San Clemente, CA (SNP)
Developed in the 1920s and inspired by Spanish seaside villages, San Clemente is well known for its long pier, a prime fishing spot for yellowfin croaker, corbina, sand bass and mackerel.
615 Avenida Victoria
at the San Clemente Pier
San Clemente, CA 92672
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 15,396
- Facility Ownership: N/A
- Parking Lot Ownership: N/A
- Platform Ownership: Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA)
- Track Ownership: Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA)
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
The station at San Clemente Pier is a simple, palm-lined platform within walking distance of the community’s well-known pier.
The California coast was first explored by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who worked for the Kingdom of Castile. In 1542 he claimed the region for Spain, but no settlements were planned; 60 years later the coast was mapped by Sebastián Vizcaíno. Although known by the Spaniards for more than two hundred years, they did not establish settlements in California until the late 18th century when the Russian Empire began to take an interest in the area.
To secure the coast, King Carlos III authorized the creation of a chain of forts and missions to protect strategic sites that could be of future use to the Spanish Empire in North America. The first “presidio” or “fort” and mission complex was established at San Diego in 1769. The Franciscan friars who administered the missions passed through the area of present-day San Clemente that same year, but they did not return to establish a community until 1775, choosing an inland site six miles to the northwest at present day San Juan Capistrano. The Franciscans worked toward the conversion of the region’s American Indians to Christianity, a stated goal of Spanish colonization. Each mission was supported by large tracts of land for agriculture and grazing that were worked by the friars and the converts. A portion of these holdings was in the vicinity of San Clemente.
The Acjachemen American Indians who willingly or sometimes were forcibly settled at the mission were called “Juaneño” (“of Juan”) by the Spaniards, indicating that they were considered to be under San Juan Capistrano’s sphere of influence. The Acjachemen descended from the Shoshonean Nation and for centuries had inhabited the area from the coast to the mountains. They were known for baskets woven from wild grasses, as well as for their carved stone bowls.
San Juan Capistrano grew into one of the largest and wealthiest missions.Following Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, the missions were secularized and many of the buildings and land holdings were sold off to private owners, who created large “ranchos” or ranches. Many of the ranchos survived into the American period following the Mexican-American War of 1845-1848 and the resulting cession of California and much of the Southwest to the United States.
The land around San Clemente was purchased by Pio Pico, a two-time Mexican Governor of California. His sister married Don Juan Forster, an English shipping magnate who had made his fortune in Mexico during the 1830s. Forster acquired the land from his brother-in-law and continued to invest in the region, eventually becoming one of the largest landowners with an estimated 200,000 acres to his name.
By the 1870s Los Angeles and San Francisco dominated Californian shipping and railroading. The foremost railroad in the state was the Southern Pacific (SP), which overlooked requests for a rail line from the small communities in the far southern corner of the state. Therefore, civic boosters in San Diego made a deal with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (ATSF). Through its subsidiary California Southern Railroad (CS), the ATSF began to build a line from San Diego that was intended to reach Barstow, California to link with the SP line that ran to the Arizona border.
From 1880-1882, the CS drove northward through coastal swamps and bogs and inland gullies and canyons, requiring numerous trestles and other infrastructure built by Chinese laborers. After years of building and lawsuits with the SP, the line reached Barstow in 1885. The original route of the CS proved treacherous, as the portion through Temecula Canyon washed out in 1882 within a year of its opening. Although rebuilt, the line was soon replaced by the ATSF’s “Surf Line” which was laid through Orange County, including the future site of San Clemente, to meet the CS at Oceanside in 1888. It allowed a safer coastal link between San Diego and Los Angeles that avoided Temecula Canyon which washed out again in 1891 and was abandoned.
For most of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the hills around San Clemente remained a quiet agriculture zone. The railroad transported farmers’ wheat, citrus, and walnut crops to distant markets and California gained a world-wide reputation for its natural bounty. It was not until the 1920s that the land was considered for a town site by Ole Hanson. Born in Wisconsin to Norwegian immigrants, Hanson had a varied career that included real estate, politics, and lecturing. In 1912 he co-founded a planned community outside of Seattle, Washington, a town-planning effort that foreshadowed his work in San Clemente and elsewhere. After time in the Washington State legislature, he served as mayor of Seattle from 1918-1919. During his short tenure, he was credited with putting down the Seattle General Strike of 1919, and subsequently stepped down to lecture across the country about the perceived dangers of “domestic Bolshevism.”
Hanson then moved to California, attracted to a coastal area midway between San Diego and Los Angeles that he had seen 20 years earlier on a train ride between the two cities. Through his business associate Hamilton H. Cotton, Hanson finally gained control of the large tract in 1925. The decade was a boom period not just for California, but for most of the nation. California’s boosters advanced all things associated with the missions and the Spanish era as an effective marketing tool to lure residents from the East Coast and the Midwest to the state. The use of Mission and Spanish revival architecture romanticized California’s past, and created picturesque, idealized landscapes.
Hanson envisioned a town that would echo the ancient seaside villages of Spain, dressed in white stucco and red roof tiles. The community, named San Clemente after the most southern of the coastal Channel Islands, was an early master-planned town. This meant that the entire settlement—roads, sewers, community buildings, and houses—would be built from scratch by the developer. In doing so, Hanson and his partners retained ultimate control over its appearance and layout. He established a set of design guidelines that required all structures to adhere to Spanish Revival aesthetics. Hanson and Cotton carefully laid out the streets in a picturesque, curvilinear fashion that took advantage of the site’s hilly topography, resulting in lots of varying sizes.
A new town in the middle of farm country seemed a crazy idea, even in the frenetic real estate market of the 1920s. Only Hanson seemed confident in his idea, and he quickly went about convincing others of his dream. He and his son set up a tent on-site, and interested buyers were personally walked through their property to ensure that the house would take best advantage of the topography and retain ocean views. Lots initially went on sale in late 1925, and ranged in price from $300 to $1500. The persuasive power of Hanson’s oratory was manifest in the fact that he sold more than 1,200 lots in the first six months.
Hanson built numerous public facilities that were then deeded to the residents, including an Olympic-sized pool, community center, water system, golf course, elementary school, and fishing pier. All the structures were of course designed according to Hanson’s Spanish Revival architectural guidelines. The most prominent building in early San Clemente was Hanson’s own house, a seven bedroom manse set upon the bluffs overlooking the pier and designed by noted regional architect Carl Lindbom.
Ole Hanson’s dream quickly came crashing down, as he was wiped out during the Great Depression which struck just as the community was taking off. He lost his investment in San Clemente, and then his house in 1932. By the end of the decade, Hanson’s beloved design codes were eliminated and his ideal Spanish village was slowly infiltrated by modern structures that broke San Clemente’s visual unity. Hanson died in 1940, but not before helping to develop another town in the desert.
Most construction stopped during the Great Depression, but San Clemente gained a new depot in 1931. Built by the ATSF, the one-storey structure was designed in the Spanish Revival style; a low gabled roof of red tile sheltered walls of white stucco. It was a combination depot with a freight room at one end, indicated by a heavy wood door and lack of windows. The passenger waiting room was marked by a small pavilion with a segmented arch entryway. The depot only remained opened nine years before it was closed and then torn down in 1964.
San Clemente continued to grow after World War II with the establishment of the Marine Corps training base at Camp Pendleton to the south of town. The quiet ocean side community was regularly thrust into the national spotlight after President Richard Nixon purchased Hamilton Cotton’s old house in 1969. Nixon referred to the estate as “La Casa Pacifica,” meaning “Pacific House” or “House of Peace,” but the press soon dubbed it the “Western White House” which it remained for the duration of his presidency. The private home acted as the Nixon’s retreat away from the nation’s capital, and he entertained numerous dignitaries in its rooms including Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev. Interestingly, the house hosted other presidents over the years. Hamilton Cotton welcomed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the two were known to play cards in the gazebo overlooking the ocean; President Lyndon Johnson visited Nixon. After Nixon’s resignation, he wrote his memoirs at Casa Pacifica in the 1970s, and today the house remains in private hands.
Within the last few decades, the next generation of residents confirmed their commitment to Hanson’s original vision for San Clemente. The local historical society has advocated successfully for the preservation of a number of the town’s early houses and commercial buildings. Some have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, including Hanson’s mansion, known as Casa Romantica. After numerous owners and stints as a retirement home and an events facility, the city-owned estate has recently undergone a $5 million renovation and restoration to convert it into a cultural center. The house now sponsors a speaker series, arts workshops, children’s book readings, and other events crafted to involve the greater community.
Most people come to San Clemente to stroll the streets, window-shop, and admire the views out to the ocean. The 1,296 foot long pier is known as a fishing spot where yellowfin croaker, corbina, sand bass, and mackerel can be found. The pier boasts a restaurant and bait and tackle shop and the Pacific Surfliner drops off travelers at the foot of the walkway. Legend has it that during Prohibition in the 1930s, bootlegged liquor was smuggled into the area by offloading near the pier.
Throughout the year, the city holds numerous events. The summer kicks into high gear with the Ocean Festival, now in its fourth decade. The busy weekend includes a 5K Beach Run, a sand-sculpting competition, Fishing Derby, and an art show in venues along the beach. In August, the San Clemente Fiesta takes over two blocks of Avenida del Mar. The event includes live music, a Salsa Challenge, arts and crafts, a classic car and motorcycle show, and activities for kids. In October, Seafest on the pier is known for its Chowder Cook-Off Competition; after the dishes are judged, the public gets to try all the variations.
The area is also home to great beaches such as San Onofre State Beach at the south end of town bordering Camp Pendleton. It offers campgrounds, a wide sandy beach, and a handful of famous surf-spots that make it one of the most visited state parks. Surfers know the area as “Trestles”—named after the nearby railroad bridges that cross the park’s wetlands. Casa Pacifica overlooks this area, and the surf community gathers often to ride the waves and learn from one another.
Each year, the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour competition and the amateur National Scholastic Surfing Association National competition are held at Trestles, attracting large crowds of fans. The popularity of surfing at San Clemente goes back half a century and the town is now the center for numerous surfing-related publications and workshops. San Onofre is also home to Panhe, the site of an Acjachemen village where early contact took place between the Spanish soldiers, Franciscan friars, and the Acjachemen people in 1769. Many Acjachemen trace their heritage back to the village.
Further up the coast is San Clemente State Beach, a 3,000 acre coastal canyon with bluffs, a beach, and campgrounds. The 1934 ranger’s cottage houses a visitor’s center with exhibits about the flora and fauna of the park. The cottage’s patio, with the dramatic canyon and the ocean as a backdrop, can be rented for special events.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at San Clemente. ThePacific Surfliner service is primarily financed through funds made available by the State of California, Department of Transportation, and is managed by the LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority.
- 50 Short Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Platform
- Pay Phones
- Wheelchair Lift