They say that in the 1800s, San Juan Capistrano was called ‘the only romantic place in California’ by Richard Henry Dana (classic author of Two Years Before the Mast). While it may not be the only romantic place, its architecture certainly speaks of days past, inspiring one author to create the legend of ‘El Zorro’ (the Capistrano-based masked hero that has since appeared in countless novels and movies). The city is home to California’s oldest neighborhood and oldest building still in use (the San Juan Capistrano Mission chapel, founded in 1776).
Thanks to its rich history, the city of San Juan Capistrano retains its romantic appeal, mingling the new with the old. Below are 3 day’s worth of activities that will give you a glimpse into the combination of Native American and Spanish colonial history that has inspired novelists, artists, and the rest of us, for hundreds of years.
Day 1- A Slice of History
- Montanez Adobe: You can begin your trip back in time by first visiting the Montanez Adobe, built in 1794. It is a small, but well-preserved example of an adobe home built to house Native Americans who joined the San Juan Capistrano Mission.
- Mission San Juan Capistrano: Head over to the Mission San Juan Capistrano, the 7th of 21 Spanish missions to be built in California. It operated as the center for the community from 1776 to 1812, and still remains in operation for regular services. While the old Spanish architecture and gardens are a sight in themselves, the museum offers the option of a guided tour or a self-guided audio tour (there is a kid-version as well!) which is worth the few additional bucks to help bring the full history to life.
The mission used to be home to a huge population of the famous cliff swallows, and each spring they continue to host the Return of the Swallows Celebration, this year on March 19th.
- Old Barn Antique Mall: If you’re up to it (and it is before 5pm), you have an opportunity to take a piece of history back home with you by visiting the Old Barn Antique Mall. This large building houses several ‘rooms’ full of vintage and antique wares. If you’re willing to search, you may find some unique pieces – and don’t hesitate to negotiate. Be sure to grab a meal or snack and drink some water before you go; you may have to be patient to find the right deal at the right price. Note: this may not be a place for small children, since many of the items are fragile.
Day 2 – A Walk in the Park
- Caspers Wilderness Park: San Juan Capistrano maintains 8,000 acres of protected wilderness in the Santa Ana mountains. A guided ranger-led tour is offered from 8 to 9:15am most Sundays, otherwise you can enjoy the nature trail hike and other amenities on your own (for example, the playground is a great place to bring small children). Pack some snacks, water or even a full BBQ and enjoy the breathtaking views while getting in some exercise!
- The Ecology Center: While we are outside, let’s take a ride over to visit The Ecology Center. Located in a historic farmhouse on an acre of land, their goal is to educate the community about sustainable practices. The staff is passionate and informative; it can’t hurt to learn a thing or two about preserving the precious natural resources that you just enjoyed at the park.
Day 3- A Celebration of Swallows
- Annual Swallows Day Parade (March 24, 2018): Once upon a time, swallows used to flock to the Mission, returning from their fall migration to Argentina. The celebration of the swallows continues to be a treasured San Capistrano tradition; they currently host one of the nation’s largest non-motorized parades each year. The parade includes marching bands, horse-drawn floats, dancers in traditional attire and more; a true taste of San Juan Capistrano culture.
As spring approaches, now is a great time to get out and enjoy the sunshine and history of San Juan Capistrano. There is a lot more to see and do (did we mention the rodeo?), so if you are looking to settle into the neighborhood, our crew at The Reed Team can help you find a home that meets your needs. Just give us a call!