"San Juan Bautista Mission is worth the stop" Top 5 Page for this destination San Juan Bautista by atufft

San Juan Bautista Travel Guide: 30 reviews and 168 photos

The Mission was built as a stopover

The earliest missions in the area were at Carmel and Santa Clara, but it was more than a day's journey by horse between them, so in 1797 the San Juan Bautista Mission was added to the mission chain. Today, unlike most of the missions, San Juan Bautista retains its rural charm and appears much the same as when built.

The original mission and church were built on very seismically active ground, and despite extensive damage to the monastary and barracks in 1800, the church was built on the same location in 1803. Largest in the mission system (72 x 188 feet), the church has three aisles and adobe walls three feet thick. Thomas Doak, a sailor from Boston who jumped ship in Monterey in 1816, and who was perhaps the first American settler in California, contributed the reredos behind the altar. The original floor tiles are still in place, and the baptismal, which was sculpted by Indians from a block of native sandstone, remains.

At the time of it's founding, grizzly bears still roamed the area, and were actively hunted for the huge furry pelt. Between the missions founding and 1806, 276 Ausaima Indians (Costanoan language, these indians often referred to generically as Ohlone) were baptized, but over time most of the indians in the region died of illness brought by Europeans. Some of them are buried in the graveyard adjacent to the church. In the 1906 earthquake, the bell tower collapsed and damage to the church forced abandonment of the outside aisles, and the filling in of the arches separating the aisles. Starting in 1949, Two of the original bells were salvaged, a new campanario built, and church completely restored with hidden steel framing to protect against future seismic activity.

The mission town is still a good stopover

Although there are good accomodations, the type of stopover I recommend is for an hour or so at most, especially if traveling by Pacheco Pass from the San Joaquin Valley to Monterey or Santa Cruz. Get out of the car, stretch the back, and take a tour of the Mission grounds. The old downtown has wooden sidewalks, antique shops, an art gallery, and a couple of bars and restaurants. Recently, San Juan Bautista has begun to grow as a bedroom community for the Silicon Valley, but it still is very small and one won't get stuck in traffic here.

The appeal of the mission and it's community are not new. The Mission and its grounds served as the backdrop for the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo. At the time the belltower had not been restored, so Hitchcock added a "bell tower" using scale models, matte paintings, and trick photography at the Paramount Pictures studio in Los Angeles.

Again, its the Mission that's distinctive here.

Since downtown can be perused within thirty minutes, the Mission remains the best attraction in town. The mission chapel is less ornate than some of the other missions, but the completeness of the mission complex and the original setting is outstanding. The church and old monastery wing face the only remaining Spanish plaza in California, and the old Camino Real runs unpaved just below the knoll. As you wander the mission grounds, bear in mind that the misson and its chapel, unlike most Calfornia missions, remain an active parish (Mass has been served daily since 1797). However, families are welcome to picnic on the grounds. In fact, San Juan Bautista is an extremely popular destination for elementary school field trips from all over the region. The facilities are safe and support for schools apparently excellent.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Excellent preserved setting for a California Mission
  • Cons:Not enough entertainment to stay the night
  • In a nutshell:Great place to stretch the legs on route through Pacheco Pass or off I-101
  • Last visit to San Juan Bautista: Nov 2005
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
  • Add to Trip Planner (?)
  • Report Abuse

Reviews (10)

Comments (4)

  • TheWanderingCamel's Profile Photo
    Jun 27, 2007 at 9:06 AM

    I liked this mission a lot - a peaceful place, though the figures telling of the losses of the local people are shocking and sad. Nice page Alan.

  • Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
    Mar 20, 2007 at 11:00 AM

    This is one of my favorite towns within a short drive of Monterey!

  • leonik's Profile Photo
    Mar 19, 2007 at 6:36 PM

    i think the chocolate desserts sound like good enough reason to visit!

  • calcaf38's Profile Photo
    Mar 18, 2007 at 7:52 AM

    I know this mission very well because a key scene of "Vertigo" was shot there. I visited it in the 80s and I was so surprised that there was no tower (the tower was painted in for the movie). Take care.

atufft Visits Here Frequently!


“California is on the edge of the planet, not the center of the universe”

Online Now


Top 1,000 Travel Writer
Member Rank:
0 0 0 5 9
Forum Rank:
0 0 2 6 4

Badges & Stats in San Juan Bautista

  • 10 Reviews
  • 32 Photos
  • 1 Forum posts
  • 11,431PageViews

Have you been to San Juan Bautista?

  Share Your Travels  

Travel Interests

See All Travel Interests (5)