San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano is a California city of approximately 35,000 residents that can be found just inland in southern Orange County. It is located about halfway between downtown Los Angeles and Carlsbad. Named after the local mission and renowned for its swallows, the city was featured in the 1940 hit song by Leon Rene, When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano. The mission, the swallows and the song helped San Juan Capistrano make a name for itself around the world, but they aren’t the only reason to visit. The city’s historic Los Rios District certainly deserves a look while in town, and there are various shopping and dining opportunities to consider. A healthy mix of annual events only give added to San Juan Capistrano, and visitors who are up for side trips should be happy to know that it doesn’t take very long to get to any number of nearby beaches or cities.

History

History
History

The city of San Juan Capistrano grew up around the mission that inspired its name. This mission, known as Mission San Juan Capistrano, was founded in 1776 by Spanish Catholics. It was named for the famous theologian and inquisitor Giovanni da Capistrano, who hailed from Italy and lived from 1386 to 1456. Prior to and at the time of the founding of the mission, the San Juan Capistrano region was populated by Native Americans. The Spanish, as was customary during colonial times, went to work converting the locals of the San Juan Capistrano region to Catholicism. This helped form the beginning of California’s rich multi-cultural heritage. Complementing the mission was a majestic and beautiful church that was completed in 1806. It was known as the Great Stone Church. Unfortunately, the church collapsed in an 1812 earthquake. All that is left of the Great Stone Church are ruins, though they provide insight into just how grand the structure was. The mission remains as well, partly in ruins, as do relics of San Juan Capistrano’s earliest neighborhood – the Los Rios District. These are major points of interest and have everything to do with the historic allure of San Juan Capistrano.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano is the seventh of the 21 California missions and is commonly referred to as the Birthplace of Orange County. It was founded more than 200 years ago and remains as a monument to the state’s multi-cultural history. The chapel at the mission, known as Serra’s Chapel, is actually the oldest building in California still in use. It dates back to 1782. Also particularly worthy of note is the fact that California’s first vineyard was located on the Mission San Juan Capistrano grounds. As mentioned, the Great Stone Church at the mission unfortunately collapsed in 1812 due to an earthquake. Its lofty reputation lingers, however. Some architects have dubbed it the "American Acropolis" because of its Greco-Roman style, and it is widely considered to be the most pretentious and important building of the entire Mission period. Among the mix of ruined buildings at Mission San Juan Capistrano are a number of working buildings. Visitors can check out old adobe rooms, as well as museum collections and other interesting things. Also, the mission complex in general is very much the center of the community and plays host to year-round cultural events. Religious services are still held in the intimate mission chapel. Of course, no discussion about the Mission San Juan Capistrano would be complete without mentioning the swallows. The protected birds are said to return to the mission every year at a certain time, though you can pretty much expect to see them throughout the year. According to traditional tales, they reputedly come to nest in mid-March after spending time in Argentina. The city celebrates the swallows in March with its annual Swallows’ Day Parade and a series of other events that are related to the Fiesta de las Golondrinas (Festival of the Swallows).

Los Rios District

Los Rios District
Los Rios District

The Los Rios District is the oldest neighborhood in San Juan Capistrano and the state of California. The forty historic homes that remain in the district include three original adobe structures that housed mission builders and mission ranch workers in the late 1700s and early 1800s. These structures are known as the Montanez, the Rios and the Silvas. Many of the other homes in the neighborhood were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today, most of the homes in the Los Rios District are private residences. Several business have also taken up residence in the historic buildings, and families should know that the neighborhood is where you will find the Zoomars Petting Zoo. Across the railroad tracks from the Los Rios District is the beautiful and historic San Juan Capistrano train depot. The renowned El Adobe de Capistrano restaurant and the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano are also found near the neighborhood should tourists wish to visit them too while in the area.

San Juan Capistrano Hotels

San Juan Capistrano Hotels
San Juan Capistrano Hotels

The San Juan Capistrano hotels, as well as the other hotels found near the city, can serve as excellent Southern California travel bases. In addition to offering proximity to all the great San Juan Capistrano attractions, they are close to everything else that Orange County has to offer. Los Angeles County is also within easy reach, and travelers can interest themselves in any other number of regional destinations. San Juan Capistrano itself isn’t exactly home to a wide number of hotels. In fact, there are only three to speak of within the city limits. They are the Residence Inn San Juan Capistrano (pictured), the Best Western Capistrano Inn and the America’s Best Value Laguna Inn & Suites. Travelers who are interested in expanding their lodging horizons can always turn to the nearby hotels in Dana Point, and there are plenty of accommodations in other Orange County destinations.

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