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Tucked a few miles inland from the dramatically scenic southern California coast, this small town clings fast to its Spanish colonial heritage. Even modern buildings hew back to the past, enforcing the romantic aura. It's a delightful surprise to arrive, say, from nearby Los Angeles and step into the historic Los Rios district (supposedly California's oldest residential district), with its quaint gingerbread cottages and slower pace of life. Yesteryear sites are highlighted by the 18th-century Mission San Juan Capistrano, still the tallest building in town. Architecture buffs can sign up for a guided walking tour. Saturday is a great time to ...

Tucked a few miles inland from the dramatically scenic southern California coast, this small town clings fast to its Spanish colonial heritage. Even modern buildings hew back to the past, enforcing the romantic aura. It's a delightful surprise to arrive, say, from nearby Los Angeles and step into the historic Los Rios district (supposedly California's oldest residential district), with its quaint gingerbread cottages and slower pace of life. Yesteryear sites are highlighted by the 18th-century Mission San Juan Capistrano, still the tallest building in town. Architecture buffs can sign up for a guided walking tour. Saturday is a great time to visit for "Living History Day," with the reenactments in period costume. Auto enthusiasts will thrill to the Marconi Automotive Museum, with its $30 million worth of antique and modern autos, while kids can enjoy Zoomars Petting Zoo, with animals from emus to llamas. Uniquely and famously, cliff swallows migrate here every March, departing again in October. Multi-million dollar homes nestle in the hills that frame the city, good for scenic drives. And the lovely coast is just minutes away.

Christopher Baker
About the Expert

Christopher P. Baker has authored guidebooks to Costa Rica, California, and various Caribbean islands for Frommer's, Lonely Planet, and National Geographic, among others.

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Christopher Baker for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    Spring, summer, autumn