I usually ignore those sandwich signs plunked down on sidewalks, but this one in the heart of San Clemente’s downtown catches my eye.
“Tapioca crepes — gluten free” it says with artful letters on the blackboard sign in front of Maaoca, a new eatery founded by two Brazilians who feature healthy fare from their native country.
I purchase a crepe and confirm my suspicions: Tapioca crepes are definitely weird, but also quite tasty. I choose the one named for something to do with being fit, mostly because it contains ricotta cheese (also tuna and spinach).
Maaoca is just one of the surprising discoveries we find during our 30 hours in San Clemente. The weather today is brag-worthy as we stroll up and down the town’s main street, Avenida del Mar. Its unique boutiques and restaurants draw us in here and there and make us grateful to be alive and in this place.
We reach the west end of Avenida del Mar and are lured to the city library’s patio by a used book sale. I score big with the purchase of a Galloping Gourmet cookbook (gag gift for a friend); 1992 edition of “Flags of the World” (remember Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia?); an E.L. Doctorow novel; the inspirational “Full Tilt Living;” a hardback copy of Hillary Clinton’s “Living History;” and a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution — all for $2.50. (Funds from used-book sales support the library’s kids’ programs.)
Fortunately, our car is nearby, so we unload our treasures and decide to give the free trolley a try — the major reason I won’t wait so long to return to San Clemente. Although it’s an easy 30-minute drive from coastal North County, the town’s near-impossible parking situation in the popular downtown and beach areas, especially in the summer, was a deterrent. Now, however, three free trollies circulate continuously through downtown, the two beach areas and the recently opened Outlets at San Clemente (www.outletsatsanclemente.com). The trolley is operational from Memorial Day through the end of September, and stops at one of 16 locations every 15 minutes. You can track the trolley in real time at www.sctrolley.com.
If you come to San Clemente for the day, park at one of the mall’s ample lots, hop on the trolley and forget about the stress of finding a parking space. It’s 10 minutes to the downtown area or the beach.
Parking at the outlet mall also means you can explore what these 55 brick-and-mortar stores and restaurants are doing to pull folks away from online shopping.
For shoppers who earn a certain number of points (the program is free), there is a stylish, ultra-comfortable VIP lounge and luxurious bathrooms that feature automatic and heated toilet seats (really). The bathrooms and lounge for general shoppers are also worth a visit — whether you have to go or not!
Other attractions are the free giant board and yard games (corn hole, chess, Connect 4) in the central court; environmentally conscious landscaping; regular events throughout the year; dog and pet-friendly environment; 3,300 parking spaces (some covered); meticulously clean public spaces; free strollers and wheelchairs; and lots of space, space and more space — easily evident as we walk through the mall’s expansive tile corridors.
The investors and mall designers gave particular attention to creating open space, explains Vista resident and marketing director Nicki See.
“They know that people don’t want to feel crowded or crammed, and (open spaces) make people want to stay longer.”
Back on the trolley, we hop off at stop No. 2 (Avenida del Mar and N. Calle Seville) and walk another two blocks to Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens.
The registered historic landmark home was built by San Clemente’s founder, Ole Hanson, and affords a spectacular view of the beach and pier. The Spanish Colonial Revival home’s large rooms and carved wooden ceilings provide the perfect showcases for art exhibits and events. Don’t miss some of the historic photos of Los Angeles and Orange County cities. Visit www.casaromantica.org.
Stay: Volare Hotel (one block from trolley stop; free hot breakfast); $120 and up, www.volareresorts.com. For more information, visit www.sanclementeguide.com. For more photos of San Clemente, visit www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.