By Pam Houseknecht
Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens is nestled atop the scenic bluffs in San Clemente and overlooks the pier, Catalina and San Clemente Island, and miles of beautiful ocean coastline.
It is a registered historic landmark that offers a unique blend of gardens, art exhibits, cultural and social events, and California history. It is also a place to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of nature, with benches positioned throughout the 2.5-acre manicured grounds. In the past it was common to see peacocks and other exotic birds strolling its grounds.
In December, Casa Romantica offers the family friendly Casa Lumina Holiday Walk. The home and gardens are transformed into an illuminated and festively decorated winter wonderland at night. There is live entertainment by local artists, crafts including “Letters to Santa” and hot cocoa.
The holiday walk takes place on select nights through Dec. 22, from 5 to 7 p.m. Admission is $15 general, $10 for children ages 2-12; children 2 and under admitted free.
“When you walk through its Spanish Colonial arches, you feel like you’re walking back in time,” says Ruth DeNault, Casa Romantica’s board president and a San Clemente resident since 1953.
DeNault encourages visitors to “come and enjoy the wonderful gardens, many great cultural programs, and the home itself.”
But she emphasizes that “it is the friendships you’ll make that is the biggest advantage the Casa offers.” She cites the many volunteers, mostly older people, who “create a welcoming family atmosphere.”
The Casa was built in 1927 by Ole Hanson, founder of San Clemente, which is dubbed the “Spanish village by the sea.” Visitors enter the grounds through an original exquisite, handmade artisan keyhole door that opens into the front courtyard.
Colorful inlaid tile walkways lead to the recently restored Casa and its surrounding botanical gardens. Those include a Monarch butterfly waystation, Cactus and Succulents, Native American plantings, Bluff Top Garden, the Woodland area, and Serenity Point.
Volunteer guide “Butterfly Bill” can sometimes be seen leading tours and giving talks on the many local butterflies.
The rooms of the Casa display vintage furniture and lavish accessories. Old photographs hang throughout depicting life in Southern California dating back nearly a century. Next to a quaint gift shop is a room filled with historical documents and memorabilia. Hand-painted murals adorn exterior walls.
Longtime volunteer Sandy Wheeler describes Casa Romantica as “a cultural center that has something for everyone.” She is confident that visitors will “go home happy,” noting that she fell in love with art as a result of volunteering as a historical guide, front door greeter and hospitality events worker.
Casa Romantica offers over 100 multicultural events each year, many either free or at a nominal fee. Events include outdoor concerts, classic movie screenings, art and yoga classes, monthly “free music and coffee” programs, quarterly art exhibits, dance performances, theatrical plays, horticultural lectures, themed holiday events and several evening socials throughout the year.
Due to its reputation as a major cultural institution, the Casa attracts local, national and international talent for its wide-ranging events.
Casa Romantica is at 415 Avenida Granada in San Clemente,, about 15 miles south of Laguna Woods. General admission is $5 per visit; annual individual membership is $50, and dual membership for two is $75. Free admission is offered for everyone on the first Sunday of each month. For additional information, call 949-498-2139 or visit casaromantica.org.
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