. There were some gorgeous (pricey) shops to explore and we had a great lunch on the beach at Driftwood Kitchen followed by a good paddle in the ocean.
Another jolly (and one of my favourites) was one of those days that you expect to hate but end up loving. By complete accident the US Open of Surfing was taking place about half an hour up the coast at Huntington Beach (it happens every year so do try and fit in a visit if you are planning to go over the summer.) The boys and their Dad were desperate to go but I thought it would be horrendously busy and without tickets as such I didn’t expect we’d get much of a look in. But we left early, parked easily and realised that as the competition takes place in the ocean on a public beach, tickets are irrelevant! You just pitch up and grab your spot on the beach like any other day!
It was busy but bearably so and there was so much to see. We actually loved Huntington Beach – white sands and good water quality. All the beaches we visited had loads of Baywatch style lifeguards so they all felt safe. Behind the beach there were lots of activities and also a massive skateboarding setup (it’s also a skateboarding competition) and vert ramp where Finn accidentally met about three of his idols. The boys were in heaven and I could hang out on the beach watching all the insta posers and surf dudes. It was a fun day and the boys actually returned for the final (didn’t want to risk the business with Lila.)
Speaking of surfing James bought a second hand board on Facebook marketplace for $100 and sold it for $60 when we left so he was happy! I also stumbled upon my dreamy vintage cruiser bike for $40 in a vintage store which I snapped up and then sold on Facebook marketplace when we left for $35. Didn’t get to ride around with Lila but took full advantage of the miles and miles of trails that go right alongside the beach all the way along the coast. One morning I met the family at Dana Point about three miles north for a beach morning and then cycled back. With the ocean breeze it felt brilliant and helped burn off some of those inevitable breakfast pancakes!
We only went south on one day. We had intended to explore San Diego on a couple of trips but ended up really enjoying not being in the car so the day that we did go we made sure we visited the world famous San Diego Zoo. Zoos can be divisive and I’d say it was the most natural environment of any zoo I’d been to. They clearly do a lot of work to help boost numbers of endangered species but inevitably you do feel like you’re being sold to on every corner (I guess it’s an amusement park really.) Highlights were seeing orangutans and the polar bear – both looked pretty active and content despite being pretty far out of their natural habitats. It’s a big zoo and easily took a whole day. We took a picnic (as we did everywhere…. it took us about two days to get bored of spending $50 on five crappy sandwiches!)
And speaking of amusement parks…. after much deliberation we did a day at Disneyland. It ended up being Finn’s birthday treat as he’s a huge Star Wars fan and they have recently opened the new section and ride ‘Galaxy’s Edge.’ I’ve now been to all three Disneys (I’m not a superfan but can get sucked in) and I’d say the California one is a step up from Paris (the sunshine helps a lot) but almost identical in size (obviously the new Star Wars bit makes it a bit bigger.) It’s nowhere near Disney World. We had a great day but there’s always so much pressure to get your money’s worth when you do Disney and this usually crashes at breakneck speed against the time you waste standing in queues. I think we agreed it will probably be our last Disney trip and I’m ok with that.
The other highlight of San Clemente came almost every evening without fail. The sunsets were magnificent and we became very fond of an early evening dip in the sea (lifeguards stayed on duty until sunset), a little sundowner picnic and a glorious sunset. On Finn’s actual birthday we added pizza to the mix and all was well with the world.
17 nights was perfect and we were ready to move on to our last week of adventures and I’ll tell you all about those very soon in Part 3.