A Surfer’s Hotel for Off the Beaten Path World Travelers

Co-owner of Nomads Hotel, Sean Rowland, and I quickly introduced ourselves and began my hotel tour in the dorm room. Each oversized twin bunkbed has a black privacy curtain surrounding a custom-sized memory foam mattress. The entire room is set up comfortably, and despite my anti-dorm-room mentality, I wouldn’t mind staying here.

As a reminder, I always pay for my own food and accommodation. Following are my honest opinions, and none of the businesses written about here have offered payment, nor have I requested payment. If you want to support this blog financially, feel free to click this link to Amazon, and I’ll receive a percentage of your purchase price at no additional cost to you. Or, you can reach out to me, and I’ll let you know what currency I need for my future trips. Cool? 

Nomads Hotel Rooms

Continuing into a hotel room, my eyes were immediately shocked by the fluorescent walls. All I could think of for a moment was who in their right mind would want to sleep here? And, then I realized what was needed: Pretend for one second that I’m not in California. See the room with your world traveler eyes.

With this changed mindset I relaxed into the paint job. This is exactly the appeal of tropical locations—bright colors and a relaxed atmosphere.  This is normal in so many places I’ve visited around the world, and Nomads Hotel has simply brought it back to California! And, if the wall color doesn’t give you the feel of Latin America, just enjoy the hand-selected furniture from auctions and thrift shops, and in some rooms even a waterfall showerhead!

Bathroom at Nomads Hotel in San Clemente, California.

The bathroom area of one room. Each room has a different setup. Photograph courtesy of Nomads Hotel.

The wall art that stood out most for me was the gorgeous surf and ocean photography by Sean. Sean previously traveled the world half the year as a surf photographer for the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP). When the recession hit, it meant less advertising budget for all the small surf companies that purchased his photography. Plus, the rise of digital photography caused an oversaturation of surf photography. He got into the hotel business when his friend, Jeff, the owner of Nomads Canteen mentioned his dream of having a hotel. Jeff and Sean began working together, and after two and a half years of framing, helping with the demolition, plumbing, and electrical work, Nomads Hotel opened on April 21, 2015.


Nomads Canteen – San Clemente Food from the World’s Surf Spots

Nomads Canteen in San Clemente California. Surfboard collection.

The surfboard collection in the rafters. I counted 60 from my seat. Interested in surf history? Just chat with Jeff, the owner.

Oh, the food at Nomads Canteen…First of all, you can’t get the meal I had. Everything is from the menu, but the meal is not on the menu and it doesn’t exist in real life. I arranged in advance to have a taste of various dishes, so that I could write about it for you, my hungry (or soon to be hungry) reader. I’ll walk you through my meal. If you want a similar meal, reach out ahead of time and negotiate your price. See what you can work out– they might say ‘no’, or you might get one of the best meals possible from a restaurant (homemade meals are a different category). Good luck!

All Budgets Welcome

Similar to Nomads Hotel, any budget is welcome.  Verdict on the menu: Order anything that looks good to you! It’s all fresh and it’s all delicious, just like if you were in the locale the recipe comes from.

Nomads Canteen menu. San Clemente food in California.


The Canteen has plenty of beers from the local breweries, with 33 on tap. Not much of a beer drinker? Just say what flavors you do or don’t like, and the bar will set you up.  I was happy with my beer, and I’m the pickiest beer drinker I know– I don’t like hoppy beer and I don’t like carbonation (correct, I don’t like soda, either). I’m good with fruity flavors.

Nomads Canteen beer flight


San Pedro Town Stewed Chicken Over Coconut Rice

The Belizean mild spice combination in the stewed chicken, including Marie Sharp’s sauce imported from Belize, is absolutely delicious. The meat, plump with the natural sweetness of coconut milk, slides off the bone with a touch from the fork. Reminiscent of a Thai coconut curry, the spices meld into the meat and rice, such that when one bite is swallowed I’m immediately ready for the next. I’m finally convinced that I should take a trip to Belize, in hopes that I could eat this for at least one meal a day. This dish is my favorite, because of the surprise it imparts. Mild in flavor, yet happily flavorful from the myriad of coconut.

Nomads Canteen San Pedro Town Stewed Chicken. San Clemente food in California.


Carnitas (Stewed Pork)

Nomads’ version of carnitas (stewed pork) is unlike any I’ve had before. Flavorful and juicy, it is the opposite of the overly salty meat I’ve had before. Have your carnitas over rice and beans, in a taco, or in a quesadilla.

Nomads Canteen carnitas. San Clemente food in California.


Poké (Marinated Raw Fish)

Jaco Poké Bowl. If you aren’t yet familiar with poké, just know that it’s something like sashimi (raw fish) on steroids or ceviche at an altogether different level. Originating from Hawaii, the raw fish is marinated in any number and combination of ingredients such as green onion, ginger, soy sauce… there must be 100 kinds. This particular marinade is spicy, and with slices of mango and avocado on the side to cut the spice, it is heavenly.

Nomads Canteen Jaco poke. San Clemente food in California.

Beans & Rice

The least expensive main dish on the menu, Almost Broke, is just $6. As you should expect, it is composed of beans and rice, and comes topped with sour cream and cheese. Delicious! Another time when the almost-vegetarian food is just as good as omnivore food (veggie people: there’s bacon in the beans, so check for a bacon-less version). I specifically requested to try this dish, since I wanted to see if I’d like the beans. I ate more homemade beans than I can recall during my years living in Latin America, and it’s definitely a skill to get great ones. These pinto beans met my standards, and I recommend them to you. Made fresh with 20+ other ingredients, the flavor is deep, the beans are firm, and they meld effortlessly with the rice.

Nomads Canteen Almost Broke bowl of beans and rice. San Clemente food in California


Indo Shrimp Bowl

I love both shrimp and mango, yet I completely underestimated the Indo Shrimp Bowl. The shrimp, grilled just long enough to crisp on the outside, is sweet and succulent. Meanwhile, the unassuming cool, yellow, mango-based Salsa del Sol waits patiently to accompany the warm shrimp. I’ve learned to restrain any excitement regarding mango salsas at restaurants, since it rarely actually tastes much like mango. Mango is a favorite fruit of mine and a distant relative of the cashew and poison ivy. Visually, the green and purple bits interspersed among the bright yellow mango are beautiful. In my mouth, the avocado’s oil offsets the mango’s acidity. Meanwhile the onion, scallions, and jalapeño, although barely noticeable and certainly not spicy, heighten the mangos’ sweetness. These fruits and vegetables are the ideal alternative to sugar. Really, the best mango salsa I’ve ever had.

Nomads Canteen Indo Shrimp Bowl. San Clemente food in California



My days in this surf town were planned less than 24 hours before arrival, and what a great surprise it was to land in a place with perfect weather, delicious food and great accommodation. I’ve already convinced my friend to visit with me for surf camp!

{Friendly reminder: I pay my own way for food, lodging, and transportation, so you can rely on my opinions, whether accolades or complaints. If you click on a link for food, lodging, or transportation, I don’t receive any payment, so there’s no benefit for me to send you somewhere bad. If I say it’s good, then that’s what I believe.}


How To’s in San Clemente, California

Getting There

San Clemente lies in Orange County midway between Los Angeles (to the north) and San Diego (to the south).


  • John Wayne (SNA), 28 miles. 15 minute drive from Santa Ana Metrolink train station.
  • San Diego (SAN), 59 miles
  • Ontario (ONT), 64 miles
  • Los Angeles (LAX), 66 miles


Rent a car if you plan to visit neighboring sites, such as San Diego or Disneyland. If staying local, Uber and Lyft in combination are enough, if you don’t plan on moving a great distance after 5pm. Along highway Interstate 5 (I-5).



Amtrak and Metrolink use two stops, San Clemente (3 minutes south of San Clemente Pier by train or 10 minutes by car) and San Clemente Pier (across from Pierside Kitchen + Bar restaurant).



Pierside Kitchen + Bar  Dishes are $8-$27. Taco Tuesday. Happy hours are Monday-Friday. Stairs at front entrance.

Nomads Canteen  Dishes are reasonably priced at $6-$18, considering the menu claims that no canned food and no fried food is served. Happy hours are Tuesday, Thursday and all day Sunday. Kids menu is $4.



Nomads Hotel is a mile from the beach, and rooms are unique with a surfer / tropical vibe. Surrounded by restaurants, cafes, surf shops, a Thai massage salon and bookstore are within a 60-second stroll. Also on offer are surf camp packages starting at $799, including surf gear, lodging, meals, and local transportation.  Stairs – some rooms have stairs to the bathroom. Natural light and fresh air – some rooms have minimal natural light, while others have windows opening onto a quiet, but public, alley or the street.

Casa Tropicana Boutique Hotel shares its entrance with Pierside Kitchen + Bar, and is just across the street from the beach. Rooms start at $300. Stairs – Front entrance has stairs from the street.

Beachcomber Motel is a quintessential California room on the beach. Located on the beach-side of the street across from Pierside Kitchen + Bar, you could walk down a grassy hill and arrive on the beach if it weren’t for the fenced off train tracks. The train tracks run between your floor-to-ceiling glass window and the ocean, so bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper. Rooms are for couples and families and start at $170.



Rancho Mission Viejo Reserve holds public events for people to enjoy nature.

Surf Camp packages are offered by Nomads Hotel, starting at $799 for 7 nights.

Visit the nearby town of San Juan Capistrano for history, wine tasting, and art galleries. [Coming soon! Please ask any question in the Comments section below, in the meantime.]

Disneyland and other major tourist attractions in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas are 45-60 minutes drive.


Read More

Did you read page 1 of this article? San Clemente beaches and food.

2-night and 7-night San Clemente itineraries