San Juan Capistrano is a charming coastal town in Southern California with tons of fun, kid-friendly things to do. Tucked away in Orange County, between the sprawling metropolises of Los Angeles and San Diego, this town is steeped in little-known California history.
Founded in 1776 by Spanish Franciscans, San Juan Capistrano was an integral part of the mission system. The iconic Mission San Juan Capistrano is one of the best examples of Spanish colonial architecture and is absolutely breathtaking to behold.
Close to other stunning coastal towns like Newport, Dana Point, and Laguna Beach, this is an ideal spot for a day trip or weekend getaway. Let’s take a look at the best things to do in San Juan Capistrano!
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Things to Do in San Juan Capistrano
Ready to dive in? Here are the best sights and attractions in San Juan Capistrano, California.
Mission San Juan Capistrano
One of the top things to do in this charming California town is to visit Mission San Juan Capistrano. This gorgeous mission is the oldest California building still being used today.
Founded in 1776, come here to explore exquisite Spanish colonial architecture, peaceful water fountains, and a lush garden. Don’t miss the iconic Great Stone Church ruins, the Serra Chapel, and the museum to learn about the mission’s fascinating history.
Just northwest of the first mission, you’ll find the Mission Basilica which was constructed in 1986. This exquisite building is modeled after the Great Stone Church, destroyed in an 1812 earthquake.
Check out the stunning interior adorned with intricate motifs meticulously crafted over a period of 18 months by local artist and historian Norman Neuerberg. Art enthusiasts will marvel at the array of historic paintings and artifacts collected by the 18th-century padres.
The basilica also features a dedicated room showcasing Native American art, as well as a breathtaking collection of Catholic items from tabernacles to vestments, and chalices.
Shop at Los Rios Historic District
Los Rios Historic District is a charming neighborhood and one of the top places to explore in San Juan Capistrano. It’s actually the oldest residential area in the state of California!
It’s easy to pass a warm afternoon here, surrounded by picturesque adobe structures, quaint cottages, and colorful gardens. Explore the historic sites, boutique shops, art galleries, and unique restaurants while immersing yourself in the area’s rich heritage and unique ambiance.
Hike at Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park
Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park offers a rewarding hiking experience in San Juan Capistrano, perfect for active travelers who are ready to stretch their legs in a beauty park.
The East Ridge Trail is a popular choice, with a moderate difficulty level and a length of approximately 6 miles. This scenic trail takes you through rolling hills, with beautiful views of the surrounding wilderness.
The O’Neill Museum is a captivating historic destination and one of the most unique things to do in San Juan Capistrano. Located in the heart of the Los Rios Historic District, this museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s past through displays of old photographs, town documents, antique furniture, clothing, and other memorabilia. You can learn all about the region’s Native American history, the founding of the San Juan Capistrano Mission, early settlers, and the city’s development over time.
Rancho Capistrano Wine Tasting
Rancho Capistrano Winery, Orange County’s largest winery, is a must-visit destination for wine lovers. Located in the historic old town, it offers a delightful selection of handcrafted wines, including reds, whites, and blends.
The cozy tasting room and chic outdoor patio have a welcoming ambiance, along with a full food menu. Prices for tastings typically range from $10 to $20, making it an affordable and enjoyable activity for all California wine lovers.
Ortega’s Capistrano Trading Post
For a fun and unique souvenir shopping experience, make your way to Ortega’s Capistrano Trading Post. The bright red shop, conveniently situated across the street from the mission, offers an extensive selection of California and Mission San Juan Capistrano collectibles. You’ll also find a fascinating assortment of Native American jewelry, making it a must-visit destination for anyone who enjoys collecting rare keepsakes.
One of the best things to do during a day in San Juan Capistrano is to enjoy High Tea at The Tea House. Located in a charming historic building in the old town, it offers a traditional English high tea service with a variety of teas and yummy treats. The elegant ambiance, attentive service, and delicious offerings make it an easy choice for tea enthusiasts visiting the area.
The Best Things to Do in San Juan Capistrano with Kids
This coastal town is highly family-friendly. Take a look at all the cool things to do with kids in San Juan Capistrano and start planning your getaway now!
Zoomars Petting Zoo
Zoomars Petting Zoo is an absolute delight for kids and families in San Juan Capistrano. This small, local farm offers interactive and hands-on experiences with friendly animals. Children can pet and feed a variety of animals, ride a train, and enjoy the playground. They can also pan for gold, making this the perfect spot for education and family-friendly activities.
Los Rios Park
A visit to Los Rios Park is a fantastic kid-friendly activity in San Juan Capistrano. This spacious park offers a variety of amenities for children to enjoy, including playgrounds, open fields for running and playing, and picnic areas for family gatherings. The park’s beautiful setting and ample space make it an ideal spot for outdoor fun and recreation for kids of all ages.
Goods & Goats Market
Goods & Goats Market is a must-visit spot in San Juan Capistrano for families with kids of any age. This charming market offers a unique experience where you can interact with friendly goats while you shop the local market. Children can pet and feed the goats while you explore the market’s locally sourced artisanal goods and specialty food items.
Romantic Things to Do in San Juan Capistrano for Couples
Looking for a romantic getaway? San Juan Capistrano has plenty of things to do for couples who want to spend some time reconnecting.
Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens
Orange County’s Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens exudes romance and charm. Set on a breathtaking coastal bluff, this historic Spanish-style villa offers stunning ocean views and meticulously manicured gardens. Couples can enjoy art exhibits, live performances, and intimate events, making it a top choice for a romantic outing or special occasion.
Indulge in a spa day with your significant other for a little rest, relaxation and romance while in San Juan Capistrano. Unwind and rejuvenate together at one of the local spas, like the luxurious Spa at The Mission. Enjoy a couples’ massage or a relaxing soak in a private hot tub. Prices for spa treatments can vary, so be sure to check with the spa for accurate pricing.
Farm School Cooking Class
A Farm School Cooking Class in San Juan Capistrano offers a romantic and educational experience for couples. Learn culinary skills using fresh, farm-to-table ingredients while you bond over the art of cooking. Enjoy a hands-on experience, create delicious dishes together, before you get to savor the fruits of your labor in a charming and intimate setting.
Hidden Gems in San Juan Capistrano
No trip to San Juan Capistrano is complete without checking out some of the town’s cool hidden gems and unique things to see.
Exploring the Montanez Adobe is a truly unique experience in San Juan Capistrano. This adobe house, built in 1794, offers a glimpse into the region’s early history. Come marvel at the well-preserved structure and learn all about adobe construction techniques.
Capistrano Train Depot
The Capistrano Train Depot is a true hidden gem! This historic train station built in 1894 serves as a reminder of the area’s rich railroad heritage. Explore the beautifully restored depot, admire the vintage architecture, and discover how trains shaped the development of this region in California.
Swallows Day Parade
The Swallows Day Parade is a special annual event. Celebrating the return of the swallows each year, this festive parade features colorful floats, equestrians, marching bands, and community group floats. The whole day is designed to showcase San Juan Capistrano’s rich history, local culture, and the enduring tradition of welcoming these beloved birds home.
Things to Do Near San Juan Capistrano
If you’re spending a few days in the area, you’ll definitely want to check out the gorgeous beaches and fun things to do near San Juan Capistrano!
Laguna Beach Day Trip
A day trip to Laguna Beach is a fantastic thing to do when you visit Southern California! Explore the town’s stunning beaches with picturesque coves, and impressive tidepools. Plus, you’ll get the chance to explore the town and its famous local art galleries. And the best way to end the day? Enjoy a relaxing rooftop dinner at The Cliff or any of the best Laguna Beach restaurants with a view.
Enjoying a beach day in Laguna or Newport is one of the best activities near San Juan Capistrano. In Laguna Beach, you can explore picturesque coves like Thousand Steps Beach or soak up the sun at Main Beach. In Newport Beach, the Balboa Peninsula offers sandy shores, recreational activities, and the charming Balboa Island. Both locations offer stunning coastal views, ocean activities, and a chance to relax and unwind by the sea.
Balboa Fun Zone
A visit to the Balboa Fun Zone is a must-do activity near San Juan Capistrano. Located in Newport Beach, this iconic waterfront amusement area offers a plethora of family-friendly activities. Enjoy thrilling rides, play arcade games, ride the Ferris wheel, and indulge in tasty treats. The Fun Zone’s vibrant atmosphere and coastal charm make it a top attraction for all ages.
Shop at Fashion Island
Shopping at Fashion Island is a fun vacation experience! This upscale outdoor mall in Newport Beach offers a diverse array of high-end and boutique stores. Explore renowned fashion brands, browse luxury goods, and discover unique specialty shops. With its beautiful setting, picturesque views, and exceptional dining options, Fashion Island is a premier destination for a day of retail therapy.
Restaurants in San Juan Capistrano
With all the fun sightseeing, you’re bound to work up an appetite. Luckily, San Juan Capistrano is filled with plenty of great restaurants and beautiful places to eat.
Trevor’s on the Tracks
You can’t visit San Juan Capistrano without stopping at Trevor’s on the Tracks! A local favorite, this spot is beloved for its warm ambiance and elevated cuisine. One of their standout dishes is the Braised Short Rib. Slow-cooked to perfection, the tender short rib is served with creamy mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and a rich red wine reduction.
Ramos House Cafe
Ramos House Cafe is another one of the best restaurants in San Juan Capistrano. Housed in a historic cottage, it’s a great place to go for weekend brunch. You won’t want to miss their epic Shrimp and Grits with creamy stone-ground grits, smoky bacon, and a savory tomato sauce! Southern comfort food at its finest.
Heritage BBQ & Capistrano Brewing
In the mood for something lowkey? Heritage BBQ & Capistrano Brewing is where it’s at. These connected restaurants are chock full of mouthwatering barbecue and local, craft beer. Locals rave about the slow-cooked Smoked Brisket. Pair it with their signature beer, the Capistrano IPA, a hop-forward brew with notes of citrus. Cheers!
San Juan Capistrano FAQs
Is San Juan Capistrano worth visiting?
Absolutely, San Juan Capistrano is a must-see place in California! This sunny town is brimming with rich historical heritage, with landmarks like the Mission San Juan Capistrano, known as the crown jewel of the California missions.
What is San Juan Capistrano known for?
San Juan Capistrano is primarily known for its historical significance, particularly the Mission San Juan Capistrano, an 18th-century Spanish mission that features beautiful gardens and iconic stone church ruins.
The city is also famed for the annual return of the swallows, a natural phenomenon that has been celebrated every year since the early 20th century.
How close is San Juan Capistrano to the beach?
San Juan Capistrano is located just a few miles from some of Southern California’s most beautiful beaches. It’s approximately 6 miles from the coastal city of Dana Point, meaning you could be dipping your toes in the Pacific Ocean after a drive of less than 15 minutes!
Where to stay in San Juan Capistrano?