Friday, June 6, 2008

Road Trip - San Juan Bautista

Road Trip—San Juan Bautista
Text and Photos by Ruth Ann Angus

One wouldn’t expect California, our most populous state, to have some of the country’s smallest towns, but scattered throughout the golden state are many places with fewer than 2,000 people. One of those spots is not far from the Central Coast, and it is a pleasant drive to reach there. Take Highway 101 north and turn right onto route 198. You will ride past green rolling hills for a short while until meeting up with route 25— one of the most forgotten, but beautiful, side roads around. Farms and ranches dot the landscape, and as you amble along, all your cares will drift away. A jog through the town of Hollister eventually will bring you to route 156. Head west and you will soon arrive at your destination—San Juan Bautista.
This small town named after Saint John the Baptist is packed with history. The town was founded in the late 1700s along with one of the grandest of the California missions. A state park adjacent to the mission contains restorations of structures that were built in the 1800s. The buildings that are open to the public include the Plaza Hotel, hall and stables, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable with antique carriages, a granary, a jail and the C a s t r o - B r e e n Adobe. Rooms are furnished with antiques and period furniture and artifacts.
The Castro-Breen house was the original home of the Patrick Breen family, who survived coming to California with the ill-fated Donner party. Living History Days are celebrated on the first Saturday of each month with docents from the Plaza History Association in period outfits carrying out tasks such as basket weaving and candle making. San Juan Bautista was once the largest town in Central California, and its mission is considered the grandest of all 21 California missions. Founded in 1797 by Father Fermin de Lausen, who succeeded Blessed Junipero Serra, it is the15th in the chain and the largest. As with all of the missions, it was built with Native American labor. Members of the Mutsun, Ohlone Yokuts, Tulare and other tribe from the San Joaquin Valley constructed the grand edifice of bricks made from mud and straw. Approximately 4,000 of them are buried in the graveyard behind the church.
The mission originally had a nine-bell tower, but the church met with misfortune in the earthquakes of 1800 and 1906. It was restored first in 1884 and again in 1949, and now has three bells. This mission is the only one that has a three-aisle entrance to the altar. It is still an active parish, with daily masses. Many weddings are held here as well as the Quinceanera, a young Latina woman’s celebration of her 15th birthday.
The historic walking tour will take you to 48 sites within the five downtown blocks. Highlights are the Glad Tidings Church, built in Greek Revival style; the Crane house, which reflects a Cape Cod influence; the Masonic Hall; Honeymoon House; and the John Anderson House, a real Victorian structure.
The town retains a decidedly Hispanic flavor, with Spanish-style architecture and old adobes, and a smattering of ethnic eateries. Free roaming chickens will sometimes cross your path. There are antique stores to browse, as well as art galleries and tasting rooms featuring the wines of San Benito County.
Eating in San Juan Bautista will offer you a variety of world specialties. Stop in at La Casa Rosa for some fine food, and sample their array of fruit chutneys in the Victorian tearoom. There’s also the Mission Café for a sandwich and a look at a Mutsun clapper stick, which was carved from cured blue elderberry. The Cutting Horse restaurant for Angus steaks served in what was a 19th-century brothel, or yummy strudel at Joan & Peter’s German restaurant, or a cold margarita in the garden at Jardines de San Juan.
After a great day touring this historic old town, stay the night and sleep in peace and quiet to awake to a new adventure—perhaps hiking the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail on the Old Stage Road. A three-mile portion of this trail, which runs from the Mexican border in Arizona, passes through San Juan and is a marked trail for foot or horseback. Or you might wind up your weekend trip with a tour of nearby Fremont Peak State Park and Observatory. At 3,169 feet, the peak affords a 360-degree view of the surrounding area, and at night a wonderful stargazing adventure. The observatory is open to the public and offers group tours. 

1 comment:

Pat and Rich said...

RuyhAnn, You write so well that you should save your blogs and instead get a publidher interested in a book for visitors to the areas. There is a book about Maine that is similar but also tells where to find birds. I'm sure your book would do as well.
Pat and Rich