12 Amazing Things to Do in San Juan Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano is a small charming town filled with history located between Los Angeles and San Diego. The town is set against a backdrop of the San Juan hills and is a lesser-known hidden gem. Which makes this place all the more captivating. SJC was founded in 1776 by Spain and joined the US in 1848. The historic town center is situated along the Amtrak line, which makes for an easy day trip from San Diego. While most visitors are here to visit the Mission there are countless things to do in San Juan Capistrano. Whether you visit the historic sites or have lunch at a charming cafe you definitely need to add this town to your Southern California bucket list!
Visit the San Juan Capistrano Mission
The Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1776 and is the birthplace of Orange County. Named after Saint John of Capistrano the “Jewel of the California Missions” was originally 1 of 21 California Missions, back then owned by Spain. It acted as a community center for agriculture, industry, education, and religion for the Spanish Padres and Native Americans. Sadly, in December of 1812, an earthquake occurred and destroyed the church and over 40 people were killed. That is why you see ruins next to the bells when visiting because they never rebuilt the church. Today over 300,000 visitors enter through the historic gates. You can spend one to two hours roaming the grounds, the architecture is stunning!
- Open Tuesday – Sunday 10 am – 5 pm
- Admission is $14 per adult
- Plenty of parking on the streets surrounding
Spend an Afternoon in Los Rios Historic District
Located in the heart of town is the Los Rios Historic District. You feel as though you are being transported back to the 1800s when visiting this enchanting part of town with buildings dating as far back as 1794. Fun fact, Los Rios Street is actually California’s oldest residential street. There are ample things to do when visiting Los Rios. You can have lunch at one of the many charming cafes, explore the historic Montanez adobe, relax in Los Rios Park, or visit the petting zoo at River Street Ranch. You can also visit the San Juan Capistrano historical society and be transported back to the 19th century. Finally, it’s situated along the Amtrak line so it’s a perfect stop for a day trip from LA or San Diego.
See the Mission Basilica
This church was designed after the Great Stone Church which was ruined after the great earthquake of 1812 but not a replica of it. The Mission Basilica was completed in 1986 and deemed a Basilica by Pope John Paul in 2000. A prominent feature of the basilica is the Grand retablo, a 42-foot-high altar-backing carved in cedar and covered in gold leaf which is reminiscent of 17th and 18th-century Spanish colonial and Mexican colonial retablos. Finally, the basilica is a catholic parish that is still in use today.
Visit the Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park
If you’re looking to get outside in nature, then this is the activity for you! Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park is an 8,000-acre park preserve in the canyons of the Santa Ana Mountains. Come here for wilderness sightings, camping, nature walks, and so much more! Some other great activities in the wilderness preserve are fishing in the San Juan Creek or signing up for guided nature walks (offered every Sunday). For more information visit the OC Parks page.
Spend the Night at Inn at the Mission San Juan Capistrano
This Autograph Collection hotel fits the overall charm and theme of this historic town. It’s located right across the street from the San Juan Capistrano Mission which makes this the perfect stay close to all that SJC has to offer. The Inn has its own Olive Grove and each guest is gifted a small bottle of their house-made olive oil. It was so fresh! The interior of the resort is so beautifully designed and incorporates local design touches. Finally, make reservations for their on-site restaurant Ysidora Restaurant and Lounge. The cuisine is reminiscent of Spain and everything we tried was fantastic. Finally, when staying at the inn, they offer free admission to the Mission. Book your stay here!
Have Brunch at the Ramos House Cafe
I’ve been to my fair share of cafes and I have to say, The Ramos House Cafe may just be my favorite. It’s set in an old home, filled with plants, located adjacent to the train line, and has decadent dishes that will make your mouth water. It’s so incredibly charming and the service was great too! Finally, make sure to try the scones and their freshly made apple jam. This was a highlight of the trip!
- Open every day but Wednesday, 9 am – 2:30 pm
Visit Ortega’s Capistrano Trading Post
To get your shopping fix, visit Ortega’s Capistrano Trading Post which sells Native American goods. The trading post carries the largest selection of SJC’s souvenirs, artworks, and crafts. They also buy and consign Native American turquoise jewelry. Finally, it’s located directly across the road from the mission.
Have Breakfast at Ellie’s Table
A local favorite, Ellie’s Table is another cute cafe serving all their food fresh and from scratch on the day you order. Their specialty is their cinnamon rolls and butter croissants but has tons of other breakfast food options as well. We had the tiramisu latte and it was life-changing! Finally, they offer many Gluten-Free, Vegan, Vegetarian, and Heart Healthy options.
- Open Tuesday – Sunday 7:30am – 3pm
Enjoy a Spot of Tea at The Tea House
The Tea House is a unique and charming cafe covered in flowers. It’s set in a 1911 charming cottage in the historic district and is the perfect spot to host an event or enjoy lunch and a spot of tea. They have 55 teas to choose from and it’s best to make a reservation as this spot is popular. If you are more of a coffee person consider visiting the Hidden House Coffee cafe located down the block.
Well, there you have it, friends! Thank you for reading my “12 Amazing Things to do in San Juan Capistrano”. I hope this gave you the motivation to book that trip to this charming southern California town. If you have any questions please comment below and check out more of my California Travel Guides.
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