If you've ever wanted to step back in time, now's your chance. You can time travel to 19th-century California when you visit San Juan Bautista, which is a piece of well-preserved California history. Its historic mission is one of the few in California that has never fallen into ruin; it has been used continuously since 1812. It faces a plaza little changed since the late-19th century that includes a hotel, stable, and two adobe mansions, all original buildings that are more than 100 years old.
Why Should You Go?
San Juan Bautista is popular with history-lovers and others looking for a quiet day out.
What to Do
- Mission San Juan Bautista: One of California's best-preserved missions, Mission San Juan Bautista has been used continuously since it was built, and the entire complex is still standing. Take a look and you'll see that the bell tower where Vertigo's ill-fated heroine meets her demise is missing. In fact, it never existed except in a Hollywood special effects department.
- Mini Historical Scavenger Hunt: Look for 180-year-old paw prints on the floor tiles inside the mission church. Also inside, in a side room, you'll find an old barrel organ. Nobody knows how this odd instrument got there. It plays preset tunes surely better known by rowdy sailors than by pious fathers.
- San Juan Bautista State Historic Park: This historic park surrounds an open area in front of the mission and features some fine examples of early California architecture. Historic re-enactors are sometimes present, giving it a timeless feel.
- San Andreas Fault: The infamous crack in California runs parallel to the bluff and just below the mission. Look for the historic marker to learn more about it. You can even get a glimpse with my tour of the San Andreas Fault.
- Shopping: San Juan Bautista's small downtown sports some nice shops for browsing and buying.
Pinnacles National Park: About 40 miles away, this park's rocky main attraction is what's left of an ancient volcano. Pinnacles National Park is also a release site for the California condor, and you may see the magnificent birds flying around. Bring your flashlight if you want to hike through the lava caves.
Best Time to Go
Any time is fine to visit, but since walking is the best way to get around, you may want to head somewhere else on very rainy days. Holiday and summer weekends are busier and during the school year, you'll find numerous school groups at the mission on weekdays. The mission is open to the public, but it is still an active church and the sanctuary will not be open to the public during Masses, weddings, and the other gatherings.
Where to Stay
From motels to country club resorts, you have your choice of places to stay if you plan on spending the night.
How to Get There
San Juan Bautista is located between Salinas and Gilroy. Exit US Highway 101 onto CA Highway 156 going toward Hollister and watch for the signs to San Juan Bautista. It's 45 miles from San Jose, 90 miles from San Francisco, and 158 miles from Sacramento, making it a convenient day trip away from those places and an easy side trip for travelers on US 101 and those visiting Monterey.
Do you remember the scene in Alfred Hitchcock's movie Vertigo where Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak drive to the mission? The eucalyptus trees they drive through grow along US 101 north of San Juan Bautista.