about San Juan Capistrano, California, by reading Why Do
the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano? by Sandy
Zimmerman, Travel Writer and WTA Member. It features a mini,
but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need
to know to plan your trip including getting there, objective
information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At
the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the
contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy
“Why Do the
Swallows Come Back to Capistrano?”
By Sandy Zimmerman, Travel Writer
swallows have been visiting San Juan Capistrano, California every year
since people first noticed them in the 1800s. Whether it was the
cities’ perfect climate, friendly people, or picturesque historic
downtown, the swallows have the right idea. You too will be enchanted by
San Juan Capistrano. February brings the “Taste of San Juan,” a kick-off
celebration before the swallows arrive. The first Saturday after March
19th, Capistrano welcomes the swallows with the“Swallows Festival”
(“Fiesta de las Golondrinas”), the largest non-motorized parade in the
U. S., and “Swallows Week” celebrations- the Hairiest Man Contest, Pets
on Parade, Hoosegow Day, a rodeo, and other events. These small birds
build their nests with mud from the creeks and can be seen around the
Rios historic district is the oldest residential street in the U.S., its
31 historic buildings are still standing from 1776 through the Spanish,
Mexican, and statehood eras.
of the Missions”-While walking through the historic Mission San Juan
Capistrano, you will be amazed that most of the restored buildings look
as they did in 1776. Its famous Serra Chapel is one of the oldest
buildings still in use in California. Named after the mission’s founder,
Father Junipero Serra, the chapel contains candlesticks, torches,
statues, and pictures from the early days of the mission. The golden
alter, originally brought from Barcelona, Spain over 310 years ago, is
made from cherry wood covered with gold leaf. In 1915, Mary Pickford was
married here. Built in a Roman Greco style, the Great Stone Church was
named the “American Acropolis.” It was ransacked by pirates in a
surprise attack by Hippolyte Bouchard and his crew, later partially
destroyed by the earthquake of 1812. Recently a $20 million renovation
project restored the mission and reinforced the remaining walls of the
Great Stone Church. Stop at the soldier’s adobe barracks, the gardens,
courtyard, music room, and the historic bells. Each room exhibit is an
authentic representation of life throughout the Spanish and Mexican
eras- the padre’s room, kitchen, guest room, and work rooms. There is
also a Native American shelter of the Juaneno Indians. These huts
“Kiitca” were made of saplings then covered with tule grass. Every year
crowds gather in the mission’s courtyard garden watching for the
Swallows. The bell ringer finally yells, “The Swallows are here,” and
rings the bells. Walking tours are available.
Adobe Juan Avila, a beneficiary of the Mexican policy of land grants,
built a ten room home (1840s). Called “El Rico,” the rich one, Avila’s
land holdings included most of what is now Laguna Niguel and Laguna
Hills. Due to a fire (1879), the adobe was partially rebuilt to only a
third of its original size.
Aguilar Adobe - Built as part of a larger dwelling called Hacienda
Aguilar (1794), it was composed of two adobes with a courtyard in
between. The north wing is called Casa de Esperanza, and south wing Casa
Tejada, which is no longer there. This adobe is associated with Don Blas
Aguilar, the last Alcalde (regional governor) of the Mexican/ ranchero
Capistrano Depot - The red brick, domed railroad station was built by
the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (1894). It is the oldest
Spanish colonial Revival style railroad station in Southern California.
At the time of its completion, the Depot was called “the finest depot on
the Santa Fe system.” Converted to a restaurant (1975), it is still an
House - The Combs House has been a residence, general store, and post
House - Richard Egan started out as a farmer, and then was named a judge
while he was out on a cattle drive. Egan became known as “King of
Capistrano.” His home, Harmony Hall (1883), was the center of socials
entertaining many famous visitors. He constructed underground tunnels to
the courthouse- at that time it was housed in the El Adobe building.
Chabre House - Spanish revival style home (1920s).
Kelly Building - Three buildings (1930) that are the cities oldest
commercial structures. All three buildings have distinct facades, two
mission revival style buildings front Ortega highway, and the brown
brick building on Camino Capistrano is art deco style. Fiestas and
bullfights were held there during the Spanish and rancho eras. Now the
building is used for stores.
Foster residence - Built by Frank Forster (1910), grandson of John and
Ysidora Forster who owned and resided in the Mission (1845-1864). Two
story mission revival style residence, listed in early guidebooks as the
fist stucco house in Orange county.
Adobe - Only two story adobe in San Juan Capistrano (1840’s). Its
exterior walls are over 3 feet thick. Monterey-style balcony with lacey
wood accents. Built by Portuguese merchant Manuel Garcia, this was the
first post office (1870), and later a hotel (1880-1903). The Garcia
Adobe is located two blocks south of the mission, and just a few doors
from the town's most famous restaurant, El Adobe Restaurant.
Historic Town Center - This is an archaeological park site, part of a
plan to enhance the cities’ downtown.
Hollywood” - The homes (1870s) of some of the residents who spent 70
years or more in the same home.
Montanez Adobe - One of 40 original mission adobes (1794).
Parish Church - Copy of original stone church destroyed by an earthquake
(1812), 30% larger than the original. You can still see the ruins of the
original church within the Mission walls. When the church bell tower‘s
bells ring, they can be head around town. This is the tallest building
in San Juan Capistrano.
Museum - Tour one of the town’s first homes (1870), with authentic room
exhibits, and memorabilia. It also houses the San Juan Capistrano
Historical Society office.
Adobe - Originally built in (1794) for Feliciano Rios, a Spanish soldier
who served with the Mission garrison. The oldest residence in California
continuously occupied by the same family, this was build when the road
between San Diego and Santa Barbara was a footpath. Now it is still a
Juan Capistrano Regional Library - The first postmodern building the
library was designed by architect Michael Graves (1983). There is a
unique blend of architectural styles.
Adobe - It’s wide adobe brick walls were formed with mud and straw
Field - Gets its name from the stone walls (1936-39) that surround it. A
mission period brick-lined aqueduct (zanja) traverses stone field
between Trabuco Creek and the mission grounds.
Stroschein House - Yellow clapboard home (1927), 650 square foot
vernacular gabled house. They raised walnuts, oranges and avocados on
Twin-Winton Mural Mercado Village - Inside the Twin-Winton ceramics
building, this was one of San Juan Capistrano’s early non-agricultural
light industries, employing local residents and producing ceramic tiles
Adobes El Adobe Restaurant (1830) - The Domingo Yorba adobe has been
owned by the Oyharzabal family since 1880, now residence for the family.
Mission wall and arches
miss these two completely different tours. Beyond the excitement of
simply walking through this historical district, you can enter the
stores, offices, and restaurants as they are open for business.
Architectural Walking Tour (Friends of the Library) makes the past come
alive. Each building has a story. The Montanez adobe was built without
windows because glass was expensive in the 18th century. Since soldiers
and Native Americans worked from dusk to dawn they didn’t need windows.
The Yorba adobe (1830) was once used as a stagecoach depot, later a
courthouse, and now a Mexican restaurant. Judge Richard Egan built
Harmony Hall (1868) with underground tunnels to the courthouse. Their
San Juan Capistrano Regional Library has the “look” of early California
with beamed ceilings, massive looking walls, earth toned colors, and an
impressive long paneled entrance.
Historical Walking Tour explains Capistrano’s history, ghost stories,
and folklore, “If you are around Trabuco Creek on a dark and stormy
night, you may see the “Crying One‘s” ghost weeping as she searches for
her lost child.” Hear the story of 19 year old Modesta Aguilar, arrested
for spreading her laundry on the railroad tracks, the first felony
conviction in Orange County.
Places To Eat
the Fish Market & Grill’s flavor and charm of the Florida’s Keys. They
offer a wide variety of fish with unique seafood combinations and fish
Places To Eat with Entertainment
Mozart’s European-style restaurant has old world charm along with some
incredibly delicious creations. Perhaps it’s chef/owner Hans Loschl’s 35
year culinary experience in Europe and the U.S., his original recipes
will delight you! Fridays Yuri plays Russian music on his accordion,
Saturdays Glen and Arlene alternate on the piano- entertainment from
6-10 pm, minimum order charge.
Creek Inn Restaurant has weekend entertainment, across from the Mission.
beautiful murals, high wood beamed ceilings, indoor or romantic outdoor
Ciao Pasta Trattoria sets the scene for the foods of
Southern Italy. Owner/ Chef Pasquale Manta’s 86 year old Italian
Grandmother Josephine makes the cookies! Sunday lunch, jazz band, 1-4
pm, lunch begins 11 am, No cover, no minimum.
House Known for booking top international concerts, bands and acts. You
never know whom you will see at this popular spot.
former President Richard Nixon’s favorites, the historic
El Adobe de
Capistrano Restaurant (building-1778) offers weekly entertainment. One
man Mariachi band Friday, Saturday, 6-9 pm. Sunday brunch, Mariachi
trio, 11 am-3pm. No cover, no minimum.
L’Hirondelle Restaurant (means swallow in French) has accordion and
keyboard entertainment on weekends.
Juan Depot Bar and Grill. “An Evening with Neil Diamond” (almost)
impressionist Diamond Tom, every Thursday, 7 pm.
Swallows Inn cocktail lounge has live country/western bands, dancing 6
nights a week.
Renaissance Restaurant – no cover, no minimum, live entertainment
Bleu - One of the biggest dance floors in Orange County, 2 DJ’S play in
separate rooms- techno, hip-hop, r&b. Acts as a sports bar and
restaurant during the day, and nightclub at night.
Things To Do
small town of only 35,000 you will be surprised how much there is to do.
Camino Real Playhouse is your entertainment destination.
Downtown Farmers’ Market - Every Wednesday, 30 vendors sell flowers,
produce, and specialty foods.
Mission San Juan Capistrano presents a schedule of events throughout the
year including: Celebrate Tamales, Christmas at the Mission, Flower and
Garden Festival, Fun with Clay, Journeys to the Past, Lincoln Day,
Living History Day, Music Under the Stars, Pirates Festival, Return of
the Swallows, Russian Heritage Festival, and many other events.
Places To Stay
blocks from the quaint Los Rios Historic District, the
Capistrano Inn and Conference Center is a pleasant change from other
hotels and the perfect hotel for this city. Imagine, free 24 hour
shuttle service within a 5 mile radius! Yes, forget about your car, let
them take you to the historic downtown, Mission, Pacific Ocean,
restaurants, shops, golf courses, Legoland, Disneyland, Dana Point, or
wherever you want to go. Not simply just a hotel room, their staff will
arrange tours, banquets, wedding receptions, business meetings, or even
create a package to suit your needs. Unwind in the heated swimming pool
and Jacuzzi anytime -open 24 hours. Their Spanish-style buildings are
set back from the road, and rooms furnished with microwaves,
refrigerators, bathroom telephones, and are reasonably priced. Even
their breakfast is different- choose between a free box breakfast
(apple, danish, and orange juice), or the free $2.99 discount voucher
next door at Denny’s for breakfast.
Capistrano Inn gives guests a free pass to the 24 hr fitness center, 8
am-9 pm, daily. The state-of-the-art conference center accommodates
groups, family reunions, seminars, meetings, wedding rehearsal dinners,
parties, and events. They offer televisions, VCR’s, a motorized 10’
screen, wireless lavaliere microphones, flip charts, video conferencing,
outdoor sound system, overhead/ slide projectors, and even assist with
menu planning and catering. Since the conference center is adjacent to
the pool and Jacuzzi, you can take breaks, move the party outside, or
relax in a tropical atmosphere. The conference center accommodates 150
people. Call about their golf/ Disneyland/weekend packages, special
rates, meeting rooms, conference center, and business services.
Capistrano Beach - Located approximately two miles south of Dana Point
Harbor, you can use the beach, seven volleyball/ basketball courts, food
stand, showers and restrooms.
Catalina Express - Daily trips to Avalon, on the Island of Catalina.
Point Marinas - inside a 1-? mile jetty, with moorings for over 2,500
Fisherman’s Wharf, Marina’s Village, - charter fishing boats, jet ski/
kayak/ motor and sailboat rentals, whale watching cruises, restaurants,
shops, Catalina ferries, a beach, picnic tables, and a launching ramp if
you bring a boat.
Point Marine Life Refuge - See the sea caves, sea anemones, octopus and
maybe dolphins offshore.
Wharf Sportsfishing and Whale Watching - Offers whale watching cruises,
90 minute weekend Reggae cruises with live music and appetizers, and
Disneyland Theme Park (33 miles) - The Happiest Place on Earth" is an
enchanted kingdom of fantasy and imagination filled with classic
family-friendly attractions and magical entertainment, dining and
State Beach - This 62 acre state park consists of a mile of sandy
beaches, tide pools, 120 family campsites, and 170 picnic tables. Their
Visitor’s Center has 5 aquariums, an indoor tide pool, natural history
museum, exhibits, photo history of surfing, and year-round educational
programs. Doheny Beach is located next to Dana Point Harbor.
Legoland California Theme Park - A 120+ acre park geared specifically
towards youngsters ages two through 12. Over 50 rides, 5 new
attractions. Located 30 minutes north of San Diego, 1 hour south of
Anaheim, 32 miles from San Juan Capistrano, in the village of Carlsbad.
Games recreated from Lego bricks, block of fame, world famous faces and
works of art.
is the Spirit of Dana Point - This square-rigged, 118 foot historic Tall
Ship looks as though it just came out of a scene in a pirate’s film! You
can tour this vessel and even go on one of their sailing cruises. The
Ocean Institute, known for helping children experience the ocean
environment, runs the Pilgrim and the R/V Sea Explorer.
Capistrano is located halfway between Los Angels and San
From The North: The city is located 2- 1/2 blocks west of
Interstate 5 on Ortega Highway. From the Los Angeles area,
take either Interstate 5 or Interstate 405 south to the
second San Juan exit, which is Ortega Highway. Exit the
freeway and turn right onto Ortega Highway. The city is
straight ahead 2-1/2 blocks.
From The South: The city is located 3 blocks west of
Interstate 5 on Ortega Hwy. From the San Diego area, take
Interstate 5 north to the second San Juan exit, which is
Ortega Highway. Exit the freeway and turn left onto Ortega
Highway. The Mission is straight ahead 3 blocks.
from Las Vegas: I-15 S toward Los Angeles, 241.4 miles.
Merge onto CA-91 W toward Beach Cities, 9.6 miles. Merge
onto CA-241 S toward Irvine (Portions toll), 12.2 miles.
Merge onto CA-133 S toward I-5 (Portions toll), 3.9 miles.
trains run frequently from Los Angeles to Laguna Beach, Dana
Point, San Juan Capistrano, including many coastal cities,
and San Diego.
31831 Camino Capistrano.
Adobe 31806 El Camino Real.
Depot Verdugo Street.
31892 Camino Capistrano.
Chabre House 31382 El Camino Real.
Building 31754 Camino Capistrano.
31831 Camino Capistrano.
Center El Camino Real, at Yorba Street.
Hollywood” Northwest section of district.
District - Located at the railroad depot crossing, on both
sides of Los Rios Street between del Obispo and Mission
Juan Capistrano - Just 2 blocks from the I-5 freeway, corner
Ortega Highway at Camino Capistrano. 31882 Camino Capistrano
Tours of the mission, 949-234-1300.
Adobe 31745 Los Rios Street.
Church Camino Capistrano, at Acjachema Street.
High School 31422 Camino Capistrano.
31831 Los Rios Street, 9 am-noon, 1-3 pm, Tuesday-Friday, 8
31781 Rios Street.
Capistrano Regional Library 31495 El Camino Real.
31861 Los Rios Street.
House El Camino Real at Spring Street.
Mural Mercado Village, 31952 Camino Capistrano.
31871 & 31891 Camino Capistrano.
Walking Tour (Friends of the Library) - Pick up a
self-guided tour brochure or join their tour Saturdays, 10
am, $5. 949-489-0736.
Walking Tour - Free self-guided maps of the historical area
are available, or take a tour Sundays, 1 pm, at El Peon
Plaza across the street from the mission.
Capistrano Historical Society, $2. 949-493-8444.
- Try their French onion soup the way it was meant to be
prepared. With so much Swiss cheese, it drips over the sides
of the hot bowl. Alligator tail ($10.95) is marinated in
olive-oil, pan-seared, and served cajun-style. Black Angus
filet mignon ($24.95) is topped with crumbled blue cheese,
baked in the oven, and served with green peppercorn sauce.
Beef Wellington ($21.95) is flamed in brandy, topped with
mushrooms, pate, and baked in a puffed pastry. First chicken
Grand Marnier ($17.95) is marinated in Grand Marnier, then
cooked with sun dried apricots, and raisins, in an orange
liquor and brandy sauce. Live entertainment on Fridays and
Saturdays from 6-10 pm. Banquet room and wedding chapel are
available. Cafe Mozart is located one block from Mission San
Juan Capistrano and the historic district, 31952 Camino
Inn Restaurant - 26860 Ortega Hwy, across from Mission.
Trattoria - Salmon prepared with white wine, tomatoes,
garlic, and basil ($17.95), Veal scaloppini sauteed with
Marsala wine, mushrooms, and raisins ($16.95), Pasta al
Forno baked pasta rolled with ham and bechamel, served in
vodka tomato cream sauce ($15.95), Cold Antipasti
($5.95-9.95) hot Antipasti ($6.95-9.95). Owner/ Chef
Pasquale Manta’s 86 year old Italian Grandmother Josephine
makes the cookies! 31661 Camino Capistrano, Ste. 201,
located across from Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Coach House -
33157 Camino Capistrano. 949-496-8930.
El Adobe de
Capistrano Restaurant - 31891 Camino Capistrano, 2 blocks
from the mission. 949-493-1163
and Grill - Sandwiches made with salmon, swordfish, Ahi
tuna, Mahi Mahi, or blackened catfish ($7.50). Even their
Tropical Taco plates are filled with seafood ($2.95-7.95).
Bounty of the Islands selections: salmon ($11.95), Pacific
sand dabs ($11.95), buffalo shrimp ($13.50), salmon and Mahi
Mahi ($15.50), Bermuda Triangle- shrimp, scallops, and
lobster tail ($22.50). Appetizers ($6.95-8.95), Salads
($8.25-8.95) 27221 Ortega Hwy, #G. 1 block from I-5 freeway.
Restaurant - 31631 Camino Capistrano, across from the
Depot Bar and Grill - 26701 Verdugo, Unit B., next to the
train station. .
Inn - cocktail lounge 31786 Camino Capistrano. 949-493-3188
Entertainment, dancing, no cover, Tuesday-7 pm, Wednesday &
Thursday- 7:30 pm, Friday- 8:30 pm, Saturday-2:30 & 8:30 pm,
Sunday- 3:30 pm.
Eat with Entertainment
Restaurant - Happy Hours 4-7 pm, Monday-Friday, ? price
drinks. No cover, no minimum, entertainment: Friday and
Saturday, 8:30-midnight. Sunday brunch, 11:30 am-2:30 pm and
5-8:30 pm Monday 7:30-10 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30-10:30 pm.
Live bands with a variety of music. Restaurant: 11 am,
Monday- Saturday. 10 am Sunday for brunch. 24701 del Prado,
corner of Golden Lantern. 949-661-6003.
Club Bleu -
14160 Beach Blvd, Westminster. 714-245-SEXY
Farmers’ Market - Every Wednesday, Yorba St and Camino
Capistrano. November-March, 3 -6 pm April-October, 3-7 pm
Juan Capistrano events - Call the Mission for details,
dates, and prices, on Ortega Highway, west of I- 5 freeway.
31882 Camino Capistrano 949-234-1300
Capistrano Chamber of Commerce - 31781 Camino Capistrano,
Ste.# 306. 949-493-4700
information about their rooms, packages, conference center,
sightseeing, or about San Juan Capistrano, call Best Western
Capistrano Inn and Conference Center. 27174 Ortega highway,
off the exit to the San Diego Freeway I-5. 800-441-9438
Beach - Located 4 miles from San Juan Capistrano, south of
Dana Point Harbor, 34551 Puerto Place Dana Point.
Marine Life Refuge - West end of Dana Point Harbor.
Express - Round trip $49- adults, $39.50-children,
$45-Seniors 55+. Weekdays- leaves Dana Point Harbor-9:50 am
and 3:45 pm, weekends- 7:45 am, 11:55 am, 5 pm. Daily trips.
Dana Point Harbor, 34675 Golden Lantern. 800-481-3470
1313 S. Harbor Blvd, Anaheim 714-781-7290
Beach - Located next to Dana Point Harbor. Parking and
camping charges, open 6:00 am to 10:00 pm (Daylight Savings
Time), and 6:00 am to 8:00 pm (PST) 25300 Dana Point Harbor
Drive 949 496-6172.
California Theme Park - Located in the village of Carlsbad-
32 miles from San Juan Capistrano. Open 10 am-5 pm winter
season. 10 am-8 pm, summer. Schedule varies. 1 Legoland
Spirit of Dana Point Tall Ship - sailing cruises, most
Saturdays and Sundays. Nautical themed plays are presented
in July and August. Snorkeling trips to Catalina Island-
June to August, Harbor cruises all year. See dolphins, sea
lions, and whales on the wildlife cruises - Saturdays and
Sundays- with marine biologists. Tall Ship tours request a
donation. Located on the far west side of harbor, next to
the Ocean institute, 24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive.
Watching Dana Wharf Sports fishing - Special
two-for-one-Tuesdays- 2 adults for $18, Senior’s discount
day is Friday, and military discounts. Whale
watching/wildlife cruises guarantee that you will see whales
and dolphins or ride again free. 34675 Golden Lantern.
Capistrano Merchants Association - Shop and dine around the
Los Rios Historic District, free tour maps and guides are
Capistrano Chamber of Commerce - 31781 Camino Capistrano,
Ste. #306, 949-493-4700,
Hospital - trauma center, 27700 Medical Center Road, Mission
Hospital and Medical Center - 654 Camino de los Mares,