Since we first moved to LA I have had a list of things to do and places to visit. San Juan Capistrano has been on that list now for years. A few weeks ago we finally had the opportunity to head down to see what it’s all about. Read on to see what we thought about this famed Southern California day trip destination.
Not wanting to sit in traffic all day, we decided to head down on the train. As the sole driver in our household I have to tell you it was amazing! We drove down to Union Station where we parked the car ($16 for the day) and headed inside to find our train. Amtrak offers service several times a day between Union Station and San Juan Capistrano. It’s a quick 1 hour 10 minute ride. There are outlets to charge phones, footrests and time to relax! Kids will love riding on the top level, checking out the scenes along the way.
If you aren’t up for a train journey it’s easy to drive and unlike many tourist towns, there is an abundance of free parking.
Whatever your mode of transport, plan an entire day here as you will need it!
Mission San Juan Capistrano
The first stop on our day trip was to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. The mission was a huge surprise to me to be honest. The only other mission we have visited was in Oceanside which held little appeal for my son. But the Mission San Juan Capistrano is amazingly family friendly which probably explains why most 4th grade classes in Southern California make a visit here at some point.
Entrance prices include an audio guide which is a great help in learning all about the mission and its history if you don’t want to join a docent led tour. My son loved his audio guide and was constantly on the lookout for more numbers as we made our way through the grounds.
Between the koi fish pond/fountain, the Mission Clubhouse with hands on activities and the huge grassy central garden my son was thoroughly entertained. Check out our top picks on things to do when visiting the mission with kids.
Los Rios Historic District
Stop two on our day trip was actually to lunch, but before we could settle on a restaurant we inadvertently ended up touring around the Los Rios Historic District. Located directly across from the railroad tracks is one of California’s oldest neighborhoods. There are a collection of fantastically old homes still standing – some of which are cafes and shops to check out. On the other side of the tracks there are some old adobe buildings dating back to the late 1700s that serve as popular restaurants like former President Nixon’s favorite El Adobe de Capistrano Mexican Steakhouse and the Sundried Tomato American Bistro.
We loved spending time pottering around the streets of the historic district checking out all the options for where we could eat and spying out the shops along the way. It’s such a quaint little area and is super walkable which was nice.
The other big draw for families here in San Juan Capistrano is Zoomars, a wonderfully overpriced petting zoo. It’s a bit expensive for what it is in my opinion, but my son says it was totally worth the money! He says he would have even spent his own hard earned money to visit again.
A block or so from the train station is an all outdoor kids fun zone with big pens of animals to feed and pet. One enclosure is full of guinea pigs running to and from the kids offering baskets of veggies. Another pen has a few rabbits as well as more guinea pigs. There are also chickens, llamas, an emu, goats and sheep.
Hanging with the animals is included in the price, but you will need to pay extra for a gentle pony ride, a short train ride and for baskets of food to feed the animals. There is also a playground which is great to get the extra energy out before you head back on the train or by car. As you can imagine it is hard to get the kids to leave, so plan plenty of time to visit!
Where to Eat
For a small town, there are a ton of options for meals, something to please everyone. We had hoped to check out Trevor’s on the Tracks since my son is obsessed with trains but they were closed due to a power outage. Instead we hopped over to SoCal’s classic diner, Ruby’s, which also has a train theme going on. The food is basic kid friendly fare, which makes the parents happy too. Make sure to ask for the foldable cars for the kids too. Pick up a map at the Mission San Juan Capistrano for a great listing of all the options here.
Have you been to San Juan Capistrano? What else would you add to the to do list?
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