Steppin’ Out In San Juan Bautista

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Tour “The City of History” at the Crossroads of California Culture
By Lisa D. Smith and Nancy J. Reid


Incorporated in 1869, San Juan Bautista is a noteworthy site on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail that’s about 45 minutes from Pinnacles National Park, in San Benito County, central California. Along with an eclectic collection of boutique shops, galleries, restaurants and bakeries, this adorable flower-filled historic village is home to the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park, the Old Mission San Juan Bautista, the Anza Hiking Trail and Fremont Peak State Park.

Park Interpreter Marcos Vizcaino talks with Big Blend Radio about the fascinating history preserved and told at San Juan Bautista California State Historical Park, and at the neighboring Old Mission San Juan Bautista. 

During the Mexican period, San Juan Bautista served as the military and commercial center of the San Benito Valley. Many of the historic buildings within San Juan Bautista State Historic Park, and throughout the village, are representative of this blend of cultures and noteworthy happenings. The Park and its Plaza represent what was once the largest town in central California, an important crossroad between northern and southern California.

The exhibits and buildings at San Juan Bautista State Historic Park represent California’s people, from Native Americans through the Spanish and Mexican cultural influences, right up to the American period in the late 19th century. The State Park includes several structures built in the 1800s including the Plaza Hotel, the Zanetta House/Plaza Hall, the Plaza Stables, and the Castro-Breen Adobe, a blacksmith shop, the historic jail, and an early American settler’s cabin. On first Saturdays, the State Park hosts Living History Days complete with mountain men, Civil War soldiers, Victorian ladies, craft and cooking demonstrations, blacksmithing, and much more.

As seen in the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film “Vertigo”, the impressive Old Mission San Juan Bautista sits adjacent to the State Park. Built in 1797, it is the fifteenth and largest mission church in California, and the oldest building in the Plaza. A short section of El Camino Real (The King’s Highway), sits next to the Mission, representing the main highway that once connected all of California’s missions, later serving as a major stage and wagon road.

An ideal way to get to know “The City of History,” is to take a self-guided walking tour of the historic sites and buildings. You can pick up a map, along with some tasty baked goodies, at the Welcome Center within the San Juan Bakery on 3rd Street. You’ll see quite a range of architectural styles from an Old Indian Village to the Settler’s Cabin w/ Gardens that shows typical cabin housing of early California settlers, as well as the 1856 the Lovett House (early frame house), 1860 Kemp House (Greek revival), 1868 Masonic Hall, 1908 Taix Block (Romanesque revival), and The Adobe that was purchased by the Native Daughters of the Golden West in 1934, lovingly restored in 1935, and today continues to function as their active local Parlor.  

Sharon Johnston talks with Big Blend Radio about the community projects and historic preservation work of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, especially regarding her local Parlor #179 in San Juan Bautista, California, that operates out of The Adobe, built in 1834 and restored in 1935, and currently being restored again. 

San Juan Bautista also tells the fascinating story of the Anza Expedition (1775-1776), when Juan Bautista de Anza historically brought his father’s dream to life by leading 240 men, women and children, over 1200 miles from the Sonoran Desert to Northern California. This resulted in the Spanish settlement of San Francisco, in 1777. From Tubac, Arizona to San Francisco, California, you can now drive up the corridor of the Anza Expedition, and of course make a stop in San Juan Bautista. Just up the road from the village, there is a 4-mile one way recreational trail that you can hike, bike or horseback ride. The trail is uphill, and provides beautiful views of the village, and its surrounding farmlands, wineries and mountain ranges.

Speaking of views, Fremont Peak State Park high up in the Gavilan Range is a spectacular must-do. A scenic 30-40 minute drive from the village, clear days provide sweeping views of the San Benito Valley, Monterey Bay, Salinas Valley and the Santa Lucia Mountains. Here you can hike in the grass areas and woodlands, watch local birds and wildlife, go camping and picnicking, and enjoy some star gazing at its observatory which has a 30-inch telescope, and is open for public programs on select evenings.

All this walking around is sure to work up your appetite, and San Juan Bautista has you covered with some of the best authentic Mexican fare! The two local favorites remain Doña Esther – voted Best brunch in San Benito County, and Jardines De San Juan – known for their exquisite gardens. Stop by Vertigo Coffee Roasters for a fresh Cup-a-Joe, and if a picnic lunch is in order, the Windmill Market will take good care of you.

To plan your Tour of “The City of History”, check out

San Benito County Chamber


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