San Juan Capistrano is a city in southern Orange County, situated around 23 miles southeast of Downtown Santa Ana. The city is home to around 35,800 people and was created around Mission San Juan Capistrano. Many of the homes and strip malls in the area resemble the Spanish architecture that composes the mission, which creates a cluster of a united and pleasant look. The rest of San Juan Capistrano however, features the widest variety of homes in Orange County with some structures built before the 1900s, and others being boastful, modern $10 million dollar homes. Most of the older structures are situated in the central district, while the luxury mansions are positioned in gated communities in the hills, and working ranches in the foothills.
The author of the classic book Two Years Before the Mast visited San Juan Capistrano in the 1830s, and wrote of the area (which at that point included Dana Point): San Juan is the only romantic spot in in California.
San Juan Capistrano's main attraction is the Mission San Juan Capistrano, which was founded in 1776. At the time, the region was populated by the Acjachemen Native Americans, called Juaneos by the Spanish. The mission was named for Giovanni da Capistrano, a Franciscan saint from Capestrano in Italy. The mission is the tallest building in town, with its 85-foot high rotunda and 104-foot bell tower, and it was designed in the spirit and likeness of the Great Stone Church, which today is in ruins inside the mission.
The city is home to California's oldest residential neighborhood, Los Rios, as well as the state's oldest building in use, the Serra Chapel inside the mission. The area was also where the first vineyard and first winery in California was founded.
Another thing San Juan Capistrano is famous for is its cliff swallows. These protected birds are celebrated by the city's annual Swallow's Day Parade and other festive events, and depicted in the old west 1890s style Melodrama at the Camino Real Playhouse. However, since 2009, the swallows have failed to return to the city, instead migrating to Chino Hills, north of San Juan Capistrano.
If you're in town, visit the Capistrano Depot, where you can dine in San Juan Capistrano's historic train depot built in 1894. The district's quaint old cottages and 200-year old adobes are nestled in willows; bougainvillea and cacti, making you feel like you've traveled back in time. Relax on the courtyard patio while devouring the finest in American Cuisine and marveling at the work of local artists; the depot will offer you the most romantic ending to a long day in this historic city.