Rad Days: Surf San Clemente, California

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Every year the Hurley Pro rolls into San Clemente and posts up at Lowers.

Where the south swell hits the cobblestones at the Hurley Pro , Kelly Slater calls it “one of my favorite places in the world.” Considering he kicked off his career there in fine fashion back in 1990 with his defining win at the Body Glove Surfboat and subsequent performance in Quiksilver’s “Black and White,” it makes a lot of sense that he relishes coming to town every year.

Besides what you see on the annual WSL webcast, San Clemente has a lot going for it. The Trestles zone is hardly the only place to catch a wave, and when it comes to pre or post surf grinds, there’s no shortage of options. If you’re thinking of making a trip sometime soon, here are the keys to the city.

The Surf

Lower Trestles loves a good southwest swell, which means if you’re planning a trip to San Clemente shoot for the summer months. But if you’re a fan of fun combo wedges, the fall is a great time to come. Early-season west swells can team up with late-season souths to turn spots like T Street and the pier into skateparks.

Just south of Trestles is the bastion of stoke that is San Onofre, which should be on every surfer’s list.

‘One of the birthplaces of surf culture’

Today it’s an incredibly colorful scene with all ages and boards bobbing around in the water together. Even better, it’s surfable most days if you’ve got the right board (a big, old log). As far as conditions go, mornings are usually cool and glassy. The wind tends to stay fairly light in south Orange County, but can be prone to a west breeze in the afternoon. Be sure to mind the tides, because while they don’t fluctuate drastically, knowing whether it’s high or low can be the difference between a swamp session and too drained out.

John John Florence. Photo: WSL/Kirstin

 Where To Get Your Surf Stuff

The heart of the San Clemente scene is “the surf ghetto.” Here you’ll find everything from shapers to supplies to sandals. Located on industrial-looking Calle de Los Molinos, the notables on the block include Timmy Patterson Surfboards, Terry Senate Surfboards, Jed Noll Surfboards and Cole Surfboards, if you need a board there’s no shortage of options.

There are also a couple of really robust used surfboard warehouses where you can find pretty much anything you’re looking for at an affordable price. A lot of pro surfers sell their old boards in this neighborhood

‘If you’re looking for one of Kolohe Andino or Nate Yeoman’s sleds this is a good place to start.’

On PCH is the …Lost mothership known as the Catalyst, and if you’re after boards from Matt “Mayhem” Biolos, you’ll definitely want to walk in the door. Other shops in town include Icons of Surf, which specializes in alt craft, Stewart Surfboards and Rip Curl’s flagship store. Also, if you’re looking for trunks and wetsuits for cheap don’t pass up the Trestles Surf Outlet, where Rip Curl discounts all of last season’s stuff.

Kelly Slater pulling off some incredible moves in his Round 5 heat 2015. Photo: WSL/Rowland

What To Eat

If you like Mexican food San Clemente’s you’re spot. The most popular after-session grind spot is Pedro’s Tacos. A longtime staple in the San Clemente surfer’s diet, it’s one of those small walk-up/drive-thru joints that doesn’t have a bad thing on the menu…and it’s cheap.

A little more upscale Mexican joints include El Mariachi and South Of Nick’s. It’s not all rice and beans, Hapa J’s serves up da ono Hawaiian food, Pipe’s makes a hell of a breakfast burrito, and for the evening glass-off nothing beats grabbing a drink at Fisherman’s on the pier. The main street of Del Mar has a number of other tasty options.

Lineup. Photo: WSL/Kirstin

 The Nightlife

San Clemente doesn’t exactly have a raging nightlife, but there are a few quality watering holes that can definitely offer up a good time. As noted, Nomads Cantina is a great place for the surf-stoked to pop in for a few drinks and a poki bowl. Another happening spot that occasionally offers live music is the O.C. Tavern down at the south end of town.

For those seeking less sophisticated environs, The Red Fox Lounge and Big Helen’s both tick the “dive bar” box. And if you’re looking to get your honky tonk on, book scoot on up PCH to The Swallows Inn in San Juan Capistrano. A legit country/western bar.

‘Order a shot of Jack, wash it down with a bottle of Budweiser and you may as well be in Lubbock, Texas.’

And of course, if you’re feeling adventurous L.A. and all that its nightlife has to offer is just an hour’s drive north.

 Where To Stay

San Clemente sits right on Interstate 5, which means there a bunch of affordable hotels right off the highway. There’s a Holiday Inn Express, a Best Western, a Comfort Suites, and a bunch more that can run between $100-$150 a night.

If you’re looking for something more surfy, there’s Nomads Hotel, which was built specifically to house wandering surfers. There’s The Canteen restaurant and bar on the top floor with rooms down below.

If you want to get dirty, there are three California State Park campgrounds in town. If you are thinking of camping, considering making reservations because the campgrounds can fill up during the more popular summer months.


Accommodation near San Clemente

Rad Season is providing you with rentals and hotels at the lowest prices available online. Book your stay near San Clemente using the map below!

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Jake Howard

Jake Howard writes about surfing for a living, and after 15-plus years on the job is still baffled that he's been able keep the hustle going this long.


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