San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano | French Californian

You’ve probably figured out by now that my favorite thing to photograph is the world around me. But ever since I moved back to California, I’ve been lacking inspiration. The reason for that? I just don’t live in grand, historic Europe anymore! It’s no longer possible for me to simply wander the streets of Paris or other European cities, always finding something incredible to photograph. Instead, I have to seek out specific boutiques, restaurants or little pockets of charm, and bring myself to them via the congested and stressful freeways of Southern California. It’s been a challenge, since I have a bit of driving anxiety, but I find the the more I brave the roads, the less intimidated I feel. With every trip my anxiety levels drop a little.

I’ve been making an effort to explore locally, but a little while ago, I visited Balboa Island in Newport Beach, and was totally underwhelmed – apparently it’s a really popular place to visit, but aside from some cute houses and the original frozen banana stand that inspired the one in Arrested Development, I was left feeling completely unimpressed.

After that “failed” adventure (I left without having taken a single photograph because I found nothing inspiring), I was somewhat reluctant to explore again, but yesterday I was bored and restless and decided to revisit San Juan Capistrano on a whim, since it’s only 25 minutes away from home. The city is best known for its beautiful historic mission, which I visited earlier this year. This time, I wanted to see what else the city has to offer. Here’s what I found!

The Train Station

Things to do in San Juan Capistrano, Orange County - French CalifornianIt may seem hard to believe that in Southern California there are passenger trains, since people practically live in their cars. The train line is called the Pacific Surfliner and it’s actually quite a lovely route. Stretching from San Luis Obispo all the way down to San Diego, it makes a lot of great stops in-between including Santa Barbara, Union Station in Los Angeles, Anaheim (Disneyland), and Oceanside. A good portion of the route even has ocean views. It’s a fun way to travel down the California coast.

In San Juan Capistrano, the train station sits in the heart of the little historic district, and connected to the station is a bar-restaurant called Trevor’s at the Tracks, where I enjoyed a lovely solo meal outdoors in the shadow of palm trees and pink bougainvillea. Aside from the times a train would stop at the station ( which only happened every 30 minutes or so), it was peaceful and I almost felt like I was on vacation.

Los Rios Street

This little back street was so much more charming than I expected. Shaded by full grown trees, with only a handful of cars in sight, this street is lined with locally-owned shops, cafés, and historic buildings.

Things to do in San Juan Capistrano, Orange County - French Californian

Hidden House Coffee

This coffee shop is housed in an old home originally built in the late 1800s. It felt like a secluded cabin in the woods

Things to do in San Juan Capistrano, Orange County - French Californian

The Tea House on Los Rios

This tea room looked quite charming, with indoor and outdoor seating, and offering full-on afternoon tea spreads as well as plenty of savory dishes and brunch.

Things to do in San Juan Capistrano, Orange County - French Californian

Hummingbird House Cafe

This is a casual Mediterranean-inspired café with a large shaded patio. It’s a great, cheaper alternative to Trevor’s across the train tracks.

Things to do in San Juan Capistrano, Orange County - French Californian

Historical Society and O’Neill Museum

By the time I arrived, the museum had already closed, so I can’t tell you much about it. I do know that it is a former residence built in the late 1800s, and the original owner was murdered by a mysterious man known as “Mestizo.” You can read more of this interesting history on their website,

Things to do in San Juan Capistrano, Orange County - French Californian

The Montanez Adobe

This is one of the oldest buildings in the city, built in the late 1700s. You can go inside, when it’s open, to see some artifacts. More info on its history here.

There is another adobe building (not pictured), called the Rios Adobe, which is the “oldest continuously occupied residence in California.” The same family has been living in the Rios Adobe for 200 years! You can’t visit that one however, since it’s private property, but you can view it from the street.

Things to do in San Juan Capistrano, Orange County - French Californian


Old Barn Antiques Mall

If you enjoy walking through endless shelves filled with vintage colored glassware, turquoise jewelry, old farm tools, antique tin signs, grandma doilies, and the occasional rack of vintage clothing, then you’ll enjoy this Antique Mall, It’s not too insanely overcrowded with stuff, so it’s not as overwhelming as other malls I’ve visited.


Old Barn Antiques Mall
31792 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Open everyday 10am – 5pm


Mission San Juan Capistrano

I have tons of photos to share of the Mission, and could do an entirely separate blog post about it, so I’ll just say that it’s a lovely place to stroll through, and a rare chance to see old California history.

San Juan Capistrano | French Californian

I'm a Californian in my mid-twenties who studied Art History and lived in France for 3 years. I blog honestly about my travels, share my thoughts on life, and get poetic about art and photography. I also sell prints of my photographs on Etsy.


  1. Reply
    Marta Libby

    I have a soft spot for SJC as I lived there as a child/pre-teen and actually attended school inside the MIssion. It was an awesome experience. Even at a younger age I “got it” in terms of the historical implications. The big, new church had not been built nor had the newer part of the school. Our classrooms were inside the adobe buildings. I visit regularly and have taken my children so see where “mom” went to school.

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