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Things to do in San Juan Capistrano

The city of San Juan Capistrano is one of the first cities of Orange County and is home to the oldest neighborhood in California. Steeped in history surrounding Spanish settlement, a stroll through San Juan Capistrano almost makes you feel like you’ve taken a step back in time. From historic sites and award winning restaurants, to family entertainment and exciting annual events, there’s a lot that San Juan Capistrano has to offer. Here are just a few of the must-see’s and must do’s.

San Juan Capistrano Bucket List

Mission San Juan Capistrano

The mission is essentially the birthplace of Orange County and no visit to San Juan Capistrano is complete without a trip to this historic landmark from which the city has grown. Built in 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano is the 7th of 21 California missions. The Mission offers guided or self-guided tours to learn about the collections and history you’ll find here. There are also a host of events throughout the year including Capistrano Lights during the holidays, music under the stars, Field Of Honor, Saint Joseph’s Day, Romance Of The Mission, and more. Address: 26801 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA

Los Rios Historic District

Within walking distance from the Mission is the historic downtown district and Los Rios Street. Here you’ll find the Capistrano Depot, shops and restaurants, the Historical Society Museums, and several adobes and other historic structures. Los Rios is the oldest established neighborhood in California with adobes dating back to 1794. The Montanez Adobe is the oldest of the bunch.

Swallows Day Parade and Festival

The annual Swallows Day Parade and festival is San Juan Capistrano’s biggest event, featuring one of the country’s largest non-motorized parades. The parade evolved from a 1930’s school carnival that celebrated the return of the swallows. In addition to the parade, several events are scheduled around the same time to pay tribute to the city’s Spanish and western heritage. The Parade and Festival are held annually in March.

Zoomars

Perfect for families with little ones, Zoomars at River Street Ranch features a guinea pig pen, goats and sheep, pony rides, mining, train rides, and more. This is a great way to spend part of the day when out exploring the city of San Juan Capistrano. Address: 31791 Los Rios Street, San Juan Capistrano, CA

El Adobe De Capistrano

This popular restaurant is recognized as a California State Historical Landmark. Originally two structures, the building consists of the 1797 Yorba Adobe and the 1812 court and jails. A visit to San Juan Capistrano isn’t complete without grabbing a bite at this Mexican restaurant which offers a delicious assortment of items, including The President’s Choice – President and Mrs. Nixon’s meal of choice when they often dined at the restaurant. El Adobe De Capistrano also serves Sunday Brunch. Address: 31891 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA

Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo

For over 20 years, this event has been a source of fun, family entertainment, drawing contestants from all over the country. The rodeo features classic events like bull riding, saddle bronc riding, team roping, tie down roping, bareback riding, and steer wrestling. If you’re looking for a reason to visit San Juan Capistrano, this is a good reason to. The event is held at Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park at 30753 La Pata Road, San Juan Capistrano, CA

Vintage SJC Wine Festival

The San Juan Capistrano area was the site of the first vineyard and first winery in California, so it makes sense that there would be a wine festival here. The annual wine festival celebrates local and regional wines. While the current pandemic has put this event on hold, when it returns to in person events, this is definitely one you’ll want to attend.

Caspers Wilderness Park

Caspers Wilderness Park is one of Orange County’s best wilderness spots. Perfect for taking a quiet hike or camping out for the weekend, Caspers is far enough away from the city to get a true nature adventure. The nature center here has several exhibits and activities for the kids, plus you can arrange to participate in one of the hosted programs they offer such as guided nature walks and naturalist programs. Address: 33401 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano, CA.

Trolley

The city of San Juan Capistrano offers a free summer trolley service that runs from the beginning of June through Labor Day. How often do you get to hop on a trolley and ride around town? Take advantage of this old-timey activity and cruise around the city to see the sights from your seat. Get full details about operating dates and hours plus all the trolley stops here.


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Heidi Deal is the author of the Newcomers Handbook to Living In Los Angeles & Orange County, and a children’s book author specializing in history and human rights.