SJB is just a tiny little town with a population of about 1,500 people. The entire downtown area is just about 1/4 mile wide by 1/2 mile long with most of the businesses centered on 3rd Street, just one block from the mission, the historic plaza, and the state park. The entire area along 3rd Street has a very old-fashioned wild west feel making for a very unique small town experience in a historic setting.
This little community has a wide variety of restaurants of all styles including Basque, German, Mexican, Italian, Steak, and even Chinese...very impressive for such a small town. There also numerous stores with arts and crafts, antiques, and other specialty stores.
Go to my main page for complete details, but basically the San Juan Bautista Mission retains the original setting by an unpaved section of the Camino Real. The Chapel while less ornate than other missions, it is not overly restored, has the original surrounding buildings, and the graveyard isn't filled with so many settler tombstones. The Mission grounds have picnic tables, and the mission museum and gift shop are pleasantly uncrowded.
Begun 1797, the Mission at San Juan Bautista was the 15th of the 21 Spanish missions in California. The current church building was built from 1803 to 1812, and today it hosts a small museum, gift shop, and an active church. You will also find a neat little garden with an amazing variety of plants and a cemetery out back, laid right beside the El Camino Real and almost on top of the San Andreas Fault.
Admission is $4.
In San Juan Bautista, sections of the original El Camino Real exist in their original location with a packed earth surface. Just below the mission is a small stretch of the road.
El Camino Real--the King's Highway--is a series of roads from San Diego to San Francisco which connected Spain's 21 missions, 3 pueblos (or towns located in LA, San Jose, & Santa Cruz plus a 4th established by Mexico in Sonoma), & 4 presidios (at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco) along the California coast. The first outpost on this trail--San Diego--was established in 1769 while the final mission at Sonoma was completed in 1823.
The missions were religious centers, run by a priest, for the purpose of converting the native population to Christianity. The presidios' main function was a strategic military fortification and barracks, primarily to prevent competing colonial claims from Britain or Russia along the California Coast. The pueblos were designed as towns to provide food & other support to the military presidios. The last piece of the intricate colonial structure of the Spanish was the ranchos which consisted of some 800 private plots of land land used for farming.
The modern El Camino Real is marked every 1-2 miles by a bell hung from a bent guidepost with a small sign reading "Historic El Camino Real." There are about 600 bells along the route today as it traverses parts of 14 different California roads, but most of the El Camino is US-101, I-280, and I-5.
The San Andreas Fault runs about 800 miles along the coast of California and has been the source of the state's most devastating earthquakes including the 1906 San Francisco quake and the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. This fault line separates two tectonic plates, the western-most slowly moving northwest and the eastern plate shifting south. When the plates "catch" on each other and temporarily stop moving, an earthquake is likely.
The San Andreas fault runs along the edge of San Juan Bautista, close to the old El Camino Real just below the mission. The 1906 earthquake destroyed some of the walls of the church, but they were restored and strengthened in 1976. Inside the church museum you will find a drum recorder seismograph which records movements of the plates in an attempt to accurately measure and predict future earthquakes.
The San Juan Bautista State Historic Park covers many of the historic structures of downtown San Juan Bautista except for the mission which is run by the catholic church. The main park areas include the Plaza in front of the mission and all of the surrounding buildings: the Plaza Hotel, Plaza Hall, Castro-Breen Adobe, Plaza Stable, Vicky Cottage, the old town jail, a blacksmith shop, and a cabin. Entrance to the park is $2, but you can see the outsides of all of these buildings for free.
I'm not a great fan of antiques and art galleries per se, but San Juan Bautista has enough to keep those who are busy browsing for an hour or two. The web link below is the city's main page. They should have all the details one might need. I just enjoy walking along the authentic wooden sidewalks.
Hollister was founded in 1858 and was originally intended to be named San Justo. According to local lore, some of the locals objected due to the fact that saints had a monopoly on city names in California, so they should name the town after someone less holy. Apparently William Welles Hollister was no saint....
Today the town is a mid-sized farming community with about 35,000 residents and is known for sitting astride part of the San Andreas Fault and for its annual Independence Day Motorcycle Rally (which was canceled in 2006).
Hollister is just a few miles east of San Juan Bautista along State Route 152. Between the two towns is some beautiful farmland in the Salinas Valley.
The area in from of San Juan Bautista Mission chapel has a large rose garden that I didn't even notice when I visited in the winter. But when I returned in July, the fragrant roses of all colors were in full bloom. They created a beautiful setting for this historic mission and the nearby farming valley.
Today many of the California Missions have rose gardens near the historic chapels.
Along the eastern edge of San Juan Bautista, just down the small slope of the mission and plaza towards the valley, is a portion of the Spanish Camino Real, the Royal Road, connecting the Spanish missions and settlements along California's coast. Today, a modern highway roughly follows much of the route, but it diverges significantly in some areas, such as this. Here, through thick bushes and trees, is an unpaved portion of the original road, passing the mission below its escarpment and the wall of is cemetery. One can see an impressive, picturesque view of the mission from the road, giving a good feel for how the mission would have appeared to weary travellers 200 years ago. For that view, see my tip about the mission itself. One picture shows the mission from the road.
This is a Spanish mission, founded in 1797, and with one of the largest and most substantial churches of the missions. It is still used as a church and is well-known as the place from which Kim Novak's character in Vertigo fell to her death. The mission is quite extensive and has more of the original structure and art reamining than some other missions, some of which are essentially completely new structures.
About six miles south of San Juan Bautista you might notice Fremont Peak, a 3,169 foot summit, standing alone and bristling with several tall antenna towers. The 33 acres around the peak are designated as Fremont Peak State Park. This tiny park is home to an observatory, several small primitive campgrounds, perhaps two miles of trails, and a few historical markers. From the summit of Fremont Peak, you can see about 30 miles in every direction: Hollister, San Juan Bautista, Santa Cruz, Moss Landing, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Salinas and just about everything in between.
The peak is named after controversial US Army officer and former California Senator, John C. Fremont, who made camp on this peak (with some 60 US soldiers) in 1846. It is claimed he raised the first American flag on California soil on this peak during this visit, despite orders to depart the area immediately to prevent war between the US and Mexican-controlled California. Fremont was later named the first military governor of California, was one of California's first senators, and failed in a bid for President of the United States as the first-ever Republican candidate.
Entrance fee is $4 to park or $15 to camp. Unlike many California State Parks, no free parking is available outside the main entrance to the park.
The mission, the fifteenth of the twenty-one missions in what is now California, was established in 1797 by Fr. Fermin de Lasuen, Presidente of the California Missions following Junipero Serra.
One thing you will find to be unique here is an exhibit on seismology. The town sits along the famous San Andreas Fault, which runs along much of California.
The mission was also a site chosen for the 1957 Alfred Hitchcock movie "Vertigo."
Along with the mission, the town plaza is ringed by several historical 19th century buildings that can be visited as a part of the State park: the Plaza Hotel, Plaza Hall and stable, blacksmith shop, granary, jail, and Castro-Breen Adobe.
Inside the stable there is a good collection of horse drawn carriages, including those for private use, work and transport.
The focal point of this small town is the mission. Founded in 1797 as the 15th California mission, the first cornerstone was laid in 1803. The church was dedicated in June of 1812 and became the center for a mission servicing the local natives. Today, you can tour the church, gardens, cemetery and adjoining buildings. The buildings around the church include the priest's living quarters, now a museum.
The mission has quite a few little "quirks". As you walk through the church you'll notice cat holes cut in the heavy wooden doors to help keep vermin away. Additionally, on the tiles inside the church you'll occasionally see little animal footprints from when the tiles were originally dried int he sunshine outside. The San Andres Fault runs next to the mission and a cliff drops off from the side of the cemetery wall.
Tours of the mission and its grounds are offered, but must be scheduled in advance. The church, museum and gardens are open to the public and information booklets make it easy to enjoy the mission on your own.