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The 5 Best Reasons to Visit San Clemente, California, in Fall

Patty visited San Clemente for six nights and fell in love with the sweet city, nicknamed the Spanish Village by the Sea.

Is San Clemente Worth Visiting?

Yes! San Clemente is a treasure, especially in the off-season months. With mild temperatures, amazing sunsets, and smaller crowds (meaning discounted prices on everything), this southern California gem is a must-go for autumn travelers.

San Clemente fell across our radar when we started talking about a week-long trip to the west coast last November. At first, the plan was to travel the Pacific Coast Highway north to south with nightly stops to visit some of the iconic sites along the way. But due to Covid 19 pandemic precautions, we decided to tone the trip down a bit and instead booked a six-night stay in San Clemente, one hour south of San Diego, in Orange County, California.

San Clemente Pier Beach in November

San Clemente Pier Beach in November

1. Endless Summer All Year Round

Natives of the frigid north, Rob and I both navigate toward warmer climates in the fall; we don't like to be cold. And since our vacation somehow always ends up being in the last few months of the year, we have started looking toward the southwest region of the coastal United States, an area that is not usually on the list of vacation spots for those living on the eastern side of the continent.

A cloudless day. View of San Clemente from the pier

A cloudless day. View of San Clemente from the pier

Our early November stay gave us absolutely clear skies and favorable temperatures peaking in the 80s at least two afternoons. Nighttime temperatures were cooler but not cold by any stretch, mostly in the upper 50s and 60s.

We woke each morning to a cloudless sky and temperatures that by 10:00 a.m. were suitable for a warm walk on the white sand beach with a crystal clear view all the way to the horizon.

On our last morning in San Clemente, as we walked along the beach, a fog silently slid in from across the water and quickly engulfed the entire beach. Visibility shrank to the five feet in front of me but within twenty minutes the dense water vapor had rolled on through across the city, leaving the beach once again clear and unclouded.

2. Stunning Views and More Photo Opportunities

Photography is at its best in San Clemente in the offseason, and one of the reasons is because the vacation spot is less crowded. Have you ever tried to take that perfect scenic shot of the beach with palm trees in the background or tried to capture a sunset just as it touches the edge of the water, only to have a tourist walk right through the camera lens at that exact moment? Fewer people, better pictures.

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What's more, the lighting is also better in the fall. Longer, earlier shadows create a warmer light with a softening effect.

Benches are plentiful in San Clemente along the beaches and the streets, inviting you to gaze and explore with the eyes.

3. Off-Season Rates Mean Better Options

There is a slower, more relaxed pace in the off-season. Families have packed up the kids and headed back home to the daily routine of school, sports, and jobs. Colleges are in full swing for the fall term and spring break is a long six months away. Store owners take a deep breath as they reorganize. Long lines are gone, prices are discounted, and a quieter season is launched.

We chose a loft apartment just one minute from the pier, with a second-floor view of the coastline. We booked through Airbnb using their super-host listing that promised beach gear, updated appliances and comfortable beds. We were not disappointed.

We started looking for lodging in August and by comparing summer rates to autumn rates, specifically August rates to November rates, we realized we would spend $1,500.00 less on our lodging by choosing November. The August rate for a six-night stay was $3,447 while the same stay in November was $1,991. The savings, almost $1,500 paid for all of our food, drinks and car rental for the week.

San Clemente is nicknamed The Spanish Village By the Sea.

San Clemente is nicknamed The Spanish Village By the Sea.

4. San Clemente Is Both Charming and Vibrant

We arrived in San Clemente around three o'clock on Wednesday afternoon and went straight to BeachFire Bar and Grill on Avenida Del Mar. The reviews looked good and we were starving after living on airport food for the last twelve hours. Grilled salmon salads and a glass of wine later, we were refreshed and antsy to begin our adventure. We made a mental note to return to the BeachFire, though, and before our week was over, we had been back twice for their coastal cuisine, enjoying their large outdoor patio as the sun went down and the gas heaters came on.

Throughout the week, we made several visits back to Avenida Del Mar to explore the boutiques, cafes and unusual shops, both vintage and trendy. Terracotta tile roofs and white stucco walls create an image of Spanish architectural design throughout San Clemente giving it a feel of old-world charm.

Since bicycles can go places that a car can't easily navigate without a lot of detouring, circling back, and searching for parking, two wheels is our preferred mode of transportation.

Bicycles were included with our Airbnb rental and we used them just about every day because we could hop on and off and change direction on a whim as we explored.

The San Clemente Beach trail is 2.6 miles in length and allows for the use of bicycles. The beach trail took us north and south from the pier and on different days, we traveled both. There is one location, a bridge that you must walk your bike over or risk a fine but for the most part, the trail is bicycle-friendly. We also used the bikes and the bike path to get us to Dana Point, about a 30-minute ride, just north of San Clemente. Here we spent a few hours having lunch along the marina and taking in the view of the calm blue harbor waters popular with kayakers and paddle boarders.

5. San Clemente Is Central to Southern California and Lots of Day Trip Options

About two hours travel time:Less than 30 minutes away:

Salton Sea

Casa Romantica

Palm Springs

Peter's Canyon

Legoland

Ortega Falls

San Diego Zoo

Avenida Del Mar Shops and Restaurants

Knott's Berry Farm

Outlets at San Clemente

San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm

Dana Point Harbor

Joshua Tree National Park

On Saturday, we drove to Joshua Tree National Park. Although it isn’t generally on the register for day trip attractions from San Clemente, I picked it for its variety of hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty. The park is a good 2.5 hours from San Clemente, so to make it worth our while, we got an early start. The long line of cars waiting to get into the park surprised us. It took us a good thirty minutes to approach the gate and since we didn't think to download the trail maps before we entered the park, another thirty minutes was lost while we drove back to the gate for a paper map. But once we were on our way, we decided that getting the map was probably the best decision we had made.

By now it was 11 AM and we figured we had six hours to see the park. We quickly chose two hiking trips we were confident we could complete before the sun set at 5 pm. One of the trails took us to the Wall Street Mill where we explored a forgotten gold stamp mill, discovering some of the history behind one of the most intriguing times in American history. Surrounded by rugged rock formations, cacti and twisting Joshua trees, the hike took us through a desert landscape, as my imagination conjured up scenes of shoot-outs from old westerns I had watched as a kid. Another hike took us through a maze of rock formations that led to Arch Rock.

The trip back to San Clemente took us through the infamous San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm where over 2,700 windmills stand erect. I remembered the scene from Tom Cruz's Mission Impossible 3 when the helicopter ducked and dodged the huge sails as they rotated around the massive turbine shafts.

San Clemente in November is a great autumn vacation choice. Milder temperatures during endless summer days, fantastic views, pristine beaches, shopping, restaurants, and short day trips, this Spanish village by the sea has it all.

© 2022 Patty Poet

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