San Jaun Bautista

Destination East: The Scoop: In rustic SJB, the ice cream shops on Third Street are always good for entertaining social interaction (left). Street Sense: the landmark Dona Esther restaurant is popular for both its food and music (right). —Jane Morba

DISTANCE:

32 miles or about 40 minutes by car.

DIRECTIONS:

From Highway 101 North, exit 156 East. Take a left at Monterey Street, followed by a right onto Muckelemi Street and another right on 2nd Street.

As the sun sinks closer to San Juan Bautista’s rolling hills, a brown-feathered hen leads four furry yellow chicks along the sunny sidewalk. Nearby, couples shop for bric-a-brac, bikers in black venture into saloons and a caravan of early 20th century Fords rumble along the narrow main drag. Meanwhile, even though the historic mission and Plaza Hotel have closed, the city’s art galleries open their doors for visitors to sip Chardonnay and scope out mezzotint engravings. It’s all part of a regular cozy Saturday afternoon in this pastoral town—where the rustling pepper trees and wine calm the being and a lively performance of Zoot Suit at El Teatro Campesino awakens the pachuco spirit.

THINGS TO DO:

El Teatro Campesino, 705 Fourth St., 623-2444, elteatrocampesino.com. “Show the world the Chicano has balls” is the advice Henry “Hank” Reyna’s father gives him in the play Zoot Suit—and El Teatro Campesino founder Luis Valdez is doing just that by delivering powerful theater out of an old fruit packing shed. The walls of the playhouse are ripe with the roots of ETC: Photos show campesinos acting out of the back of produce trucks during the Delano grape strike. Zoot Suit, the tale of the Sleepy Lagoon Boys whose wrongful conviction for murder touched off the “zoot suit riots” in 1940s LA, runs until Sept. 16. Be sure to also get tickets for the upcoming Día de Los Muertos performance (Nov. 1-4) and the Christmas pageant, La Pastorela.

ART GALLERIES:

Third Street and surrounding blocks. Visit san-juan-bautista.ca.us/visitingArtsLeisure.htm for a list. From stunning acrylics to Guatemalan terracotta, all of Galeria Tonantzin’s art is made by women (115 Third St., 623-2783, galeriatonantzin.com). The 15-year-old gallery is one of several notables along Third Street. At Mission Gallery (106 Third St., 623-2960, missiongalleryart.com) Mikio Watanabe illuminates the lovely, charcoal curves of a nude woman, using the medium of mezzotint engravings. Casa Galleria’s walls glow with oil landscape paintings, including the work of Bruce Yungmeyer, who captures the hills of Henry Coe State Park and Elkhorn Slough in plein air (107 B The Alameda, 623-4635, casagalleria-art.com).

A good time to visit is during the San Juan Bautista Gallery Walk, which takes place every second Saturday from 5-7pm.

Mission San Juan Bautista, 406 Second St., 623-2127, oldmissionsjb.org. The largest of California’s 21 missions, Mission San Juan is the heart of the town’s Spanish character. Rooms that were once the padre’s living quarters now house a collection of antique books and artifacts. A decorated dining room and a rustic kitchen give a glimpse into colonial lifestyle. Past the cactus and rose garden is the magnificent chapel. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a wedding.   

PLACES TO EAT:

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Jardines de San Juan, 115 Third St., 623-4466. Joan & Peter’s German Restaurant,  322 Third St., 623-4521. San Juan embraces a mix of cultures, and its fabulous restaurants reflect this. In addition to serving up savory enchiladas and fajitas, Jardines de San Juan  has a massive courtyard often filled with mariachi and harp music. Joan & Peter’s German Restaurant (322 Third St., 623-4521) serves up scrumptious schnitzel. Save room for homemade apple strudel.

ANTIQUE STORES:

Visit sjbchamber.com for a list. San Juan doesn’t have a shortage of antiques. It’s almost like all the area’s grandmothers and great-grandmothers got together and donated their trinkets, figurines and furniture. Take a walk through San Juan People’s Plaza (507 Third St., 623-8882) and you’ll find crystal, fine China and a library with old and rare books. Or for a Victorian-era kerosene lamp, go to Tom’s Vintage Lighting (37 Washington St., 623-1608, tomsvintagelighting.com). You can peruse even more coveted items on the third Saturday of the month during the Antique Fair, 8am-4pm along Mariposa Stree

ONE GREAT PLACE TO STAY:

Posada de San Juan Hotel, 310 4th St., 623-4030. $108/weekends; $98/weekdays. With only two hotels in town, you can either shack up along the highway at the San Juan Inn or preferably stay in the heart of downtown at the Posada de San Juan. With gas fireplaces and Jacuzzi-like bathtubs, the Posada is an ideal place to nestle in for the evening and romance your sweetheart. The colorful rooms come with a wet bar, although, just through the courtyard, La Cantina offers cocktails with flat-screen TVs. Several rooms have a balcony with radiant views of the Gabilan Mountains, but with just 31 rooms you must reserve early and even earlier if you want the vista. Crowing roosters do make it hard to sleep in, but, then again, why stay in bed when you can grab a piece of toast and a cup of coffee courtesy of the hotel and go hike Fremont Peak?

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