By Fred Swegles

Whenever relatives ask about visiting San Clemente, I tell them “September or October.”

That’s the best time of year at our beaches. Bank on it.

No June Gloom. No July Gloom, which can occur. Pleasant weather, pretty dependable. Warm water that may not have been present during early to midsummer, likely to linger well into October.

The tourists departed on Labor Day. And, oh, have you noticed? The beaches now have a lush carpet of sand, not riddled with large fields of cobblestone that made large sections of our shoreline a tenderfoot battlefield in June and July.

Remember the cobblestoned beaches of summer? They are long-gone this fall season, replaced by a cushy carpet of sand. Sunday, Oct. 7, the air was warm, the water an inviting 70 degrees and few tourists, except at the Pier for the clam chowder cook-off. Photo: Fred Swegles
Remember the cobblestoned beaches of summer? They are long-gone this fall season, replaced by a cushy carpet of sand. Sunday, Oct. 7, the air was warm, the water an inviting 70 degrees and few tourists, except at the Pier for the clam chowder cook-off. Photo: Fred Swegles

I sometimes wonder whether the Ocean Festival can even do its celebrated sand sculpture contest in mid-July.

Three weeks after this summer’s Ocean Festival, late-season south swells had pushed in a magical coating of white sand that the Ocean Festival could only have requested.

Historically, storms out of the northwest will strip away sand from our beaches in winter, leaving us with cobblestones from January well into summer. Then south swells begin to push sand sitting offshore back onto the beaches. Fall is by far the nicest time to plop your towel onto a cushy, fluffy beach.

There have been fall seasons when the cobblestone stubbornly persisted, but even then, it’s the best beach we get all year.

And there are few people on it to intrude on your towel space.

By November, water temperatures are dipping and the “ouch factor” kicks in when you try to tiptoe in.

Recently, some family members from Tennessee contacted me, having found a bargain fare on Southwest from Nashville here in April and May.

I told them, take May if you can, late May if possible. They snagged the last week of May. Best choice they could have made.

April can be mild, or pretty cold. Water is likely very cold. You might luck out.

May is a better bet. You may get stuck with an early June Gloom, but maybe not. Temperatures should be mild, and persistent overcast typically means breezes out of the south, which translate into warmer ocean temps. In May, the water could be cold but is much more likely to be mild. It can even reach 70-plus degrees. It can also fluctuate. It can drop 10 degrees overnight if we get a persistent northwest wind (that can happen in midsummer, too).

But your chances are pretty good.

If the beach doesn’t cooperate in May, there’s the Hawaiian Surf Club’s annual Polynesian Festival. And there’s always Disneyland or Sea World. My 7-year-old grandniece, Mila, will gain forever memories of those, whatever the weather.

The bad: Our beach in May will likely be riddled with cobblestones. Just deal with it. Our sandy beaches come and go from year to year, as north Pacific winter storms taketh sand and summer south swells giveth, for decades.

There’s been a net deficit of sand since around 1980, likely because urbanization and channelization of creeks resulted in less sediment being sent out to sea to replenish our beaches.

We are blessed with a pretty nice beach, not what it was when I was a kid at T-Street but still a wonderful playground.

In my childhood, we didn’t wear wetsuits or surfboard leashes. We would surf 55-degree waters in winter, wearing just swim trunks. If you fell from your surfboard, you swam in to fetch it. Can you say ice cream headache?

Kids today can’t relate to that. They wear wetsuits in summer. I personally can’t imagine how I put myself through what I did in winter—crazy cold, windy, stormy conditions and all. Remember 1969? We just did.

Our beach is a blessing. I’m only too pleased to share it with relatives from Tennessee next spring.

Fred Swegles is a longtime San Clemente resident with more than 46 years of journalism experience in the city.

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