San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, California (A)

San Juan Capistrano is one of the most historic communities in the Western U.S., famous for Mission San Juan Capistrano, the most famous of the Spanish missions of California. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, it is within a few hours’ drive of over 20 million people. This walking tour takes visitors to the Mission and nearby sites of historic interest, shops, and restaurants in this beautiful California community.
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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: San Juan Capistrano
Guide Location: USA » San Clemente
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.3 Km or 0.8 Miles
Author: Daniel Coats
Author Bio: I am a lifetime resident of Southern California and know the Orange County and Inland Empire regions by heart. I'm currently a college student and donate my time volunteering with the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Los Rios Historic District
  • Zoomar's Petting Zoo
  • O'Neill Museum
  • The Old Barn Antique Mall
  • Ruby's Diner
  • The Depot
  • Capistrano Trading Post
  • Mission San Juan Capistrano
  • Orange County Public Library
Los Rios Historic District

1) Los Rios Historic District

The Los Rios Historic District is right across the railroad tracks from the Train Depot and has the distinction of being the oldest neighborhood in California, with several homes dating from the 1800’s, many of which are still inhabited. The district, which has 40 homes, is mostly private residences that are also working businesses during operating hours (generally 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily). There are several excellent gift shops, antique stores, restaurants, and a plant nursery. The Olivares House, at 31791 Los Rios Street, is the studio and classroom of world-famous china artist Millie Jones, whose husband was also a former mayor of San Juan Capistrano. The Montanez Adobe, at 31745 Los Rios Street, is the oldest private home in California, constructed in 1794. There is even a historic jailhouse that can be toured by the public. This historic district gets plenty of shade from mature trees, making it a nice place to go on a warm day.
Zoomar's Petting Zoo

2) Zoomar's Petting Zoo

A favorite for children, Zoomar’s Petting Zoo lets visitors get up close and personal with farm animals such as horses, donkeys, goats, a 1,000-pound cow, domestic fowl, and sheep, as well as the more exotic llamas from Peru. Visitors have an opportunity to feed the critters, ride ponies and llamas, and learn more about farm life from the knowledgeable staff. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults and $5 for children. Additional charges for horse and pony rides ($5), miniature train rides ($3), and the opportunity to feed the farm animals ($2). Phone (949) 831-6550.
O'Neill Museum

3) O'Neill Museum

The Garcia/Pryor Residence, now known as the O’Neill Museum, was built between 1870 and 1880 by Jose Garcia and was one of the first residences constructed in this historic community. The home was originally built as a four-room house with no indoor plumbing and even cooking was done outdoors. After being a private residence for over a century, it was donated to the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society in 1976, which renovated it at a cost of $100,000 to make it ready for visitors. Today, it is the headquarters of the historical society and has archives with historic photographs, maps, genealogical records, and much more.
The Old Barn Antique Mall

4) The Old Barn Antique Mall

Shop for antiques at the Old Barn Antique Mall, one of the best antique shops in San Juan Capistrano, which is famous for its antique stores selling some of the oldest collectibles available on the market in California. This is a humongous collection of memorabilia from the Victorian/Edwardian Era to the 1960's, with rooms dedicated to materials from various periods (such as the 1920's, 1930's, etc.). In all there are 50 booths housed in this barn-like structure. It’s a must see for anyone interested in collecting antiques or just viewing what items people used in the past. The store accepts major credit cards as a payment option. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (949) 493-9144
Ruby's Diner

5) Ruby's Diner

Come to Ruby’s Diner for a 1940’s dining experience featuring great continental cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and diner. Among the best items are its healthy burgers, macaroni and cheese, and seafood. Or you can just stop by for a dessert to go, maybe one of its famous milkshakes. The waitresses are dressed in period attire and oldies music is playing inside the restaurant, giving it a unique feel. Plus, this location offers outdoor dining with a good view of Downtown San Juan Capistrano as well as the Sky Ranch Patio and Saloon, which has an old-west theme. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Phone (949) 496-7829.
The Depot

6) The Depot

The train depot of San Juan Capistrano was completed in 1894. It is a unique architectural masterpiece (with a dome 40 feet high and a mission bell), as well as a working train station still serviced by Metrolink commuter trains that run to Los Angeles, Orange County, and the Inland Empire, that stop here every few hours, as well as Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner that serves the entire Southern California coast daily from Oceanside to San Luis Obispo. The depot is also home to Sarducci’s, a restaurant famous for its seafood that offers alfresco dining. Covered parking is available at this location.
Capistrano Trading Post

7) Capistrano Trading Post

The Capistrano Trading Post adds the feeling of California’s past as part of the Old West to any tour of San Juan Capistrano, featuring handmade American Indian jewelry; shoes, belts, and handbags; and a collection of fine American Indian dolls for sale. This location has been open since 1944. Most of the items there are quite expensive (up to several thousand dollars for the memorabilia items), but it also has a great selection of San Juan Capistrano-themed souvenirs as well as a free swallow story, which explains the annual Return of the Swallows to San Juan Capistrano. Open daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Phone (949) 496-3993
Mission San Juan Capistrano

8) Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1776 by Spanish Catholics of the Franciscan order. The mission was damaged by an earthquake in 1812 (damage from the quake can still be seen on the structure); though overall the buildings in the mission complex are a well preserved piece of history. About half a million people visit the mission every year. It’s open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Admission is $9 for adults and $5 for children ages 4 to 11, with children under 3 free. A free audio tour of the mission grounds is available to visitors in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Vietnamese. The mission’s most famous annual event is the Return of the Swallows Celebration every March, which celebrates the arrival of thousands of swallow birds from Argentina that migrate northward to this community right on schedule every spring. For more information, see Because the Mission has some much to see, I would suggest at least two hours at this location.
Orange County Public Library

9) Orange County Public Library

The San Juan Capistrano branch of the Orange County Public Library has a world-renowned postmodern architectural design by Michael Graves in 1981-1983, borrowing from local Spanish designs for the construction of this one-story building. The library itself offers the Mollie Burke Friends of the Library Bookshop, which sells a great collection of books and multimedia products of all kinds for very low prices (mostly $1 or less). Open Monday to Wednesday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from Noon to 5 p.m. The library is currently closed on Fridays. Phone (949) 493-1752.