Riviera Beach, San Clemente
by Steve Wimer
(San Clemente, California)
Riviera Beach in San Clemente, California is one of California's most beautiful beaches. Parking can be a problem during the busy summer months as the beach lies beneath a cul-de-sac at the bottom of a hill. One walks down "La Costa" street to the cul-de-sac, down a cement public access, under a railroad track through a tunnel, and voila, you're at the beach. Kids like to run to the tunnel when a train comes to feel the roar of the train as it passes overhead. Sidestep the "polio pit" if water has formed a stagnant pool.
Then, step over the sand for 30 yards to the Pacific Ocean. The sand is generally safe and clean, except for whatever the tide brought in overnight, such as seaweed, pollution, and other flotzam. State workers usually comb the beach daily to clean up tourist debris.
Offshore, "Seal rock" looms 1/2 mile out to sea. It's a good paddle on a surfboard or a long swim. Be forewarned, seals can be testy if you invade their space, and guano dots the rocks. Still, it's a rite of passage for local boys to make a trip to the rock.
Besides "seal rock" the view includes Catalina Island, to the North, or San Clemente island, to the South, but only on crystal sharp days.
Although it's a popular surfing beach, since the state removed a barge leftover from World War II, the perfect left waves which came off the lifeguard tower every summer at the right tide and swell direction, no longer exist. It's basically a shorepound, with a few sandbar peaks, and the wave closes out on bigger swells. Despite the wave's limitations, the Riviera district produces champion level surfers almost every decade.
Besides surfing, girl watching is good here, especially during the early summer months. The flowers of the Orange County youth bloom here every June and July. Walkers from the South, the state park, and the north, from the pier and T-Street, usually can be seen meandering in both directions. The city has a no dog policy, but sometimes owners take their dogs down for a run. For joggers or hikers, a trail runs adjacent to the train tracks. It's an easier walk than trudging through the sand, but watchout for bicycle riders. It's illegal, but they still ride.
The sun is usually a dry heat, perfect for sunbathing, although with global warming, more humidity seems to be creeping into the picture. It never gets too hot at the beach, usually the mid-nineties at the peak of summer. The water temperature varies from a numbing low fifties in winter to the low seventies in summer. One can "trunk it" for bodysurfing, swimming, or wading, pretty much all summer.
Prime time for this beach, however, is September, as "Indian Summer" blesses the area with perfect conditions, warm, without the summer crowds. The crowds are back in school or at work on weekdays. This is postcard perfect beach time!
The fall, all the way into December, features peaceful moments, fantastic sunsets, and sand-dollar fortunes. I love this beach in the fall.
Winter can show perfect days too, as California is known to heat up for up to a week in the middle of winter sometimes, especially when the "Devil's wind" or Santa Anas, blow heat down from the deserts. But it can also be rainy, cold, windy, and muddy. January and February, however, do feature big surf, for those inclined to paint the liquid easel.
The best conditions for the beach usually exist at sunrise, and stay for a few hours, before the south wind rises up. The shining crystal diamonds in the water, the translucent water painted a bright blue by the sun, and white foam can be pleasing to the eye.
However, afternoons can also be perfect, but not as frequently enjoyable as the morning hours.
Houses in the "Riviera District" range from $3 to $4 million, right on the beach, to $3 million for on the bluff overlooking the waves (where my mother lives), to half that price for within 1/2 mile of the ocean. It's an old neighborhood with a lot of "rehab" or tear-down and rebuild housing. Most neighbors are professionals, business owners, or affluent.
The kids today ride golf carts, motorized scooters or bikes to the beach. I still enjoy the walk to the beach.
Be sure to lock your cars, and leave no valuables in sight, as I've had my car burglarized on my driveway. Usually, however, it's a fairly safe area in regard to crime. You won't see gangsters, at worst, you'll see some spoiled teenagers out for a good time. But they usually are not a problem.
I've spent a lot of time enjoying Riviera beach, ever since the sixties, and I still enjoy it today.