7 Interesting Facts About San Juan Capistrano

August 25th, 2022 by

San Juan Capistrano is a city full of rich history and culture, so there’s plenty to learn about this fascinating town. Below, you can explore some of the most interesting facts we could gather on San Juan Capistrano.

San Juan Capistrano Has Experienced Various Eras in Its History

The area we now know as San Juan Capistrano didn’t always have this designation. In fact, the Acjachemen people were the ones who originally inhabited the area. The Acjachemen people, or the Juaneños as some historians call them, had lived in what’s now San Juan Capistrano approximately 10,000 years before the arrival of the Spanish people in the late 18th century.

After the Spanish’s arrival, the city of San Juan Capistrano experienced two additional eras. The Mexican era replaced the Spanish era when the Mexican Congress of the Union attempted to secularize the era and the Spanish missions within it. San Juan Capistrano underwent a temporary name change during this era, as it became known as “San Juan de Argüello.” This name change didn’t last, though, and we still know it as San Juan Capistrano today.

The city remained in its Mexican era until the early 20th century. At this point, Father John O’Sullivan arrived in the city after helping restore and lead different parishes in Arizona and Texas. Father John fell in love with what he saw at Mission San Juan Capistrano and wanted to restore the site to its original beauty and charm.

He led restoration efforts to restore the Serra Chapel and other elements of the mission. His work helped San Juan Capistrano become a popular tourist spot, at which point the city entered its American era. While San Juan Capistrano was a beloved site for residents and visitors alike, it didn’t officially become a city of Orange County until April 1961.

Saint John of Capistrano Is San Juan Capistrano’s Namesake

San Juan Capistrano got its name from Saint John of Capistrano, a patron saint from the small town of Capestrano, Abruzzo, in Italy. Saint John lived a fulfilling life in Italy and served as a Franciscan friar and Catholic priest during the early 15th century. He also had impressive military accomplishments, becoming known as “The Soldier Saint” among historians. Now, we also know him as the patron saint of military chaplains and jurists. Residents of San Juan Capistrano should be proud that their city is named after such a powerful, influential, and selfless historical figure.

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San Juan Capistrano Is the Site of an 18th-Century Spanish Mission

San Juan Capistrano is not only the name of a city in Orange County but also the name of a Spanish mission in the area. This Spanish mission was founded in November 1776 and was the seventh Spanish mission to open in California. Its primary goal was to introduce Christianity to the Indigenous people who were living in California. Today, the mission is a popular tourist site. You can visit it to see many notable features, including bell towers, the mission’s “Sacred Garden,” and a statue of the famous missionary Junípero Serra.

San Juan Capistrano’s Cliff Swallows Return Every Year

The cliff swallows of San Juan Capistrano are like clockwork. These orange-tailed birds arrive from Goya, Argentina, to San Juan Capistrano every year on or around March 19, which is St. Joseph’s Day on the Catholic calendar. Upon their arrival, they create massive swarms that are fascinating to witness in person.

The birds attempt to take back their nests in the mission’s walls and arches, where they raise their offspring for several months. Around October 23, the cliff swallows make their way back to Argentina and promise to return in the spring. This phenomenon has been consistent for so long that there’s even a record of it in a 1940s song by Leon René called “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.”

Two Newspapers Serve the City of San Juan Capistrano

Despite being a smaller city with a population of around 35,000 people, San Juan Capistrano has two newspapers. Residents can catch up on the local news by reading The Capistrano Dispatch or the Capistrano Valley News. They can also get daily updates about happenings in the city by reading the online news site, The San Juan Capistrano Patch, which serves the city.

San Juan Capistrano Is a Popular Filming Spot

Many filmmakers have visited San Juan Capistrano to film some scenes for popular movies. This city is particularly popular among filmmakers because of the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano. Some movies that feature scenes in or around this site include “The Juggler of Notre Dame” and “Nobody Lives Forever.” A few movies filmed in the general city of San Juan Capistrano include “The Racing Scene,” “The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker,” and “Heartbreak Ridge.”

San Juan Capistrano Is Home to a Beloved Petting Zoo

If you live in San Juan Capistrano and have yet to make your way to River Street Ranch, you may consider putting it on your list of places to visit. This family-owned zoo has been around since 1980, and it offers San Juan Capistrano residents and their families a fun and educational way to get out of the house. You can have your kids interact with farm animals like pigs, sheep, goats, and guinea pigs during your visit here. In between different animal housing areas, you can take them to various attractions, such as pony and train rides.

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