San Clemente

Photo by James Bunoan

Best Photographer Rin Tanaka, the Yokohama-born San Clemente author of what is now almost a one-man bookstore of tomes on vintage American sportswear. T-shirts, motorcycle jackets, motorcycle helmets, Steve McQueen, Deadheads. Tanaka has (almost) done it all—and he's written about everything he's done, then illustrated his works with museum-quality photos of the coolest vintage clothing. (Except the Steve McQueen book, which had, well, awesome photos by other people.) You'll find his work at discerning bookstores and boutiques around the county, and it's worth noting that, while he could live anywhere, he lives here, in sight of the ocean.

Best Architectural Reuse SC Surf Co. Originally a church, this surf shop has a prime location across the street from the beach—making it reportedly only the second such store in the state to offer just-off-the-beach service. And while most custom board shops have been relegated to cheaper, more cost-effective warehouses, SC Surf Co. keeps tradition alive with in-house shapers (watch your boards being made as you descend into a resin coma) and a 26-year history. Most of their boards come from surf giant Lost (they recently purchased the shop), but high-end and import boards are available as well. 1755 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 492-5721.

Best Place for Near-Death Experiences the train crossing at San Clemente Pier. A piece of machinery roughly the size and shape of building collapse moving at, what, 40 or 50 miles per hour along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe near one of Southern California's busiest beaches through an unfenced pedestrian crossing positively teeming with preschoolers whose epidermis has been burned a soft salmon. We just absolutely love this place. Take a seat at one of the benches on the grassy slope above the pier, drink beer from a sack, and watch eagerly for the juxtaposition of cuddly toddler and brute industrial force that is unmatchable as free entertainment. It's like a bullfight with children. Where Avenida Victoria meets the pier, San Clemente.

Best Place for Neighboring Casa Romantica. We're cynical, and by "we" I still mean just "me" because, contrary to what you're thinking, the Weekly runs on a high-grade blend of optimism and cheeriness—except me. I've tried medication, religion, politics, sex and family but found little succor. I labor on. So you'll understand how weird it is for me to say that I positively admire Casa Romantica and what the people there are trying to accomplish. Beginning with an old estate (more on which in a moment), they're working to create a place where people can talk about what it's like to live here now—in Southern California, at the beginning of a new and (for me; maybe you) terrifying century. Having said that, the CR staff isn't afraid to look back: its current exhibit of photos by Horace Bristol depicts the rigors of migrant farm life in the 1930s—and how contemporary does that feel? Ole Hanson built the house, and Hanson was—let's be honest—at least occasionally a son of a bitch. Unless I am mistaken—not—Hanson was in San Clemente in the 1920s at least in part because of the events of 1919. That year, in Seattle, workers declared a general strike; Hanson was the city's mayor, elected in 1918 with the help of organized labor. He cracked down viciously—and then framed his declaration of martial law as the triumph of Americanism over Bolshevism; that too sounds oddly contemporary. Hanson fled Seattle for sunny SoCal and settled in San Clemente at a time when the place was at the back end of nowhere; he could see it for what it would become: a Bolshevik-free zone of suburban tract homes. His house is still there. But, really, to our friends at Casa Romantica: we thank you for your gifts of grace, smarts and community spirit. You give us history; you give us some soul. 415 Ave. Granada, San Clemente, (949) 498-2139.

Photo by Shannon Sibayan

Best Fry-Up Whitehorses. Facing the San Clemente pier, this lazy surfside restaurant and bar mixes beach culture and California cuisine—frittatas and potatoes with rosemary—with things like the British "fry up": fried bread, bangers, bacon, grilled mushrooms, baked beans, eggs and toast. Delicious. 610 Ave. Victoria, San Clemente, (949) 429-1800.

Best Crepes La Galette Creperie. Seventeen varieties of the French rolled, stuffed pancake here; everything from the conventionally named but delectable Kansas City chicken crepe—roasted chicken, caramelized onions, maple barbecue sauce, jack cheese—to the chicken Fuji, which leans on the classic apple variety. And for dessert? More crepes, please! 612 Ave. Victoria, San Clemente, (949) 498-5335.

Best Shopping Avenida del Mar. Fifteen-plus farmers, several nurseries and assorted food vendors line Avenida del Mar on Sundays, giving you something to do after combing out your sandy sex hair. Don't miss the Farmer's Market. For those bored with the run-of-the-mill peach, plum or whatever, it has all the trendy hybrids like plumcots and pluots—the best of both worlds. Sundays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Avenida Del Mar; for information, call (949) 361-0735.

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