San Juan Bautista is located in San Benito County, California and has a population of almost 2,000. As you drive in, you’ll notice how quiet it can be, but also the cows roaming the greenest hillsides. Because it doesn’t have any modern day attractions or popular fusion restaurants, San Juan Bautista tends to stay off the radar for most looking to explore Central California.
I live only about 25 minutes away from this little town and had always wanted to explore it after only visiting the Mission there once or twice as a kid.
It’s almost like a ritual now on our day trips to start off with a visit to the location’s most popular coffee shop. In San Juan Bautista, that would be Vertigo Coffee Roasters. The coffee shop is located right next to the old timey looking shopping center at the edge of the town.
It seemed to be quite busy for an early Sunday morning. Most tables inside were taken, and there were several people we saw drive up, pick up an order and drive off.
Joey ordered a hot chocolate while I went with a classic cappuccino. Our total was a bit over $8, which is a pretty average price.
There was artwork hanging throughout the coffee shop which really gave it a locals only vibe. It was interesting to see that among the customers, there was a table with about 6 senior citizens just chatting, and next to them a group of hipster looking young adults. It showed us how versatile and how plainly cool this town is.
Both of our beverages were great and a perfect start to our day full of sun and walking towards the downtown shops.
As we walked to the shops, the town really felt small and quaint. There was not a lot of commotion and there was so much greenery everywhere!
After about a 5 minute walk (yes, the town is small), we arrived onto 3rd Street. This area was a lot busier. There were cars in search of parking and people looking for a place to eat their Margot’s Ice Cream cones.
San Juan Bautista State Historic Park is also located in this area. We didn’t go into the park, but from the looks of it, there was a lot of beautiful greenery like cacti and roses.
Also part of the State Historic Park are a set of surrounding buildings that were established at the time of Spanish/Mexican rule in the late 1700’s. This includes the Plaza Hotel, the Jose Castro House, and Mission San Juan Bautista.
The Mission, which is 1 of 21 Missions along El Camino Real, is a Roman Catholic Church that was originally built in hopes of converting the Native American inhabitants of the area to Catholicism. Today, it is still a church, as well as a museum of sorts. When we were exploring, there was mass, so we quietly explored the exterior.
You can also spot a portion of the San Andreas fault adjacent to the Mission, which sounds scary, but doesn’t look it at all.
Before the church goers dispersed into the town, we decided to grab something to eat. I had always wanted to have lunch at Jardines de San Juan after attending my cousin’s wedding there. Jardines is a vibrant and traditional Mexican Restaurant that is located about 2 blocks from the Mission.
When we arrived, with our bellies already rumbling, there was a 15 minute wait for a table inside. The wait was longer for a table outside, but Joey was having a hard time with his allergies in this flower covered town! Once seated, they brought us a basket of chips and salsa that were SO good, I’m not ashamed to say that I ate a whole basket by myself! We also got a couple of refreshing Mango Lemonades to cool off after walking around all morning.
On the Jardines menu, there were so many options, I couldn’t decide what I wanted! Ultimately, Joey ordered the People’s Burrito and I went for the Tamale & Taco Plate. Joey was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the burrito was and I was totally enamored with the tamale (the taco was not my fav, but it was good too). It was a lot of food, but we absolutely had to try the Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream we had spotted on the dessert menu. The ice cream tasted like Mexican chocolate, and mixed into it was cinnamon, almonds, and chocolate chunks. It was heavenly and a must-try if you ever visit Jardines.
After our meal, that was kind of like an anniversary celebration for us, we walked around San Juan Bautista and admired the flowers and trees all around us for a little longer. It made our drive home that much more peaceful. And the hills, with cows still roaming around them, were a beautiful send off to our day.
Have you been to San Juan Bautista? What was your favorite place you visited while there?
Thanks for reading!
-The B of V
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