Friday, August 7, 2015

An Afternoon in San Juan Capistrano

The Mission at San Juan Capistrano
During this spring's trip to the Southern California coast, one of the places I made sure to stop was the city of San Juan Capistrano. I like to experience things that are generally known to be part of our popular culture and I remember hearing when I was a little girl (on the oldies radio channel my mom liked to listen to), the song about the swallows returning to the mission at San Juan Capistrano. Therefore, I was delighted to find that it was pretty much on the way to San Diego when I drove down from Palm Springs.

The city is about at the intersection of highways 5 and 74, and very easy to get to. It is not quite on the coast, but also not very far from it. The area around the mission was picturesque and clearly catering to the tourists that came to visit the mission. Other parts of the city were kind of ordinary suburban style, with chain stores and restaurants, and of course, the ever-present freeway traffic.

I was lucky to be there on a weekday, so it was easy to get street parking within a block of the mission entrance. The mission is very large (the largest one I've ever been to), and on this day, it was filled with students on school field trips.

I love being surrounded by children, so that, combined with another perfect day of sunshine, low humidity and not-too-hot weather, made it a lovely visit.

There is one main gate entrance that visitors funnel through to pay the admission fee, which is $9 for general adult admission (less for children and seniors), and believe me, the fee is well worth it. If you go to their website (link above), they did a really nice job of making a virtual tour video, and there is a lot of information about the history, etc.

Because they did such a good job, I will not repeat all of that background information. I just wanted to say that (1) the mission is truly beautiful with a mix of very well-preserved areas and romantic "ruin" areas. (2) The gift shop is really great, with a good selection of inexpensive, touristy tchotchkes, postcards and the like, but also some really beautiful and unique handicrafts, objets d'arte, and higher end items. (3) This is a tourist attraction that is well worth your time and money to explore. I highly recommend it!

A small portion of the beautiful mural on the patio of Cafe Mozart
After visiting the mission, I drove a little ways down the road and had lunch at Cafe Mozart. This restaurant was recommended on TripAdvisor, I think, but it was just mediocre. The service was lackadaisical, the food selection was small and tired, the chairs (I sat on the patio outside) were uncomfortable, and the food was bland. But the patio was a really pretty Spanish style with a lovely fountain and a cool mosaic accent wall. There were a lot of senior citizens eating there on the afternoon I visited. I suspect it was because the prices were reasonable and the food was bland. Anyway, I'm sure there are much better places to eat in town, so I would skip Cafe Mozart.