San Clemente’s European influences are easily found in the local architecture and the laidback lifestyle, but they also extend to the coffee culture that runs throughout the town. An abundance of coffee shops provides plenty of options for residents, and everyone has their own favorites. Here are some of the best cafes around — and just what to get at each one.
This beachfront cafe is beloved across Orange County. The shop started as a pop-up, which developed a devoted following that ultimately led to opening a physical location — and later, a second shop in Dana Point. The cafe is dog-friendly and is the perfect place for those wanting a java break as they walk the pier with their best friend. People come for the drinks but stay for the great view of the water. For those whose brains don’t fully function before a cup of coffee, Bear Coast even sells a few basic necessities, like sunscreen, for a day on the beach.
When it comes to drinks, their basic brews are smooth and not overly bitter, but the best option is everyone’s favorite — the lavender caramel latte. This locally-famous drink is made with a housemade syrup and light floral notes that balance the sweetness. Pair it with the fresh avocado toast or one of the other pastries available.
165A Avenida Del Mar, San Clemente, CA
Get a taste of Europe without leaving California with a quick visit to J’Adore. The cafe was founded by a European couple whose two restaurants in France were named some of the best in the country. Now, they’ve brought the European lifestyle to San Clemente with this sweet cafe that focuses on excellent coffee and light dishes made with local organic ingredients.
The ratatouille toast pairs well with the freshly squeezed juices, and for your caffeine fix, there is no better place on the West Coast for a classic cappuccino. They also have an assortment of crepes, including gluten-free options, and macarons, as any French-influenced spot should. Find a bit of respite from the crowded streets by sitting at one of the tables in their back garden, where street noise and crowds are distant memories.
This quaint, hole-in-the-wall coffee shop serves up some amazing brews. The menu is a bit small, but they have perfected their offerings, particularly the honey latte, a cup of perfectly balanced sweetness that’s good hot or served over ice. The shop is known to have some of the friendliest staff around, and many customers have become regulars. The ambiance is great for those looking to sit back and relax for a while.
118 S El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA
This minimalist coffee shop dispenses with frills and focuses on quality service, perfect coffee, and delicious pastries to start the morning right. Some claim their espresso is the best, but the true star order is a vanilla latte, hot or iced, and one of their massive, fresh sourdough cinnamon rolls warmed up for maximum impact. The light vanilla flavor from the latte isn’t overly sweet and compliments the cinnamon perfectly.
The shop was created by four friends who, on a surfing trip in Mexico, developed a passion for working with small coffee farmers to find the best beans. With the success of the coffee shop, they’ve also given back to underprivileged communities, both locally and internationally, so patrons can feel good about their morning coffee.
Surfin’ Donuts Coffee House
Surfin’ Donuts is a tiny shop that is often overlooked by those passing by but beloved by regulars. Those who know, know just how good the baked goods inside are and always come early since the shop closes in the early afternoon.
The cafe mostly ignores trendy offerings, except for their cronuts, and focuses on the classics — glazed donuts, bear claws, and on Sundays, the best blueberry fritters in Southern California. Similarly, they have a limited coffee menu, and the best option is the shot of espresso. While their espresso can be a bit strong and bitter, it pairs perfectly with any of the donuts. They also offer freshly-squeezed orange juice that can’t be missed.
It’s important to note that with so many fresh ingredients on hand in a gorgeous location, bees are also in attendance. Anyone with allergies should be careful or send a friend to pick up your order!
1001 S El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA
A family-owned cafe, this hot San Clemente spot is best known for its light-roast coffee, which is easy to enjoy while listening to the live musical performances they have on occasion. The shop can get loud, so this isn’t a place to sit and work or study. Zebra House is great for socializing or enjoying a beverage in a nice, fun atmosphere. The cafe is dog-friendly and perfect for pet owners who need a caffeine hit as they spend time with their dogs.
Patrons love that the baristas brew strong coffee, making Americanos, straight espressos, or black coffee a great choice. If you prefer a flavored drink, try the white chocolate strawberry mocha, or on a hot day, switch it out for a peanut butter cold brew. They also have an extensive non-coffee-based menu, featuring favorites like basil mint lemonade and the lavender tea latte. If you need a bite to eat, they offer some light plates, such as breakfast burritos, salads, sandwiches, and spectacular chocolate chip pumpkin muffins.