Just a short drive away from Orange County and Los Angeles, San Juan Capistrano has an array of things to do. The historic charm of the area will leave you captivated. Attractions unique to the area include the Los Rios Historic District, the Mission San Juan Capistrano, and the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano.
1.Mission San Juan Capistrano
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Mission San Juan Capistrano is a historic chapel, landmark, and museum that was founded over two hundred years ago. Considered ‘the birthplace of Orange County’ the chapel, which still stands today, was the place where Saint Serra once celebrated mass. Visitors are invited to explore the historic multi-cultural attraction which embraces its rich European, Mexican, Spanish, and Native American heritage. You’ll be able to see one-of-a-kind paintings, precious artifacts, and rare treasures while also witnessing a traditional rich of the iconic bell to honor Saint Junipero Serra. Visitors can spend their time relaxing in the peaceful gardens, getting hands-on and weaving their own basket with Native American techniques, or attend one of their many events or festivals.
26801 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
2.ZOOMARS Petting Zoo
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ZOOMARS Petting Zoo is a one-of-a-kind attraction that you won’t be able to experience anywhere else in San Juan Capistrano. Admission to the zoo ensure that you’ll be able access the Petting Pens and visit the Bunny Patch, the Guinea Pig Gully, the Corn Box, and the Playground. The zoo has been around for over thirty years and is a popular family friendly place to spend the day. You’ll get to see friendly animals such as sheep, cows, pigs, guinea pigs, emus, bunnies, goats, and some lovable llamas that love to be hugged. Other activities and features include a mini train, pony rides, and panning for treasures at Miner’s Gulch. Visitors of all ages always have a great time at ZOOMARS.
31791 Los Rios St, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, Phone: 949-831-6550
3.Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano
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The Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano church was built in 1986 over the ruins of the Great Stone Church which towered there long before. A national shrine, the church is a stunning place to explore. You’ll see gorgeous motifs on the interior wall, which took artist Dr. Neuerberg 18 months to complete. Art lovers will be amazed at the historic and religious artifacts and paintings that are present at the basilica, many of which were collected by the padres who lived there in the 18th century. There’s a room dedicated to Native American art, several portraits, as well as a stunning series of religious artifacts like tabernacles, vestments, and chalices.
31520 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
4.Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park
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The Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park comprises an 8,000-acre wilderness preserve that is nestled among sandstone canyons, river terraces, and the Santa Ana Mountains. The park is open to the public all year long and is perfect for exploring the area’s stunning flora and fauna such as California sycamore and coastal live oak trees. There are many programs and events held there including ranger-guided nature walks and “Critter Talks” with local naturalists. You can spend hours hiking the trails through meadows filled with wildflowers and running streams; if you’re able to spend the night camping in their designated grounds fitted with all the facilities you’d need for a great night under the stars.
33401 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, Phone: 949-923-2210
© O'Neill Museum
The O’Neill Museum, formerly known as the Garcia/ Pryor Residence, is one of the first frame houses to be built in San Juan Capistrano. It was constructed by saloon owner, Jose Garcia, for his wife between 1870 and 1880. The property has somewhat of a haunted reputation as Garcia was later murdered; future owner Albert Pryor also died years later from a stroke though many people have claimed to see his ‘ghost’ on the porch he was so fond of. Visitors will now be able to learn about the history, hear about other scary stories, and explore the museum which is also the headquarters of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. You’ll see a number of photographs, books, documents, records, and much more while you’re there.
31831 Los Rios St, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, Phone: 949-493-8444
6.Los Rios Historic District
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Separated by the railroad tracks and situated across the Capistrano Depot, the Los Rios Historic District is the oldest neighborhood in the state of California. There are over forty homes there including three original adobe structures which housed mission ranch workers and the builders of the mission in the late 1700s. Many of the structures which you’ll come across are private residences, though there are some that have been converted to businesses and are open to the public. Just walking through Los Rios will let you experience the calmer, more tranquil, way of life that can only be felt there.
7.Los Rios Park
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One of the main attractions in the Los Rios Historic District, Los Rios Park is a lovely play area for younger children. It is located in an area full of incredibly rich history and is surrounded by amazing homes and the area’s train station. Kids will have their imagination run wild as the park’s wood and iron accents make them feel like they’re in the Old West. There are huge boulders to climb, saddled ‘horses’ to ride, swings, and more fun aspects of the park. Other facilities and amenities include a designated picnic area, drinking fountains, a restroom, shaded benches, and a small parking lot.
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One of San Juan Capistrano’s most iconic and outstanding features is the gorgeous Capistrano train depot. The depot was established in 1984 and the unique building which still stands today has gorgeous features such as wonderful arches, a 40-foot-high dome, a dainty old-time ticket office, a mission bell, and a quaint old-fashioned fireplace. The incredible art gallery is a wonderful place to take in local, historic pieces that you can’t experience anywhere else. You can ride the trains to tour the neighborhood, which kids love, or stop by Trevors at the Tracks, a restaurant located within the depot which serves excellent cuisine in a historic setting.
26701 Verdugo Street, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, Phone: 800-872-7245
© Montanez Adobe
Constructed circa 1794, the Montanez Adobe was one of forty adobes that were built to house Native American Mission neophytes near the Capistrano Mission. Walking around the stunning adobe, you’ll be able to see many aspects which display why the beautiful structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was the home of early mission carpenter, Tomas Gutierrez, and his wife, spiritual leader, and village midwife, Dona Poloninia Montanez. Housing several artifacts, a tiny chapel, and a lovely garden, the Montanez Adobe is a must-visit when in San Juan Capistrano.
31745 Los Rios Street, San Juan Capistrano
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The Esslinger Building is a flair of circa 1930s modern architecture surrounded by mid-century design. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building was the brainchild of Dr. Paul H. Esslinger who traveled to Buenos Aires and wanted to design his future medical office in unique styles which he came across there. Upon the building’s completion in 1939, what was supposed to be a simple private practice looked more like a 23-room emergency room. Architecture aficionados of all ages will love exploring the beautiful building and everything that it represents.
31866 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
11.Arley Leck House
© Arley Leck House
One of San Juan Capistrano’s most historic buildings, the Arley Leck House is a 1918 craftsman bungalow that intricately displays the design and decor of architecture from the early 1900s. The historians there are more than happy to take you through the house and learn about its history, how the families lived at that time, and even what kind of clothes were worn during that period. Be sure to pay attention to the amazing details in the built-in cabinets and the wood trim, and several other aspects like framed military posters and an old piano with WWI-period sheet music.
31865 Los Rios Street, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, Phone: 949-542-4002
12.Ramos House Cafe
© Ramos House Cafe
A meal at the Ramos House Cafe will take you back to the old days; the owners live right there in the house, the herbs are grown in the garden, the wine is kept in the cellar, and the ice cream is churned by hand out back. You never know what you’re in for as the menu changes daily based on what’s freshly available, but no matter what it is, it’s guaranteed to be delicious. Ramos House Cafe specializes in contemporary American cuisine but much of what they offer has a southern twist; they’re renowned in the neighborhood for serving a hearty breakfast that will leave you energized for the rest of the day.
31752 Los Rios Street, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, Phone: 949-443-1342
© Ciao Pasta
Ciao Pasta has been serving the residents and visitors of San Juan Capistrano with the authentic flavors of Southern Italy’s Puglia Region since it opened in 1995. The atmosphere of the restaurant is perfect for a romantic night out or a friendly dinner with friends and family. You’ll find everything from exquisite artisanal pasta to more traditional dishes with an innovative twist. Popular choices from their menu include the homemade lasagna, ravioli stuffed with portobello mushrooms, and pizza made with homemade dough. Ciao Pasta hosts many events throughout the year like the ‘4-Course True Vegetarian Italian Dinner’ which is attended by people from all over.
31661 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, Phone: 949-496-5002
14.Cedar Creek Inn
© Cedar Creek Inn
Serving American classics in a family home style setting, the Cedar Creek Inn is a beloved local restaurant in San Juan Capistrano. If you’re craving a solid meal and a varied array of beer, then there’s no better place to head to than this restaurant. The lunch and dinner menus are filled with favorites such as the lemon rosemary chicken, prime ribs, pot roast, rack of lamb, and swordfish served with a raspberry chipotle sauce. Their dessert menu features an array of homemade concoctions like warm bread pudding, chocolate ganache, and cheesecake which make the perfect end to any meal.
26860 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, Phone: 949-240-2229
© L'Hirondelle Restaurant
The L’Hirondelle Restaurant is a staple in San Juan Capistrano’s delightful restaurant scene. The restaurant, which has been there for over thirty years since it opened in 1982, has won many awards over the years including “People’s Choice: Best Entree”. You can head on over for a delicious lunch or dinner or stop by for their renowned Sunday Brunch. Patrons like to mix mimosas or their signature Spicy Bloody Mary with crowd favorites like the Chicken Curry Salad, Salmon and Egg Scramble, Beef Bourguignon, or a Kobe Burger topped with caramelized onions. No meal is complete without dessert so be sure to try their one-of-a-kind offerings like the L’Hirondelle Special Ice Cream or their Callebaut Belgian Chocolate Torte.
31631 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, Phone: 949-661-0425
16.Sundried Tomato American Bistros & Catering
© Sundried Tomato American Bistros & Catering
Sundried Tomato American Bistros & Catering is a gem of a restaurant that can be found in the historic Downtown San Juan Capistrano. The restaurant opened in 2003 and has a charming early-Spanish atmosphere, partly because it’s nestled into a stunning vintage Valenzuela adobe which dates back to the 1800s. The restaurant is a fun and lively place to have a meal, celebrating Happy Hour throughout the week and offering an incomparable weekend brunch complete with bottomless mimosas. Items from their menu that you should not miss include the Blue Corn Duck Taquitos, Bacon-Wrapped Fresh Jumbo Scallops, RQ’s Lamb Cheeseburger, and the Sesame-Crusted Fresh Ahi Tuna.
31781 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, Phone: 949-661-1167
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16 Best Things to Do in San Juan Capistrano, California
- Mission San Juan Capistrano, Photo: Courtesy of Melastmohican - Fotolia.com
- ZOOMARS Petting Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of goldencow_images - Fotolia.com
- Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano, Photo: Courtesy of Bill Perry - Fotolia.com
- Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park, Photo: Courtesy of Syda Productions - Fotolia.com
- O'Neill Museum, Photo: O'Neill Museum
- Los Rios Historic District, Photo: Courtesy of Laurens - Fotolia.com
- Los Rios Park, Photo: Courtesy of gpointstudio - Fotolia.com
- Capistrano Depot, Photo: Courtesy of junrong - Fotolia.com
- Montanez Adobe, Photo: Montanez Adobe
- Esslinger Building, Photo: Courtesy of Iuliia - Fotolia.com
- Arley Leck House, Photo: Arley Leck House
- Ramos House Cafe, Photo: Ramos House Cafe
- Ciao Pasta, Photo: Ciao Pasta
- Cedar Creek Inn, Photo: Cedar Creek Inn
- L'Hirondelle Restaurant, Photo: L'Hirondelle Restaurant
- Sundried Tomato American Bistros & Catering, Photo: Sundried Tomato American Bistros & Catering
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Melastmohican - Fotolia.com