Road Trip! Step Back in Time in San Juan Bautista


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Ready to pack up the family and head south? Then make San Juan Bautista your destination! One of the oldest cities in California, San Juan Bautista visitors can get an up-close view of the stars, learn about California history (maybe you visited here in 4th grade?), sample some amazing food and more! Read on for some of our family-friendly favorites.

mission san juan bautista

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Getting There

San Juan Bautista is about an hour from San Jose (unless you hit some traffic). Start by heading south on 101 through the towns of Morgan Hill and Gilroy. You know you are in Gilroy when the smell of the garlic hits you like a ton of bricks. Right off the highway are The Garlic Shoppe and Garlic World, both great stops to pick up crushed garlic, garlic-stuffed olives, garlic dipping oil and even some non-garlic favorites like jams, dried fruit and hot sauce. Continue south from Gilroy for just over 10 miles until you reach CA-156. Head east for about 3 miles to The Alameda where you will turn left into downtown San Juan Bautista.

san juan bautista

Photo courtesy of Paul L. via yelp


Mission San Juan Bautista
Built in the early 1800s, Mission San Juan Bautista offers a glimpse into the history of California. The mission has a museum which offers information about the original buildings and activities that went on in the 1800s. The adobe walls of the mission provide a cool respite from the hot California days. Those with good eyes will notice the animal prints in some of the interior floor tiles (made when the tiles were left outside to dry) and the cat door carved into the blue side door (allowing cats to enter and rid the mission of unwanted mice!).

San Juan Bautista State Historic Park
Right next to the mission is a town that will transport you back in time. You can take a self-guided tour of the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park which includes the hotel, plaza, stables and the Castro-Breen Adobe. The grounds also include a blacksmith shop, town jail and an early settler’s cabin. On the first Saturday of the month they offer a living history day where costumed docents provide demonstrations of early-1800s life including bread making and carpentry.

fremont peak observatory

Fremont Peak Observatory
If you cross to the other side of CA-156 at The Alameda and head 10 miles to the top of Fremont Peak (a very windy but very scenic drive!), you will reach the Fremont Peak Observatory. On Saturday evenings when there is no full moon (see the website for full schedule), you will be treated to a free presentation and the opportunity to look through the observatory’s 30 inch diameter Newtonian telescope. They also offer a solar program about once a month in the afternoon. There is a $6 per car charge to park at Fremont Peak State Park. Park in the parking lot and walk to the top of the hill to access the observatory.

Downtown San Juan Bautista
Little treasure hunters will enjoy the many thrift and vintage stores that line Third Street in downtown San Juan Bautista. Stop at TOPS A Rock Shop to see gems of every size and shape. The Windmill Market sells your typical groceries and also some great tacos and burritos that you can eat right outside. You can also cool off the shorties with a mango slush or soft serve cone.

gizdich strawberry picking

Nearby Activities
If you are spending a few days in San Juan Bautista, you may want to take advantage of its proximity to lots of other kid-friendly activities. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is about 45 minutes away. Or drive about 30 minutes to Watsonville for some apple and berry picking (see some of our favorites here).

camping fremont peak


Camping at Fremont Peak State Park
Pack up the tent and head to the top of Fremont Peak to camp out under the stars at Fremont Peak State Park. Campsites are rustic (no running water here due to the drought) but more than sufficient for those who enjoy convening with nature. Just a short walk from the campsites are some amazing hiking trails. Follow the Peak Trail to the top of Fremont Peak and you will be able to see all the way to Monterey, Santa Cruz and the coast.

jardines de san juan

Photo courtesy of Aerin L. via yelp


Jardines de San Juan
Open since 1977, Jardines de San Juan is located right in the heart of San Juan Bautista. Serving authentic Mexican food, they offer a small kids’ menu and fried ice cream for those who finish all their dinner. The apricot margarita is full of local Hollister-grown apricots and does not disappoint. Sit outside on their patio where restless kids will enjoy investigating all the cacti.

Jardines de San Juan
115 Third St.
San Juan Bautista, Ca

JJ’s Homemade Burgers 
Right on the main drag, JJ’s Homemade Burgers is as American as you can get. Delicious burgers, thick shakes and garlic fries that will knock your socks off are just a few of their selections.

JJ’s Homemade Burgers
100 The Alameda
San Juan Bautista, Ca

margots ice cream parlor

Photo courtesy of Miguel M. Via yelp

Margot’s Ice Cream Parlor
It is important to know your way to Margot’s Ice Cream Parlor when visiting the often-sweltering San Juan Bautista. Ice cream, cold espresso drinks and sandwiches make up Margot’s menu. If you are lucky enough to be there on a Sunday you must grab a bowl of their amazing pozole.

Margot’s Ice Cream Parlor
211 Third St.
San Juan Bautista, Ca

Ready to head down to San Juan Bautista? What will be your first stop? Let us know in the comments below!

–Kate Loweth

All photos by the author unless otherwise noted. 

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