We’ll Start off our Tour by heading Down El Camino on the left side of the street. The first restaurant on our tour is Fig@313, an upscale spot for California-inspired cuisine. Their cozy patio area is lit by strings of lights hung from majestic palm trees, giving the space a feeling of backyard comfort.
The building itself has been standing since 1927 and is considered a historic structure in San Clemente. Constructed in the Spanish Colonial style, its terra-cotta roof tiles and white stucco walls give its exterior and its interior space a relaxing Mediterranean vibe and evoke California’s rich history.
The original owners of the building were John and Jackie Riley, who operated a coffee and waffle shop on the site. A frequent customer of the cafe was the Duke himself, John Wayne. The Rileys kept the business going for 33 years before selling the building and retiring in 1960.
Since then the place has been host to several stores and restaurants, including a french place, furniture outlet, and Tequila importer. The current owners began renovating the place in 2012, and in 2018 the new Fig@313 was opened to the public.
These days, Fig is known for its personal, attentive service and a delicious, seasonally-rotating menu that features fresh Pacific seafood and Contemporary American classics, like their Wagyu beef burger, short ribs, and more.
Let’s go ahead and continue on down the street to our next stop.
The building you see before you is home to two of our top culinary picks on El Camino Real.
Inspired by the flavors of California wine country, Vine is the flagship of restaurateur and Master Sommelier Russ Brendel, whose portfolio also includes Ironwood in Laguna Hills and Olea in Newport Beach. The menu, designed by Chef Jared Cook, is designed to highlight and complement the carefully-selected wine list with simple yet elegant flavors.
With a seasonally rotating menu, there’s always something new to taste at Vine, where meals are prepared daily from scratch using locally-sourced ingredients. Mainstay appetizers like their expertly-selected charcuterie boards or crispy lemon and honey duck wings are a perfect pair to an inventive cocktail menu and rotation of local and global craft beers.
Just two doors down from Vine you’ll pass Rocco’s, where old-world Italian flavors and Latin flare come together for a timeless dining experience.
Rocco Carbonara is both owner and head chef of this eponymous restaurant, which serves dinner every evening and lunch on weekends. Start off with an order of fresh burrata cheese or traditional Venezuelan empanadas before diving into a dish of risotto or spaghetti pescatore.
One of Rocco’s most popular dishes is the Aragosta – a wild-caught lobster tail with creamy saffron risotto and sundried tomato. If seafood isn’t your thing, try the Vitello Saltimbocca, with layers of veal, prosciutto, and mozzarella rolled together and braised in red wine.
When you get a chance to safely cross the street, go ahead and do so. On the next block down you’ll find our next stop.
Our fourth restaurant of the day is South of Nick’s. Though it’s located two blocks north of Nick’s San Clemente, which we’ll see a little later on, this newer addition to the Nick’s restaurant family travels south in spirit with a menu of upscale Mexican dishes.
Though the menu may look familiar to any lover of Mexican Cuisine, South of Nick’s does a standout job of providing that authentic flavor with top-shelf presentation and 5-star ambiance. With fresh, piping hot chips and salsa brought to the table right away, your experience begins as soon as you sit down.
South of Nick’s is the brainchild of chef Omar Gonzalez, a native of Michoacan, Mexico. His aim in the development of the South of Nick’s brand was to combine the traditional flavors of his childhood with California style. His efforts were so successful that he has since taken over as executive chef of the whole family of Nick’s restaurants.
Tequila lovers will especially appreciate the wide selection of bottles on hand. Tequila flights are available, and whether you’re in the mood for blanco, reposado, or mezcal you can find a selection that fits your taste.
Regular customers rave about the Birria tacos, bursting with flavor from braised short rib and crispy Oaxaca cheese. Seafood lovers will love the lobster and shrimp enchiladas, made with a creamy poblano pepper sauce.
Of course, no Mexican restaurant is complete without a robust margarita menu, and South of Nick’s delivers on that front. Far from your typical taqueria, they pair small-batch, top-shelf tequilas with complementary flavors like tamarind or jalapeno and watermelon.
Turn right to stroll down Avenida Del Mar, heading toward the ocean and the next stretch of restaurants.
A new outpost of Orange County’s largest winery, this second restaurant location in San Clemente brings Rancho Capistrano’s extensive wine offerings and award-winning menu to Avenida Del Mar.
Customers can enjoy Rancho Capistrano at any time of day. Weekday services include lunch, happy hour, and dinner, and they serve a weekend brunch as well so you can start your lazy Sunday morning off right.
With all-day happy hour specials on Monday, you won’t want to miss the chance to try their most popular wines and delicious flatbreads at a discounted price. The brunch menu includes breakfast favorites like avocado toast and crab cake benedict as well as their signature lunch items like an avocado BLT or juicy brisket burger.
Dinner at Rancho Capistrano starts off with a selection of over 40 wines from their vineyards in Orange County, Napa Valley, and the Walla Walla region. Start off with an order of fig bruschetta or a wedge salad, or dive right into your entree and enjoy their Minnesota pork chop or 16oz. ribeye.
The winery has a variety of facilities for hosting private parties, from large weddings to small wine tasting events. There’s also a monthly wine club! With two bottles selected each month and a free complimentary glass of wine for you and a guest, discounts, and daily specials, their monthly membership is a must-have for local wine enthusiasts.
While we’re on the subject of wine, it’s time to head a few doors down to the Cellar, our next stop.
Any restaurant on this tour would be a great spot to enjoy a delicious meal, but if you’re looking to “feed the soul” you’d be hard-pressed to find a more welcoming place.
The Cellar is more than a restaurant. It’s a cheese shop, a tasting room, and perhaps most importantly a live music venue with shows four nights a week or more. Orange County’s best local performers drop by from Tuesdays through Saturdays to provide a relaxed, entertaining atmosphere to this sophisticated wine bar.
Open since 2008, the Cellar is part cafe, part wine shop, and part bar. The cafe features seasonally-crafted coffee and tea beverages, with locally-sourced beans from Common Room Roasters.
The Cheese Shop offers online cheeseboard customization, with dozens of selections available. Large parties should remember to order their cheese boards 24 hours in advance to make sure they get a fully curated experience.
Happy hour runs from 4-6 on weeknights, and features deals on draft wine pours and cocktails. The menu includes small cheese boards, truffle popcorn, classic Canadian poutine, and sliders.
Brunch, from 10-3 on weekends, is a quieter time to visit the Cellar, for those who prefer to relax without a band playing. The menu includes savory chicken and waffles and chilaquiles.
The main dinner menu is a grab bag of global flavors, from penne alla vodka to New England clam chowder to a Wagyu burger. Dessert Lovers won’t want to miss their chocolate chip skillet cookie.
This next block is another twofer, with BeachFire Bar and Grill on your right side and Nick’s San Clemente just across the street.
BeachFire launched on the summer solstice of 2002 and has been an integral part of the San Clemente dining and art scene since. Local visual artists showcase their work on the walls of this two-story restaurant, and all of it is for sale.
In addition to local artists, BeachFire also provides a home for local musicians to make their mark on the Orange County coast. On Monday nights, you too can take the stage and sing your heart out at their weekly “Smokey Karaoke”.
Open until midnight Thursdays through Saturdays, BeachFire is a nightlife destination. Their “local favorite” cocktail is a classic rum punch, with tropical fruit juices and spiced almond syrup. The rest of their cocktail menu is similarly beach-inspired, featuring a pineapple martini, frozen margaritas, and a delicious spiked frozen lemonade.
As for their food, the eclectic menu is focused on using sustainable ingredients to give customers a true taste of the California coast. The menu prominently features fresh ahi tuna, served in their poke bowl, as a sandwich, or in an Asian-fusion taco.
Speaking of tacos, fans of the classic Mexican snack might want to mark their calendars – BeachFire hosts Taco Tuesday every week, featuring discounted tequila drinks and a special menu of tortilla-bound treats.
When you get a chance to safely cross the street, go ahead and head on over to Nick’s, located just on the other side of the road.
Nick’s San Clemente is one of nine restaurants that bear the name of fourth-generation restaurateur Nick Nickoloff. Since establishing the Laguna Beach location in 2008, Nick’s restaurant, including the sister brand South of Nick’s, has exploded along the Southern California coastline.
Nick’s restaurant’s popularity is thanks in no small part to their commitment to excellent service and a comfortable bistro atmosphere. With a formidable wine list and rotating draft beers, you can sit back and relax while you enjoy a prime rib french dip sandwich or their crispy boneless fried chicken.
In addition to the menu of fresh-caught fish and center-cut filet mignon, Nick’s always has unique daily specials that keep San Clemente locals coming back for more.
Let’s keep on heading toward the ocean – we’ve just got a couple of spots left to see.
As its name suggests, Cafe Mimosa is a brunch spot – and it’s open for business 7 days a week. If you’ve ever found yourself craving steak and eggs or a bloody mary in the middle of the week, this is the spot for you.
With a full coffee bar and nine flavors of mimosa including pomegranate, sour cherry, and lingonberry, Cafe Mimosa takes breakfast beverages to a whole new level.
Open from 8-3 daily, the menu ranges from standard brunch fare, like eggs benedict and french toast, to the more exotic, like their hot chorizo scramble or “quack & cheese”, made with duck confit and melted brie. A daily quiche and omelette rotation adds variety to their fare.
The walk to our final stop is a bit longer, as we’re heading down to the beach itself. While you’re heading that way, I’ll tell you about the history of San Clemente and a few spots you’ll see along our route.
Before San Clemente was incorporated as a city in 1928, there was very little development on this stretch of coastline. Land developer Ole Hanson bought these 2,000 acres with the intent of designing a homogenous Mediterranean-style resort town. In an attempt to paint a “clean picture” on this “clean canvas”, Hanson installed city council members that would mandate white walls and red tile roofs on all development. This edict didn’t last long, with new developers deviating from the standard and creating the more eclectic style you see today.
Hanson’s flagship building and personal residence is located just down Avenida Granada, which you’ll pass on this walk. Dubbed “Casa Romantica”, this idyllic Spanish-style manor overlooks the ocean and was Hanson’s home until Bank of America foreclosed it and seized all his assets following the stock market crash of 1929. Today, Casa Romantica is owned by the city and serves as a historical museum, cultural center, and event venue. Its beautiful gardens make it an enviable location to host weddings and other celebrations.
San Clemente was further put on the map during the Nixon administration. A private home owned by the president was nicknamed the “West Coast White House”, and was used to host foreign dignitaries and statesmen. Following Nixon’s resignation, he retired here until moving to New York in 1980.
Perhaps San Clemente’s most iconic landmark, the pier was constructed in 1928 and rebuilt twice due to storm damage. It’s there that we’ll find the last stop on our list, Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar.
Welcome to the San Clemente Pier! Strolling through this area of town, you’ll see a row of shops and restaurants on your right, including bear coast coffee and Caterina’s gelato, both great places for a hot or cold treat during a day at the beach. However, the last stop on our tour, the Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar, is located on the pier itself – go ahead and make your way there while I tell you all about it.
Fisherman’s is a more casual spot than some of the other places we’ve visited today, but the wide array of fresh-caught fish served at this laid-back bar makes Fisherman's a popular spot for tourists and locals alike.
Sunset happy hours are held daily from 4-7, with rotating specials like the $5 barbecue rib plate on Tuesdays and fried fish tacos on Fridays. Rotating drink specials are selected to complement these cheap eats.
But don’t get me wrong – Fisherman’s is not just a place for five-dollar fare. The restaurant is renowned for its carefully selected and fileted fresh catch seafood. Enjoy your fruits de mer as an appetizer, like the bucket of steamed mussels, or in a delicious pasta dish like the prawn fettucini.
Lovers of classic bar food rave about the always-fresh fish and chips, beer-battered halibut fried to a crispy golden finish. Fisherman’s chowder is another favorite, with a secret recipe of seafood, vegetables, and a touch of spice.
Well, folks, that’s all I’ve got for you today! Now that you’ve got a sense of the various restaurants about town, I hope you consider making San Clemente your SoCal culinary destination. If you’re looking to make San Clemente your permanent home or vacation spot, I’m here to help. Feel free to reach out any time at (858) 722-1856 or email email@example.com. Until next time, thanks for taking this UCPlaces tour of San Clemente!