Category Archives: Spotlight on

Spotlight on: Olamendi’s Mexican Restaurant


Olamendi’s opened in San Clemente in 1973 and featured some of the dishes the owner’s mother and grandmother had cooked for him when he was growing up. At the time, authentic Mexican fare wasn’t common in Southern California. While the restaurant got off to a slow start, within a couple of years, Olamendi’s had became so popular that it had to move to a bigger space, its current location on Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point. Olamendi’s is now a popular eatery for surfers, who frequently come in after catching waves across the street.

When you enter Olemendi’s, you’ll think you’ve entered a Dia De Los Muertos festival instead of a restaurant, but don’t let the décor distract you. The food is good. Tacos cost around $5; burritos, $10; tostadas, $12; enchiladas, $6; and fajitas, $20. The extensive menu also includes a vegan section, which Olamendi said was inspired by his vegan son. Make sure to try my personal favorites–enchiladas suizas, the California burrito, or the Milaneza.

Spotlight on: The swallows!

Next time you’re at the Mission San Juan Capistrano, keep an eye out for the swallows.

For about 5 years now, the Mission has attempted to lure San Juan’s famous migrating birds back to its grounds, and it looks like the efforts are finally working.

The swallows have been coming back to San Juan Capistrano, but there hasn’t been a new nest at the Mission in a long time. Since 2012, the Mission has been working with Dr. Charles Brown, a swallows expert and professor of biological sciences at the University of Tulsa, to work on encouraging the swallows to come back. They’ve done everything from playing recorded courtship calls through a speaker on the grounds to deploying manmade nests (since swallows often prefer to inhabit existing nests).

Rough-winged swallows have been spotted nesting in the ruins of the Great Stone Church at the Mission, and it’s thought they may be largely responsible for motivating the cliff swallows to come back and settle. Apparently, cliff swallows have a thing for their rough-winged counterparts.

No matter the reason, it looks like the cliff swallows are back. A second nest and multiple birds have been spotted. Welcome back, guys!

Source: Capistrano Dispatch


Spotlight On: Best Golf Courses in South Orange County

Monarch Beach Golf Links (Dana Point)
50 Monarch Beach Resort N, Dana Point, CA 92629

Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club (Mission Viejo)
26772 Avery Pkwy, Mission Viejo, CA 92692

San Juan Hills Golf Club (San Juan Capistrano)
32120 San Juan Creek Rd, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

Ben Brown’s Golf Course at The Ranch Laguna Beach (Laguna Beach)
31106 Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Shorecliffs Golf Course (San Clemente)
501 Avenida Vaquero, San Clemente, CA 92672

San Clemente Municipal Golf Course (San Clemente)
150 E Avenida Magdalena, San Clemente, CA 92672

Talega Golf Club (San Clemente)
990 Avenida Talega, San Clemente, CA 92673

Bella Collina Golf Course (San Clemente)
200 Av. La Pata, San Clemente, CA 92673

Spotlight On: The 5 Freeway Renovations

If you live in south Orange County, you are well aware of all the CalTrans work being done to the 5 Freeway. From the new sound barriers and retaining walls being built (right behind my house), to the constant rush hour and weekend traffic jams, many of us are wondering, “What is being improved, exactly?” and, more importantly, “When is it going to end?”

The OCTA website has some information. Here is my summary.

I-5 South County Improvements
The I-5 South County Improvement Project will add a carpool lane in both directions between San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente, as well as rebuild the Avenida Pico interchange in San Clemente.

One of the objectives is to reduce traffic jams by ensuring a continuous number of lanes – four general purpose and one carpool – in each direction, which would minimize vehicle merging between lanes. At Avenida Pico, the freeway will be widened from four lanes in each direction to five, and Avenida Pico beneath the freeway will be widened from five lanes to nine. The northbound on-ramp will also be widened from two lanes to three.

According to the original project timeline (below), construction should be done by 2017.

5 fwy 1

BUT, it appears they are about 6 months behind schedule, so the new projected completion date is June, 2018.

You can read more about the South County improvements here.

I-5 / Ortega Highway Interchange Improvement Project
This project feels like it’s been going on forever, but the end may be in sight. The Ortega Highway Interchange Improvement Project is supposed to be the solution to the “choke point,” where significant traffic backups can occur on the I-5 South near the Ortega off-ramp. They are close to completing the reconstruction of the existing Ortega Highway bridge over the I-5 and the widening of the existing on and off-ramps.

Start Date: Early 2013
Original Completion Date: Spring 2015
New Completion Date: Winter 2015 (just a couple more months!)

And the fun doesn’t end there…

More sections of the 5 Freeway are expected to be reconstructed, just as these South County improvements come to a close. The I-5 SR-73 to El Toro Road Improvements are expected to add a lane to both directions of the freeway and extend the second carpool lane in each direction from El Toro Road to Alicia Parkway to increase capacity, as well as to reconstruct the Avery Parkway and La Paz Road interchanges.
5 fwy 2
The fact is that as long as people keep flocking to Orange County, OCTA will be busy expanding and reconstructing the freeways to accommodate everyone. I’m waiting for the day when they build up. Double-decker freeways, anyone?

Spotlight on: San Clemente Outlet Mall — Grand Opening November 2015

If you’ve taken the 5 freeway through San Clemente, you’ve seen the large construction project underway around the Avenida Pico exit. That project is the highly-anticipated San Clemente outlet mall.

SC outlet mall

It’s actually not just an outlet mall. It will have traditional retail stores, too. And restaurants! In total, there will be about 120 stores, including big-name brands like Nike, Calvin Klein, H&M, and Guess, and 12 restaurants/dining locations. The grand opening is planned for November. Some 45 stores and restaurants will be operational by that time, with the rest rolling out later this year and in 2016. The mall will include amenities that the Carlsbad outlets and Fashion Island do not offer, like a VIP loyalty shopper program with a members-only lounge, valet parking, complimentary Wi-Fi, a baggage check, and stroller/wheelchair rentals.

As a local resident, I have one concern: Traffic. As a realtor, I’m curious to see how this affects the local housing market. No matter what, it’s going to be a beautiful establishment. The center is part of the 249-acre Marblehead Coastal development that consists of 313 homes, the mall, hiking trails, parks, and a habitat preserve. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the Sea Summit trails yet, I highly recommend it. They are right next to the mall and overlook the ocean.

Personally, I’m cautiously (yet optimistically) looking forward to the completion of this project. I think it will be good for the area, overall. Construction alone has created 1,000 jobs, and they’re predicting that 1,000 more permanent jobs will be created when the center opens. Many experts are saying there will be an increase in domestic and international tourism in 2016, and this center will definitely make San Clemente an even more desirable destination.

It remains to be seen how much freeway congestion the new mall creates. This section of the I-5 is already very packed, with 219,000 cars traveling along past the mall every day. Thankfully, they are making some improvements to the freeway (more on that next week).

The San Clemente outlet mall by the numbers:

  • 500,000: Square feet in total, the initial opening will be more than 325,000 square feet
  • 120: Stores total
  • 12: Restaurants and dining locations
  • 3,339: Total parking spaces
  • 420: Length of foot bridge crossing the canyon


Spotlight on: Top 10 Underrated South Orange County Restaurants

You won’t find South of Nick’s or the world-famous Raya at the Ritz Carlton on this list. We all know those restaurants are great. This post is dedicated to the restaurants you may not have heard of. Consider them for your next evening out.

Iva Lee’s
555 N El Camino Real, San Clemente
(949) 361-2855
iva lee'sWe’ve dined here a few times now and it’s one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in Orange County–and it isn’t even because of the food. The food is good, but the ambiance and service are what make this place special.  There is kind of a dark, saloon vibe. The bar area is great. Live music is great (and not so loud that you can’t hear the person sitting next to you).

As for the food, we got the fried green tomatoes to start. The goat cheese made that dish. I got the red snapper with the cheesy grits and collard greens. It was nice to have something DIFFERENT for a change. They have great cocktails, several good beers on tap, and an extensive wine list.

Surfin’ Cowboy
34235 Doheny Park Rd, Capistrano Beach
(949) 272-5957
When we moved to Capo Beach, we were obsessed with finding “our place”–somewhere unpretentious where we could watch sports, drink good beer, and eat some acceptable food. I think this is the spot.

Don’t be fooled by the sort of odd location or the blacked out windows. It looks shady from the outside, but it’s fun inside. It definitely feels like a “local hangout.” Even though it’s a bar, lots of families come here. It’s a really chill, friendly atmosphere.

They have a great beer list–lots of craft selections. And the menu is surprisingly varied. I always get one of their huge burgers and I’m never disappointed.

24312 Del Prado Ave, Dana Point
(949) 661-6500
If you like good Italian food, Luciana’s is an excellent choice. The ambiance is great–dim mood lighting, cozy decor, laughter, wine flowing. It has a very homey, authentic Italian vibe. The food? Good, overall. Try the calimari fritti or the lasagna and you will not be disappointed. Prices are reasonable. It would be good for a date or for a family dinner–anything really. We’ll be back!

Tavern on the Coast
34212 Pacific Coast Hwy, Dana Point
(949) 415-5888
We’ve been here for brunch and dinner and they’ve always impressed us with quality food and stellar customer service.  The short rib lasagna was very rich and delicious.  For brunch, I’d highly recommend the breakfast burger with one of their morning cocktails. The bar area is really nice. They have a TV and it’s a more laid-back vibe than the rest of the restaurant–though the whole place is pretty casual. We’ll be back… at the bar!

24582 Del Prado Ave # A, Dana Point
(949) 276-4990
Very cool outdoor seating, swanky couches and intimate tables inside, a big, central bar with a TV, and a dude playing a guitar. What could be better? They have a pretty good happy hour menu, with $3 domestic beers and $4 craft/international beers. Not bad. We got the flatbread toscana and the bruschetta sampler off their happy hour menu too. VERY GOOD. This is a perfect place for sharing lots of small plates. Their menu has a ton of options.

The Cellar
156 Avenida Del Mar, San Clemente
(949) 492-3663
The only negative thing I have to say is that it’s crowded. That’s not really their fault, though. They’re just that awesome. Our waitress got us beers while we waited, so that helped. It’s first come, first served–no reservations taken–so be prepared to wait a bit.

Everything we ordered was delicious: Black bean hummus, Crostino, Kale and black bean flatbread, Mac n’ cheese. But the best part about this place is the great wine and beer selection. Service is super friendly. Piano music starts at 7pm. What else can I say? We love it.

211 N El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA 92672
(949) 361-2079
We really, really loved this place. It’s charming, aka small. I’d recommend reservations. We sat on the patio, which was nice and mellow. The inside is more of a pub atmosphere. Everything we ate was great: english pea and garlic confit ravioli, Mediterranean sea bass, mac-and-cheese, chocolate souffle. You get the sense that real people run this place– not some distant company. We’ll be back.

Gen Kai
34143 Pacific Coast Hwy, Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 240-2004
gen kai
This is the best sushi restaurant in South Orange County.  I feel like I have said enough.  End of review.

Angelina’s Pizzeria

32860 Pacific Coast Hwy, Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 429-1102
Sometimes I think, “Pizza is just pizza.” Then there are places that totally impress me and superlatives like “best” come flying out of my mouth. This place has the BEST authentic, Italian pizza. We went on our honeymoon in Italy and realized what sets that pizza apart from American pizza–fresh, flavorful sauce + top notch cheese. The red sauce on Angelina’s pizzas is just like what we had in Italy. I would have enjoyed drinking a glass of it.  Try the Margharita or the Vesuvio, those are our favorites!

Sambuca Italian Bistro
31161 Niguel Rd, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
(949) 429-7900
We had a wonderful experience here. The restaurant is small, with an open kitchen overlooking small tables clustered together. This wouldn’t be good for a big group (unless you arranged with them ahead of time to push together multiple tables). The service is superb. I think our waitress owns the place because she was very attentive and invested in explaining the menu and giving recommendations. The food was excellent. It reminded me of a little cafe in Florence we visited when we were in Italy. They’re known for their black linguini with shrimp and lobster.  I cannot comment on many other entrees on their menu because I haven’t been able to get off their black linguini yet!

Spotlight On: Agostino’s By the Sea

I grew up in Dana Point/Laguna Niguel and when I was a kid, Agostino’s was “our place” as a family. Selfishly, part of me feels a little reluctant to spread the word about it because I want to keep the hidden gem to myself. But, really, if you enjoy Italian food, you should know about it.

agostino's 1

It’s not surprising that Agostino’s is ranked the #1 restaurant in Capistrano Beach on TripAdvisor. It’s right across from Doheny State Beach, on a sleepy stretch of PCH. The ocean views are plenty, so I highly recommend reserving a table near a window to catch a sunset.

Agostino’s is a small, family-run business.  Agostino himself knows me and says hello whenever I visit. That type of customer service seems to be a forgotten art these days. Service aside, the real reason I continue to come back is the food. Their Italian dishes are the best I’ve had in California, and that’s not a distinction I toss around lightly.

I almost always order the veal parmigiana. Like I said, it’s the best I’ve had–slightly crispy on the outside, drenched in homemade sauce with perfectly melted cheese. It comes with a side of spaghetti (try the meat sauce), along with soup or salad and bread. My wife usually gets one of their pizzas or pastas and raves every time. You will be full and satisfied. Trust me.

Also: They offer cooking classes. My family and I have attended multiple classes since they began offering them and they’re always a blast. Agostino teaches the classes and you’ll get a great 3-course meal (and some good tips) out of them.

If you live in Dana Point, San Clemente, or anywhere else in South Orange County, please do yourself a favor and check this place out (and tell Augie I sent you).  You’ll be happy you did!

Agostino’s By the Sea
34700 Coast Hwy, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624
(949) 661-8266