The Rose and I have been too busy to rendezvous of late, but we did manage to find a few hours on a recent Tuesday to meet up and drive just south of Laguna Beach to the nearby coastal city of San Clemente (www.downtownsanclemente.com).
Heading down Pacific Coast Highway on what was an ideal Southern California day, we dreamed about what it would be like to live in one of the beachside homes we drove by — to walk right on the sand with the ocean lapping at our feet or to hear the sound of the crashing waves as we nodded off to sleep. "Maybe one day," we said to ourselves.
All the while, visions of flip-flops were dancing in my head. Would my cohort be willing to stop at the Rainbow Sandals store (949-492-3070, www.rainbowsandals.com) that I had passed by oh so many times in the past, I wondered? I broached the subject with her and the answer was an exuberant, "Yes!" So, we turned off to the left just as we entered town and drove a short distance to 326 Calle De Los Molinos to the sandal outlet that was started in Laguna Beach in 1974 by Jay “Sparky” Longley and is now based in San Clemente.
Arriving in the tiny parking lot of the small, pale yellow structure, the first thing I spotted was a giant flip-flop with an array of colorful signatures. The unassuming façade would do little to prepare me for what I would encounter inside. Much like my friend, the Rose, when she spied her first DSW, I was immediately mesmerized by the sheer size of the store and the rack upon rack of flip-flops — from fancy, braided and casual thongs to sliders to wedges and more, for men, women and children, and in every color under the sun, priced anywhere from around $20 to $80. There were even loafers (some with sheepskin lining), boots and accessories from hats to shirts to wallets.
I’ve always heard about how the leather, hemp and rubber sandals mold to your feet, and I've coveted a pair since moving to Laguna Beach. With my chance at hand to own my very own Rainbow Sandals, I set out on my tour of the store. Should I opt for the "Flirty Braidy" pair ($50) that I’ve had my eye on in the magazines? Or the cute colored ones? Eventually, I settled on a pair of black "Riviera" wedges, which upon slipping on my feet made me feel like I was walking on air. That’s the pair, I decided. The best part? They were on sale for $29 (LOVE!)
Armed with my sales receipt (be sure to stop by the security guard with your purchase on the way out), we headed to the car, I changed into my new purchase and we made our way to downtown San Clemente … with the Peach more than ready to brave the clothing and gift stores, restaurants and more of Avenida Del Mar in the sheer comfort of her new Rainbows.
As luck would have it, someone was leaving the typically busy free parking along each side of the street just as we pulled down Del Mar. I scooted in, and we exited the car and went on our way.
The first spot that caught our eye was Gallery 104 (166 Avenida Del Mar, 949-218-0903, gallery104.com), featuring varied works by professional local and regional artists on display for our viewing pleasure. "How impressive" was our first thought, especially the variety of mediums, including bowls, oils, glassworks, sculpture, photographs, mosaics, mirror etchings, seaglass jewelry and more.
Next up was Sugar Blossom (204 Avenida Del Mar, Suite F, 949-429-5555, www.sugarblossombakeshop.com), a boutique bake shop offering specialty cakes, cupcakes, cookies, gluten-free brownies, and on Sunday only, the shop’s famous macadamia nut cinnamon rolls. The Rose had her eye on the cupcakes — $3 each, and ranging from plain vanilla (a classic yellow cupcake with a Madagascar vanilla buttercream and rainbow sprinkles) to the fancy piña colada (a yellow cake made with coconut milk and rum with cream cheese frosting, caramelized baby pineapple and maraschino cherry) and even s’mores (a moist chocolate cupcake with a gooey marshmallow center topped with roasted marshmallows and crushed graham crackers).
After checking out the wide variety, the Rose settled on lemon meringue (a lemon cupcake topped with light lemony torched meringue), which she proclaimed, “to die for.”
We decided to peruse some more shops before picking out a lunch spot. Heading down the sidewalk heavily peopled with pets and their owners, we spotted the San Clemente Library; many open galleries; cafés; the post office (which even had a permanent display of O.C. artist Paul Gavin’s Premiere Coastal Series, gavinarts.com); and the new electronic cigarette store — Gourmet Flavors, with the slogan, “Vape! Don’t Smoke.” (I’ll pass, thanks.)
The Rose made a beeline to The Greater O.C. Woman (211-B Avenida Del Mar, 949-542-7777, www.downtownsanclemente.com/greaterocwomansanclemente/index.htm), which offers a mix of fine and casual apparel that changes daily. After falling in love with everything in the store, she settled on a white jacket with brocade and sequins for a reasonable $79.
Moving on, we loved the funky shoes in the window of Swirl Boutique (167-B Avenida Del Mar, 949-361-8643), only to enter and find delightful wire and shell sculptures noting phrases such as “Peace,” “Welcome” and “Home”), designer clothing and other items. And yet more shoes — Ecco, Clarks, Sperry, Converse — caught our eye at Sam’s Shoes & Repair (135 Avenida Del Mar, 949-492-3495). What’s that? A camera store? Neither one of us have seen one of those in a while!
And then, there was our must-stop for the Rose: Best of Britain (127A Avenida Del Mar, 949-361-0631), with imported food and gifts including Bewleys Irish Teas, P.G. Tips and a large selection of teas, jams, marmalades; china tea cups and pots; David Winter collector cottages; and numerous English knick-knacks from flags to car decals. I spotted the Rose with full arms and saw she had found some staples: Paxo sage and onion stuffing, Aah! Bisto (gravy mix) and Coleman’s Curry for chips (or fries, for us Southerners). “How much for the cute British Bulldog?” she asked. Alas, it was not for sale as it served as the store mascot.
Our stomachs beginning to grumble, we started scouting out lunch spots. We considered family-owned and operated Billy’s Meat, Seafood & Deli (111 Del Mar, 949-498-5924), a meat and seafood market and deli offering sandwiches, salads and entrees to enjoy on the dog-friendly patio outdoors (where you also can find a floral shop, and fresh produce and fruit stand).
We also thought about Café Calypso (114 Avenida Del Mar, 949-366-9386, thecafecalypso.com), a breakfast, lunch and gourmet coffee spot located in the old San Clemente Hotel and offering plenty of outdoor seating.
Ultimately, we settled on Avila’s El Ranchito Mexican Restaurant (204 Avenida Del Mar, 949-498-5000, www.avilaselranchito.com/san_clemente.php), where big-screen TVs availed the Rose of soccer coverage and the Peach with NFL news. Of course, we started off with chips and salsa, and for our meal, the Rose chose Mamá Avila’s Soup (a huge bowl of chicken breast and rice soup, garnished with fresh avocado, cilantro, onions and tomatoes, served with warm tortillas, for $9.99), while the Peach got the Quesadilla Avila (a large grilled flour tortilla filled with a blend of cheeses and shredded chicken and loaded with guacamole and sour cream, also for $9.99).
Nice and full, and with the Rose having somewhere else to be later that afternoon, we headed back to the car and went on our way ... already thinking about our next adventure!