Nestled between the posh Laguna Beach to the north and the raw urban mixture that is Oceanside to the south, San Clemente is the last of the quiet little surf towns.
It's a town where one can watch two distinct generations of San Clemente's finest surfers rip apart a wave on any given day. Where veterans like Chris Ward tears the top off of waves and young guns like Kolohe Andino (USA) hack up the next wave, showing how the older pros have opened the creative door for the new surfers to take the ball and run with it.
Show up alone and with a good attitude and you might be given a set wave from a local. Show up with three or more in your crew and you will get shut down. Bring a good attitude and a traveling surfer might earn a new friend instead of an enemy by day's end. Yes, it's crowded and rightfully so: It's the Alpha wave and it has a pecking order just like any other world-class break.
The sloping, A-frame wave (breaking both left and right) that is Lowers breaks with a long right and a short but exciting left. One of the most consistent waves in Southern California, Lowers was predominantly a righthander until the late 80s, when the Uppers river mouth blew out and created the lefthand wave.
The ocean floor is made of up cobblestone rocks that have a few barnacles as well as some algae, kelp and sea anemones to watch out for on the walk out. Be careful: There has been an influx of mussels on the rocks that will cut you open like a sharp knife.
Lowers is also known as Slowers because of its pace; it allows surfers to set up for big maneuvers that let the average joe feel like they're ripping like a pro. The righthander is longer and tends to be conducive to big roundhouses and cutbacks between big hacks. The left, meanwhile, is shorter and often calls for a big finishing maneuver on the closeout. At this stop on Tour, surfers look for more open faces on the wave on which to maneuver as well as ramps for big airs, versus the tube-hunting that goes on at spots like Teahupo'o and Portugual's Supertubos.
The walk, bike, or skate down to the beach makes for a calm before the storm. Enjoy this last stretch of open land before potential further development plows through it. Be quiet on the way down and true nature show will reveal itself in the forms of coveys of quail, bobcats, rabbits and rattlesnakes. It is a truly beautiful stretch of undeveloped land and a place to stretch out and breath from the everyday, pull-up-in-the-parking-lot-and-shred mentality.
Like any surf town worth its salt, San Clemente has some local standbys to fuel up before or after a big session. Breakfast time will find locals at SC Cafe, rubbing elbows with local surf stars and hungover partiers. Plus, they have the closest thing to Texas-style biscuits and gravy.
Stop by Shapers Alley on the north side of town to pick up your custom board from the shapers or last-minute supplies at the surf shops. Make sure and walk across the park to Mulligans for a beer, a good lunch and free pool. Hint: A savvy surfer might even want to invite their shaper out to lunch here before picking up their board.
After an evening surf, stop off at Molly Bloom's for a warm meal and dark spot to get out of the sun from an all-day beach mission. Local surfers have been known to pick up instruments and entertain at night. Plus, great bands sometimes come through and put on a show.
For night life, there's the Red Triangle in the middle of town, where four bars are within a block of each other. With a mix of punk-rockers, Marines and surfers, it can get rowdy. But they're spots to wash away any post-heat loss trauma, or celebrate moving on to the next round.