San Juan Bautista Things to Do Tips by Ewingjr98 Top 5 Page for this destination
San Juan Bautista Things to Do: 22 reviews and 72 photos
The old stage coach route between San Juan Bautista and Salinas is called Salinas Grade Road at the Jan Juan Bautista side and San Juan Grade Road at the Salinas side. This route is part of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail that follows this explorer's 1200 mile overland route through Arizona and California to San Francisco.
Today this seldom-used road is a scenic and rural route that leads up some beautiful canyons and over he end of the Gabilan Range near Fremont Peak. The entire route between Salinas and San Juan Bautista takes only about 30 to 45 minutes. Notice the decades old concrete road bed that is still the primary road surface along many sections of this route.
San Benito Valley btwn SJB & Hollister
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.
Directions: The park is located 11 miles south of San Juan Bautista. From 156 in San Juan Bautista take The Alameda just a 1/4 mile south to Mission Vineyard Road, then a quick right onto San Juan Canyon Rd for the rest of the drive. The route is pretty well marked.
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.
The fault lies just below this wall
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.
San Juan Bautista Plaza
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.
El Camino Real
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.
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.
Directions: Just 1/2 mile from Hwy 101 along Rt 156 East.
The mission entrance from the town
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.
Directions: San Juan Bautista is just off Hwy 101 south of Gilroy
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