San Juan Capistrano was one of my favorite weekend trips when I was a kid in Orange County. My aunt was a docent at the Mission and my sister and I spent many Saturday mornings fattening up the pigeons with bird seed, watching volunteers demonstrate tortilla making or wandering in and out of cool dark adobe buildings. It wasn't until I began visiting my sister when she moved to South County that I discovered the Los Rios Historic District tucked behind the Capistrano train depot, and it happens to be OC's oldest neighborhood!
The old cottages house cafes and garden shops which create a steady stream of tourist foot traffic, but there is also a sense of sleepy, orange blossom Old California crouching just behind the clockwork arrivals and departures of the Pacific Surfliner.
Some favorite San Juan Capistrano spots:
Seriously good scones and coffee at Hidden House Coffee, 31791 Los Rios Street
Hanging out with the day drinkers at Swallows Inn, 31786 Camino Capistrano
Las Catrinas for Mexican crafts and aspirational garden decor, 31742 Los Rios St
Shrimp tacos and a beer at the Mission Grill, 31721 Camino Capistrano
The gardens at Mission San Juan Capistrano, cant' miss it.