As a Neromuscular Therapist and health practitioner, I will often speak with clients about daily exercise as a way of staying fit and preventing injury. If you’ve read my Healthy Guide to Great Hiking Spots in South Orange County, you know that hiking is an activity that helps me stay fit and that I suggest to others. But for many, that kind of strenuous exercise isn’t possible due to injury or fitness level. Or maybe they just don’t have the time to spend an afternoon hiking around our local hills. Living in South Orange County, we are afforded some of the most beautiful weather anyone could ask for and we enjoy some of the most walkable cities around. Walking is a perfect way to get a dose of much needed exercise.
While San Clemente and Dana Point are both beautiful South OC cities that I love to walk around and explore, they are not quite as walkable as San Juan Capistrano (SJC). First of all, San Juan Capistrano is mostly flat and easy to navigate which makes it the prefect walking spot for any fitness level. Also, there is an abundance of historical sites, shopping areas and visually appealing spots to keep your interest on your journey, making it the perfect walkable location.
Please enjoy this healthy walking guide to San Juan Capistrano when considering your next outing.
No SJC walkabout would be complete without a visit to The Mission San Juan Capistrano, the birthplace of Orange County. This historic landmark was founded more than two hundred years ago in 1776 and features a chapel still standing where Father Junipero Serra himself once held mass to some of the earliest natives and residents of the area.
Famous for the Annual Return of the Swallows, Mission San Juan Capistrano is the “Jewel of the California Missions” and welcomes over 300,000 visitors each year.
The Mission grounds provide the following walkable exhibits and attractions:
- Visit the iconic bell wall and catch the daily ringing of the bell honoring Father Serra’s legacy.
- View the two original bells that once hung in the Great Stone Church which was completed in 1806 and destroyed in an earthquake in 1812.
- Enjoy permanent exhibits such as “Mission Treasures: Historical Collection Revealed” featuring historical artifacts and precious and rare paintings related to the Mission’s history.
- Visit the newly conserved Serra Chapel, where Father Serra is known to have said Mass. The 400 year old golden retablo is lined with historic paintings and wall decor.
- Hands-on activities in the Mission Clubhouse; weave a basket like the Native Americans.
- Relax in peaceful and stunning gardens lined with ponds, benches and a variety of beautiful, butterfly-attracting flowers.
- Attend family-friendly cultural festivals.
- Dine and dance under the stars at summer concerts.
- Visit the Mission Store, a local landmark shopping experience open daily 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Mission San Juan Capistrano
26801 Ortega Highway
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
One of the most walkable, historical and quaint areas in all of San Juan Capistrano, is the historic Los Rios District, which includes 31 structures lining both sides of Los Rios Street between Del Obispo and Mission Streets. The District comprises one of the oldest continuous residential neighborhoods in Orange County, and includes three adobe homes built in 1794 for Mission families.
The Historic Los Rios District includes the following walkable, historic homes and attractions:
- O’Neill Museum (circa 1870) – Home of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society.
- Montanez Adobe Home (circa 1794) – One of the original Los Rios structures.
- Ramos House Café (circa 1881) – American cuisine with a Southern influence.
- Hidden House Coffee Roasters (circa 1900) – Artsy coffee shop offering house-roasted espresso, pastries & patio seating.
- The Tea House (circa 1910) – Flower-covered cafe serving savory fare along with specialty teas and desserts.
- The Hummingbird House Café (circa 1910) – Mediterranean fare featuring garden patio.
- The Cottage Gallery (circa 1890) – Displaying the works of local artists.
- Zoomar’s Petting Zoo – Animals large & small to pet and ride.
- Los Rios Park – Up-to-date playground and park.
- Hummingbird Gardens & Cottages – Featuring native flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds.
- Numerous other historical homes, monuments and walkable gardens.
For more information about the Los Rios District, contact the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society at (949) 493-8444.
Dining and Shopping
As the birthplace of Orange County, it’s no coincidence that SJC sports a whole host of dining and shopping options rooted in California culture, both old and new. I personally love walking around the Historic Los Rios district with its many shops and places to lunch and it also happens to be within walking distance of my Sagewood Wellness Center office. I also like to visit both wine bars (Five Vines & Rancho Capistrano Winery) across from the theater and train station for food, a bit of wine and live music. Sundried Tomato and Cedar Creek Inn are also on my list of favorite restaurants and are both within walking distance of downtown.
San Juan Capistrano has a locale to fulfill whatever you’re craving. From burgers to bakery and wine to tea, you’ll find it here. Many downtown areas are lined with food fare and are walking distance to most attractions, the Mission and Los Rios. If you’re willing to walk a little farther, options get even more plentiful and there’s pretty much anything you could ask for food-wise within a 5 minute drive. Dining guide resources can be found HERE and HERE.
For those looking to pick up some fine/local art or fabulous antique finds, San Juan Capistrano has a great selection of both, all centrally located in some of the cutest shops you’ve ever seen. From original art, original antiques, curios and knick-knacks to equestrian supplies and rustic wares, San Juan Capistrano downtown shopping is an adventure unto itself. Check out these great resource for San Juan Capistrano Shopping HERE and HERE.
One of the newest local developments near San Juan Capistrano, Rancho Mission Viejo (RMV) is actually a separate unincorporated area, but because of its proximity to San Juan Capistrano and due to the fact that city access is right on Ortega Highway and off the 5 Freeway exit of the same name, I have included it here.
RMV itself has no shortage of walkable areas and is, at least partially, home to one of the largest wildlife habitats in all of Orange County. The Reserve offers all manner of family and group activities that provide plenty of exercise as well as education on local wildlife, flora and conservation.
Rancho Mission Viejo’s newest walkable attraction, Sendero Field has many activities to choose from and there are plans in the works to expand its walk-friendly attractions. With a children’s Adventure Play Park, lush practice field, all-inclusive pickle ball courts (a cross between badminton and tennis), multi-purpose event lawn and relaxing plaza, there is no shortage of exercise and walkable activities at Sendero Field.
If you’re not sure where to start your San Juan Capistrano walking adventure, there are several guided walking tours available to choose from. This is a great way to get to know some of the local historic spots as well as getting a “lay of the land’ for putting together your own walking trips around town.
Here are some great guided walking tours to choose from:
- San Juan Capistrano Historical Society Walking Tour – The Walking Tour Guides were organized in 1972 to preserve and maintain the historical sites of San Juan, to educate the public about our rich history and to create an interest in San Juan Capistrano. This group later became part of the Historical Society. Visit two adobes built in the 1790s, Los Rios St., a Victorian House and other Historic homes and businesses. You will hear stories of the people who lived here and tales of ghosts, pirates, hidden tunnels and treasures. Tours are given every Sunday at 1p.m. and last 75 minutes, covering approximately four city blocks. Donations of $2.00 per adult and $1.00 for children are accepted and go to several projects, including Save the Adobe Fund.
- San Juan Capistrano Architectural Walking Tour - Architecture buffs may want to take a walk through 200 years of architecture in the city. The Friends of the Library, a nonprofit San Juan Capistrano library group that benefits and encourages library use and preservation of this award winning library, sponsors weekly guided walking tours that are given every Saturday at 10 AM. The walk, which includes a variety of architectural styles – Adobe, Victorian, Craftsman, Spanish, Revival, Eclectic, Streamline Modern and Post Modern structures – covers about a mile on level ground and lasts 90 minutes. A donation of $5 per person is requested. All proceeds support the Friends of the Library.
- Flavors of San Juan Capistrano – Great food tasting and historical walking tour for family, friends, visitors traveling or for looking for that special place for a special occasion such as a wedding or anniversary. Venture to places that will reveal flavorful bites and picturesque sights that San Juan Capistrano has to offer. This tour is a casual and fun walking tour that lasts approximately 2 hours. These tours are held 2 or 3 times per month and tickets are $55/person (plus online fee) which includes all food and beverages on the tour.
These walking suggestions should assist in taking in some of the local history, culture and flavors of San Juan Capistrano.
Have a balance day! ~Maria
About The Author
Maria Martos is the Executive Director and Founder of the Cancer Support and Education Program, and has been owner of Sagewood Wellness Center for 20 years. As a Certified Neuromuscular Therapist, Maria specializes in the treatment of severe, chronic or minor pain, as well as injury rehabilitation and prevention. She holds a certification in Sports Massage providing her with expertise to evaluate and address athletic injuries and to help professional and recreational athletes improve their athletic performance. Maria is also Board Certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology, and offers Holistic Counseling, focusing on Integrative Mind-Body Therapy to help individuals uncover and remove unconscious blocks that limit them from living their best lives. She is also a Reiki Master and Teacher, and has worked in the health care field for over 25 years. Her passion and life’s calling is to help others not just survive, but thrive in the face of challenges.