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The One Day Family Vacation

We are lucky enough to live in a place where other people go for vacation. The trick for locals is to go somewhere that we don’t usually go. So here’s a trip that has the vacation feel but the stay near home price.

Take the train to San Juan Capistrano. There are 12 stations in Orange County, and fares are lower on the weekends. Even if you don’t live right near a train station, drive to the closest one and take the train to San Juan. Even if your kids have ridden the Disneyland Railroad a hundred times, this is different. Taking a different type of transportation, especially public transportation is something many of us only do while on vacation.

San Juan Capistrano has been around since its mission was founded in 1776. It still has the feel of an old western town, and all the fun things to see are within easy walking distance of the train station.

Los Rios District

Los Rio Street

Los Rio Street

Take a walk down Los Rios Street, the oldest residential neighborhood in Orange County. Many of the houses were built in the late 1880s and early 1900s. Three of the adobe homes were build in 1794. Many of the homes are still private residences and can only be seen from the street. Others have been converted into businesses, including shops and a tea garden. The O’Neill Museum is a restored home that you can tour.

San Juan Capistrano Jail Cell

Along the way you’ll see the old jail cell built in 1896 as a holding cell for criminals on their way to the county jail. Good photo opportunity.

The Old San Juan Jail

The Old San Juan Jail


If you bring a picnic lunch, there are plenty of places nearby to sit and eat. Or you could stop at one of the restaurants on Los Rios Street or near the Mission.  The El Adobe Restaurant is the site of the old town jail, which is now used as a wine cellar. Even if you don’t eat here, they’re very nice about letting people see it.


At this petting zoo, the kids can ride ponies, and interact with goats, sheep, ducks, llamas, bunnies, emus and more. You can buy carrots to feed to the animals. Admission is $5 and pony rides are $4.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission SJC

Mission SJC

Take a tour of the Jewel of the Missions. If your kids are nearing fourth grade, maybe they can share their photos of the mission when their class gears up for the famed Mission Report.

Before You Go

This area is a history lesson waiting to happen. Go to the Historical Society or SJC.net to get some info about the area before you go. Depending on the age of your kids, they could read the material ahead of time, or you could tell them about some of the things while waiting for a train. If your kids like spooky stories, there are many ghost tales about the inhabitants of Los Rios Street. You can print a map of the downtown area too.

Train Information

Metrolink has two lines that go to San Juan.  The Orange County line travels between Union Station in LA and Oceanside, stopping at Commerce, Norwalk, Buena Park, Fullerton, Anaheim, Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin, Irvine, Laguna Niguel, San Juan Capistrano, and San Clemente.  The Inland Empire – Orange County line travels between San Bernardino and Oceanside, stopping at Riverside, Corona and Anaheim Canyon before joining up with the Orange County line in Orange. If you live further away than LA, Oceanside or San Bernardino, your local train service probably hooks up with one of these Metrolink lines.

Kids love trains

Kids love trains