Where is Main Street Orange County? Not at Disneyland. The uninformed might scoff at the idea of our county, a widespread collection of diverse cities, having an archetypal thoroughfare. But we know better. O.C. doesn’t have one Main Street—we are spoiled with several, each acting as the vibrant hub of its respective town, packed with history yet ever-evolving.
When you look at the buildings in downtown San Clemente, you can clearly see city founder Ole Hanson’s vision: to create a “Spanish village by the sea,” with architecture that would call to mind a Mediterranean coastal town.
Today, 93 years after the city’s founding, most of the shops and restaurants along Avenida Del Mar are still housed in classic Spanish Colonial Revival buildings, complete with white-stucco walls and red-tile roofs. Hanson achieved his desired effect: When you’re strolling through the downtown area, you sometimes feel as though you’ve escaped to a European village, albeit one with a distinct dose of California surf style.
You’ll find the Mediterranean vibe on the patio at Cafe Mimosa, where diners devour eggs Benedict and croissant French toast over brunch. The California influence prevails at H.H. Cotton’s, a lively tavern specializing in gourmet burgers and craft beer, and at South Swell, the go-to spot for creative hand-dipped ice cream bars made to order. It continues at Swirl, where the racks are stocked with beachy boho dresses, pants, and tops; and at Missy’s on Del Mar, a cute little shop filled with chic, curated party supplies, cards, and gifts.
It all comes together at the base of Avenida Del Mar, where the road ends at the beach and pier. Bear Coast Coffee, with its sidewalk tables and picture windows, offers an ideal spot to take it all in while sipping a macchiato or kombucha.
ESTABLISHED IN 1929
When the popular pub opened on South El Camino Real, it was called Woody’s White House. In 1957, a new owner bought the business, and rather than changing the whole name, simply swapped a G for the W.
Owner of South Swell Ice Cream, life coach, San Clemente resident
Favorite flavor at South Swell
I crave the Game Changer, which is a vanilla bar dipped in chocolate and covered with bakery-fresh chocolate cake,
raspberry drizzle, and powdered sugar.
Favorite shop on Avenida Del Mar
It would have to be Swirl. I go there so much that the girls text me when they have new stuff they think I’d like.
Best place for cocktails
Nick’s. They’re always changing their cocktails, and it’s always something fun that you can’t get anywhere else.
Favorite brunch spot
Every weekend, my husband and
I walk to the beach, then head back up and go
to Cafe Mimosa. We don’t even have to order. They know we want the tartine. It’s off the charts.
Best place for people-watching
We have the best time just watching people as they walk in front of the shop, but there are also little squares every 100 feet or so with benches along Avenida Del Mar that are perfect for that.