San Clemente, California
San Clemente, CA: A Coastal Gem of Vibrant Community Life
Heritage, City Culture, and Business Innovation thrive in Southern California’s Hidden Paradise
For any coastal beach city to burgeon with life, leaders must tackle the delicate task of steering growth while preserving the allure that attracted residents and visitors in the first place. Practically speaking, this means a multifaceted approach, combining environmental stewardship, community engagement, and strategic urban planning.
The question here is: how do you embrace growth without compromising the natural beauty and cultural charm that define their locales? The delicate coastal ecosystem demands careful consideration. Simultaneously, preserving a city’s unique identity calls for fostering a sense of community that withstands the influx of new residents and businesses.
The key to progress lies in proactive urban planning that integrates sustainable practices, effective waste management, coastal protection measures, and the promotion of eco-friendly practices that contribute to the city’s resilience against environmental threats. Engaging the community through open dialogues and inclusive decision-making processes helps foster a shared commitment to preserving the city’s character.
As far as examples go, the successful coastal city of San Clemente is one of the best demonstrations of what it looks like for a city to reach a happy equilibrium where economic prosperity aligns seamlessly with environmental conservation and vibrant community life.
Founded in 1928 by the visionary Ole Hanson, San Clemente is a picturesque coastal city nestled halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. With roots deeply embedded in Spanish Revival architecture, inspired by the San Diego World’s Fair, the city lives up to its name as the “Spanish Village by the Sea.”
It’s, in fact, this early 20th-century influence that has laid the foundation for San Clemente’s unique charm and character. Thanks to the mindful leadership and collaborative efforts of Mayor Chris Duncan, this growing beach city is not only sustaining its allure but multiplying its charm while creating a legacy of harmony for generations to come.
Culture, Diversity, and Community Engagement
San Clemente stands out as a gem, characterized by a rich tapestry of cultural influences, a welcoming community spirit, and optimal geography.
The city flourished as an entertainment destination accessible from both locations. Mayor Chris Duncan calls it the “perfect place to have people outdoors and enjoying themselves… there’s no shortage of events that get people out and socializing.”
Thanks to its hallowed surf culture, San Clemente proudly sits as the hosting city for the World Surf League Finals. This Super Bowl-esque event routinely draws in over 12 million viewers globally, and a number of the finalists are often from San Clemente as well.
The city also has a very strong pickleball culture and hosts all championships held by both the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) and Major League Pickleball (MLP).
The heart of the city lies in Avenue Del Mar, a walkable downtown Main Street that serves as a hub for various gatherings, music festivals, and seasonal kickoffs.
Major celebratory gatherings, such as the Downtown Fiesta Music Festival, Car Show, Santa’s Village by the Sea , and Cinco de Mayo are also frequently hosted downtown or at the city’s Vista Hermosa Sports Park. Historic landmarks like Casa Romantica, the Ole Hanson Beach Club, and the restored Casino along El Camino Real only lie at the tip of everything San Clemente has to offer.
In addition to its event locales, much of the city’s personality is shaped by the abundance of pleasant and often historic parks sprinkled throughout the cityscape. One of the city’s most notable parks is the historic Max Berg Park, where the city hosts cultural events that engage the city’s latino community living predominantly in this area.
With such a dynamic level of resident engagement, San Clemente’s fun culture also creates a synergistic effect with its small businesses, as “many of these [events] are supported by our nonprofits and our small business associations,” says Mayor Duncan.
Exploring Commercial Development Opportunities
Currently, Mayor Duncan is moving to enhance this synergy. San Clemente’s eventful culture has been key in the growth of its commercial services.
“Sonance is revolutionizing speakers, Rip Curl is probably the number one surf company, and we have Glaukos, who has this incredibly revolutionary medical technology for glaucoma and other eye issues…. We’re a mecca for innovation and new businesses, and we offer things that no other city can,” Mayor Duncan says.
The relationship between the city’s commercial and residential spirits has marinated to the point of tangible profits for some of the many companies that have become staples within the San Clemente economy.
Companies like Rainbow Sandals, Nomadix Towels, and Nick’s produce crowd-favorite products and food, and lively establishments like Los Molinos Beer Company, which has brought energy to the Los Molinos business park. Other breweries, including Lost Winds, Left Coast, Artifex, Delahunt, and Docent continue to grow San Clemente’s craft beer culture.
This has been observed long enough that city leadership has already begun planning the development of certain areas around the future success of companies, just like the ones previously mentioned.
Developers are looking at areas like the Marblehead Coastal Specific Plan area, which is a mix of upscale residential developments and commercial outliers centered around the San Clemente Outlet Mall. The area is intended to be developed into a commercial hub for the region.
North Beach, due to it being a major entry gateway on the famous El Camino Real, is attracting the private development of a boutique hotel and the historic Miramar Theater is scheduled to develop into a performing arts and event center.
Overall, many collaborative efforts go into maintaining the city’s supportive business culture. Leadership maintains great working relationships with the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce and the San Clemente Downtown Business Association.
This allows them to really leverage a number of different businesses and mobilize them through that partnership in a way that is conducive to both the city’s overall quality of life and the businesses’ long-term success.
Infrastructure for the Future
The most fortunate thing about San Clemente’s expansion is that, while greatly inspired by its commercial success, Mayor Duncan is fully aware that the key to fueling the city’s economic engine is expansion with a premiere residential lifestyle as its foundation.
While San Clemente is a fully built-out historic city, its ongoing efforts focus on improving existing infrastructure in a way that reflects Mayor Duncan’s vision for the future. This vision includes Mayor Duncan’s commitment to replenish sand on San Clemente’s beaches so it can maintain its position as a premier beachside village.
“We have a long term plan to maintain, replenish, and make sure that our beaches stay healthy,” says City Planner Jonathan Lightfoot, making note of the fact that much of the lifestyle value the city offers lies in its classic California culture.
With the assistance of U.S. Congressman Mike Levin and the federal funding he has secured, the city is launching a major sand replenishment project to deposit 250,000 cubic yards of sand near the historic pier, underscoring the commitment to enhancing the coastline maintained by city leadership. The project is managed collaboratively with the Army Corps of Engineers. The first deposit of sand will take place from December 2023 through January 2024. Future replenishment cycles will occur about every 5 years.
However, coastal beauty isn’t the only priority of sand replenishment. Stabilizing the beaches also secures opportunities for walkability and other recreation. The San Clemente shoreline is adorned with a beautiful natural pathway that goes the entire length of the city.
Bridges along the city’s unique and spectacular unpaved beach trail are being upgraded to ensure the preservation of this unique walking path. These projects have spurred a new focus on sustainable projects, leading to the creation of a new Coastal Administrator position.
Efforts to enhance walkability also include the closure of Main Street for events like the downtown car show and the Christmas season kickoff event, “Putting on the Glitz.” And in partnership with the Orange County Transit Authority (OCTA), leadership has embraced open-air trolleys, introduced in 2017, facilitating convenient and eco-friendly mobility for residents and visitors.
Beyond the beaches, the City invests in other infrastructure through annual prioritization of projects in its Capital Improvement Program. The City continually upgrades its sidewalks and streets, adds bike lanes, upgrades parks and playgrounds, and invests in preservation of historic properties such as the historic Casa Romantica Cultural Center.
The City also works closely with partner agencies to address long term environmental challenges and hazards. The City has worked closely with OCTA and the California Coastal Commission to permit projects that stabilize shoreline areas impacted by erosion to protect infrastructure and the regional railroad line.
Mayor Duncan has been looking to partner with the regional Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) on the development of an innovative Wildland Fire Station that would sit in the eastern area of the city located in a high fire zone, which would enhance wildland fire safety of the community.
San Clemente’s Soaring Potential
In conclusion, San Clemente is not merely a coastal city; it’s a living testament to history, culture, and community. From its Spanish-inspired architecture to the lively downtown, the city has carved a niche for itself.
Through maintaining a close collaboration with Congressman Levin and Orange County leadership, particularly with District 5 Supervisor Katrina Foley, city leadership is able to continue its growth while working collaboratively “on all kinds of things, from addressing homelessness to [environmental] projects tackling landslides and coastal erosion,” according to Mayor Duncan.
Looking ahead, San Clemente envisions capitalizing on its unique offerings. A focus on economic development, a world-class hotel, and hosting events like the Olympic surfing competitions during the LA Olympics are part of Mayor Duncan’s future aspirations for the city.
As the world discovers this hidden gem, the city looks forward to a future defined by innovation, growth, and an unparalleled quality of life. With a commitment to preserving its heritage, enhancing infrastructure, and fostering a thriving business community, San Clemente’s potential will undoubtedly inspire a massive wave of interest in coastal living in the near future.
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AT A GLANCE
San Clemente, California
What: A coastal gem thriving on heritage, cultural richness, and business innovation, achieving a harmonious balance between growth, community engagement, and environmental conservation.
Where: Southern California between San Diego and Los Angeles.
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