Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mission at San Juan Capistrano California

Our visit to Southern California included a tour of the Mission at San Juan Capistrano. The Mission was founded in 1776.

To accommodate the growing population a large stone church was built at the site. Sadly the church was destroyed in an earthquake in December of 1812 but the bells from the church survived and were placed in a wall nearby. The Mission bells are still rung on special occasions. 

The tour of the grounds can be accompanied by an audio guide called Voices of the Mission. Each person on the tour is given a small audio device and instructed which selection to listen to as you walk through the grounds.


 The Mission raised cattle and produced crops. The cattle were processed for meat, hides and tallow. The processing took place right on the mission grounds.

Example of a processed hide bearing the San Juan Capistrano brand
Each Mission had its own cattle brand

Tallow rendering pot (note the interesting design on the door)
Besides the crops and cattle the Spanish missionaries also planted olive groves. The olives were harvested and some of them were processed into oil.

Olive Millstone

The Mission grounds are lovely and the audio tour was interesting and informative. Anyone who is interested in the history of the Missions or California history in general won't be disappointed. Of course the Mission at San Juan Capistrano is most known for the swallows that return to it each spring. Around March 19th (St. Joseph's Day) the swallows return from their winter homes 2000 miles away. While the event has diminished a bit over time the swallows still return each year.

If your plans include a visit to the area I would highly recommend that you check out the Mission and the surrounding community. Also pay a visit to Los Rios Historic District, the oldest neighborhood in California.

We only just scratched the surface of the area that we visited in California. We had a great time and hopefully will be able to return.

Happy travels!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Los Rios Historic District - San Juan Capistrano CA

The Los Rios Street area is the oldest neighborhood in California. It was home to the workers that built the Mission at San Juan Capistrano. The road also connected the area to San Juan Bay (now Dana Point Harbor). The road was used to take cow hides processed at the Mission to the bluffs at Dana Point. Here they were tossed off the bluffs for collection on the beach below. (more here)

Los Rios Historic District is still home to some local residents. Their homes are now part of an historical neighborhood. There are also shops, restaurants, artists studios and a museum. Lots to see and do in the area.

We spent some time walking along the quaint residential streets.

We also stopped in at the O'Neill Museum - Pryor House. The museum is also home to the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society.

The house was restored by the Historical Society and furnished with period pieces including furniture and household items.

The Los Rios Historic District is right across the way from the San Juan Capistrano train depot. (Our tour guide from OC Wildlife and Beach Tours mentioned that you can take the Amtrak train into the station from some of the surrounding communities.) A highlight for fourth graders I understand, that come to take a tour of the Mission for school. 

My sister in law joked that we saw the same 15 mile stretch of coast over and over again during our visit. And that may be but like I told her it's a hell of a 15 miles. The areas we visited were beautiful. While we saw and did a lot during our very short visit I'm already plotting out our next visit. (Hurray for Hollywood!)

Happy travels!

This plaque is set in the sidewalk leading up to the O'Neill Museum. I wonder what's inside?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Blackboard Bistro - Seal Beach, California

We visited the Blackboard Bistro on a recent trip to California. My lovely SIL, who was kind enough to act as our hostess and tour guide on this journey, took us there for lunch one afternoon. The Blackboard Bistro is in a building that originally housed a school that opened in 1903. Sadly the original Bay City Grammar School was destroyed in an earthquake. According to their website the school reopened a year later under a new name.

A panoramic photo of students of the school
Lucky for us the building is now home to a fun little bistro serving up healthy, fresh options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Or as their menu calls it, Homeroom, Recess and After School.

While the interior was very pleasant with its deep booths and exposed brick we opted to eat outside on the lovely shaded patio.  

We sat outside enjoying the gorgeous day while we looked over the menu. 

Lots of great options but we all finally made a decision and placed our orders. We enjoyed very nice weather for our entire trip. So nice to be able to sit outside on a beautiful sunny day. The light was amazing.

After a short wait our food arrived.

Turkey, Avocado, Jack Croissant
Popeye Stuffed Burger (stuffed with spinach, bleu cheese, mushrooms) and
topped with crispy string onions

Chicken Cashew Salad
Lunch was great. Wonderful weather, the best company and a beautiful blue sky day. It's nice to find a good locally owned place to try. It's a bit easier to do now with the internet and so many people sharing not only their travel experiences but their favorite hometown spots as well.

What is your best source of information for dining and entertainment recommendations when traveling? Or even just around town? Please share your secrets. I'd love to read all about them.

Happy dining!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

OC Wildlife and Beach Tours - Laguna Hills, California

OC Wildlife and Beach Tours has closed

When the Dining Companion and I were visiting Southern California we took a tour with OC Wildlife and Beach Tours. They offer both group and private tours and we ended up with what amounted to a private tour that included me, the Dining Companion, my sister in law and our tour guide Cheri. Our 4 hour tour (we did the Orange County tour) took us to Dana Point and Laguna Beach (the California Riviera I was told) and also included the Mission at San Juan Capistrano.

Cheri picked us up at the hotel and we were off to the Mission. (More about that in a later post) Having seen some of the many Spanish missions in Texas I was very interested in getting to see one of the most iconic missions in California. The Mission that the swallows still return to each March 19th. 

After we toured the Mission at San Juan Capistrano we headed over to Dana Point. There is a trail/walkway that follows a bluff that sits high over the beach. It's such a beautiful area and the views are amazing.

This part of the bluff trail was known as the Hide Trail. As I understand it cow hides were thrown off the ridge and gathered below to be loaded onto waiting ships. There's a statue showing a sailor tossing a hide and a plaque that explains why.

Houses line the ridge and the trail passes along beside them. At one point a business man, S.H. Woodruff, got the idea to build a resort along the bluff. Sadly his timing was off and all that remains of his dream are three arches that still stand on the spot today.


After our walk along the Bluff Top Trail we headed to Crescent Bay Point Park in Laguna Beach. Crescent Bay Point Park lies along the bluffs of Cliff Drive in North Laguna. From this vantage point you can view cormorants and California sea lions on the rocks. Cheri brought along binoculars so that we could get an up close look.


Although just about impossible to see in these photos there are sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks

Also located in the park area a couple of life sized statues of the California Sea Lions and Cormorant.

If you plan to be in Southern California and are looking for a fun group or family activity I would recommend that you check out OC Wildlife and Beach Tours. Our tour guide Cheri was knowledgeable about the area, came prepared to answer all of my dumb tourist questions and even provided us with cold drinks and snacks. It was interesting and I learned about the history of the areas we visited.

To risk sounding like a broken record (funny, "sounding like a broken record", that really isn't going to mean anything to a good many people in the not too distant future)...anyway, there is more to come. We visited the Mission at San Juan Capistrano, ate at some good local places and just had a flat out good time.

Happy travels!