The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
At the southern tip of coastal Orange County, San Clemente marks the midway point between San Diego and Los Angeles. A sleepy beachside community, with frequent Amtrak train service and a nicely undulating stretch of old US-101 (El Camino Real) running through its heart, San Clemente is probably best known as the site of La Casa Pacifica, the one-time “Western White House” of former president Richard Nixon, who lived here following his election in 1968 and during his impeachment in the mid-1970s. The white-walled, mission-style house at the south end of Avenida del Presidente (the western frontage road to I-5) is more easily visible from the beach below, though the 25 acres of trees have grown up to obscure it in recent years.
Within a quick walk uphill from the handful of cafés and bars on and around the pier, Beachcomber Motel (533 Avenida Victoria, 949/492-5457, $135 and up) is a tidy, old-fashioned motor-court motel, facing onto the open ocean. San Clemente also has a burger place, Rider’s Club Cafe (1701 N. El Camino Real, 949/388-3758, closed Mon.), in the mission-style downtown business district.