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San Juan Capistrano is a city in Orange County, California. The city was created around the Mission San Juan Capistrano, and many of the homes and strip malls resemble the Spanish architecture that composes the building. It is home to the widest variety of homes in Orange County, including those built prior to 1900, in its central district (some being adobes from the 18th century). San Juan Capistrano is famous for a population of cliff swallows that migrate each year from Argentina to the Mission San Juan Capistrano.
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San Juan Capistrano is the site of a Christian mission for which it is named, Mission San Juan Capistrano. When the Mission was founded in 1776, the region was populated by the Acjachemen band of Native Americans, called Juaneños by the Spanish. The mission was named after Giovanni da Capistrano (1386–1456), the Franciscan saint from Capestrano, in the Italian region of Abruzzo.
Giovanni da Capistrano, although raised to the sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church is documented by historical research by the Oxford University historian Norman Davies to have burnt to death more than 50 Jews in May 1453 in the Polish city of Wroclaw.
The city is the site of California’s oldest residential neighborhood, Los Rios. It is also the home of the oldest in use building in California, the Serra Chapel in the Mission. The area was the site of both the first vineyard and first winery in California.
San Juan Capistrano is located in south Orange County and is bisected by Interstate 5. 33°29′58″N 117°39′42″W (33.499493, -117.661614).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 14.3 square miles (37 km2). 14.1 square miles (37 km2) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) of it (1.26%) is water.
As of 2018, the City Council members are: Sergio Farias (Mayor), Brian Maryott (Mayor Pro Tem), Kerry K. Ferguson, Pam Patterson, and Derek Reeve. The current city manager is Benjamin Siegel.
In the California State Legislature, San Juan Capistrano is in the 36th Senate District, represented by Republican Patricia Bates, and in the 73rd Assembly District, represented by Republican Bill Brough.
San Juan Capistrano is served by Capistrano Unified School District. In the 2007–08 academic year, San Juan Hills High School opened with about 600 freshman students. It is the city’s only public high school. Ultimately, nearly all San Juan Capistrano’s high school students will move to this campus as well as some students from Capistrano Beach, San Clemente High School, and southern Ladera Ranch. Residents from these other communities did not want to attend a school in San Juan on the basis that it was farther than the current schools they were attending and that the communities had too many differences. Many residents wanted to stay at the established high schools their communities had been attending for years. While there was initially tension caused by the boundary changes implemented with the construction of the new high school, it has since died down. The main relief for the tension was the construction of a connecting road from Avenida La Pata to Avenue Vista Hermosa, allowing for students from San Clemente to take a more direct route to the school. The $127 million infrastructure project completed on August 13, 2016.
San Juan has four public elementary schools (grades K–5): Del Obispo Elementary School, Harold Ambuehl Elementary School, Kinoshita Elementary School, and San Juan Elementary School. The local public middle school (grades 6–8) is Marco Forster Middle School. Capistrano Valley High School (grades 9–12) lies just outside of the city’s borders, but serves many of the city’s students.
A public continuation high school, Junipero Serra High School, also serves the area. Not to be confused with the Catholic school to the north, the Serra High School is a campus dedicated to helping adults finish their pre-collegiate educational goals.
San Juan also has six private, non-secular schools. Capistrano Valley Christian Schools (grades pre-K – 12), Saddleback Valley Christian School (grades pre-K – 12), St. Margaret’s Episcopal School (grades pre-K – 12), and JSerra Catholic High School (grades 9–12). Mission Basilica School (grades K–8) is located on the historic Mission grounds, utilizes some of the historic buildings as classrooms, and is part of Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano. The other is Rancho Capistrano Christian School (grades K–8), located off Interstate 5 on Saddleback Church‘s south campus.
The Cliff Swallows of Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano is also known for its cliff swallows. The protected birds return during migration, which originates in the town of Goya, Argentina, around St. Joseph‘s Day (March 19) each year. The day is celebrated by the city’s annual Swallows’ Day Parade and other festive events. The swallows leave around October 23, the former feast day of St. John of Capistrano. The 1940 hit song “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano“, written by Leon René, is a love song inspired by this annual event.
From 2009 to 2017, the famous swallows did not return to San Juan Capistrano. They instead began migrating to and nesting in the Chino Hills of Southern California, north of San Juan Capistrano. They built their mud nests in the eaves of the Vellano Country Club, situated around a golf course in the Chino Hills just north of the Chino Hills State Park. Mission San Juan Capistrano officials stated that the swallows changed their route because the mission is no longer the tallest building in the area due to urban sprawl, and thus stopped attracting the swallows for nesting.
Realizing the city’s famous birds were no longer returning home, members of the Mission San Juan Capistrano enlisted the help of Dr. Charles R. Brown, a cliff swallows specialist from the University of Tulsa. In 2012, the first phase of a two-step process began, where the sounds and calls of the cliff swallows were played throughout the mission to lure the birds back home. In 2015, the project continued with the second phase where a replica wall of a man-made colonies was built to give the birds a nest to return to. The nests were built to be very similar to the original nests made in the mission, prior to the early 1900s re-stabilization. As of summer of 2017, the cliff swallows have returned home to Mission San Juan Capistrano and are still celebrated each year at the town’s annual Swallows Day Parade and Mercado Street Fair.
In 2018, the town celebrated its 80th annual Swallows Day Parade and Mercado Street Fair put on by the San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association. The parade is the end celebration of a three-month Fiesta de las Golondrinas where the town puts on events to commemorate the migration home of the songbirds. The parade shuts down a portion of the downtown area to make way for floats, horses, and people walking in the parade. The event holds the title of being the longest-running and largest non-motorized parade west of the Mississippi.
San Juan Capistrano is served by two newspapers, the Capistrano Valley News (owned by the Orange County Register) and The Capistrano Dispatch. The Capistrano Valley News runs once weekly on Thursdays and The Dispatch runs on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.
The San Juan Capistrano Patch, an online-only news website, also serves the city.
The Orange County Transportation Authority operates bus routes within the city, connecting it to other parts of Orange County.
The San Juan Capistrano station is served by Amtrak and Metrolink. The station is located one block away from the historic San Juan Capistrano Mission next to Los Rios Street in downtown San Juan Capistrano. Its location to the city’s tourist attractions makes it a popular stop during the summer months.
Interstate 5 has 7 exits within San Juan Capistrano city limits and 8 entrances. Of those 7 exits, 6 leads to roads within San Juan Capistrano and of the 8 entrances, 1 is isolated meaning there is only one interstate entrance or exit for a specific road within the city (Stonehill Drive / Camino Capistrano I-5 northbound entrance as entrance number 80). From south to north, the exits within the city are (with exit numbers in parentheses): Camino Las Ramblas / Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) (79), Camino Capistrano (81), Ortega Highway (CA-74) (82), Junipero Serra Road (83), California State Route 73 (85A), and Avery Parkway (85).
Avery Parkway’s northbound exit and entrance is within the nearby city of Mission Viejo while the southbound exit and entrance is within San Juan Capistrano.
Pacific Coast Highway is quite possibly the most infamous state route in California. It terminates officially at Interstate 5 in San Juan Capistrano near Dana Point and San Clemente. There is an official CA-1 terminus sign on a traffic light pole along the southbound lanes (at this point, eastbound) on CA-1 shortly after crossing under Interstate 5. It is where the northbound exit from I-5 intersects Camino Las Ramblas and is within San Juan Capistrano city limits.
California State Route 73 southbound terminates at I-5 in San Juan Capistrano, while the northbound direction begins at I-5. There are no exits along California State Route 73 that are within San Juan Capistrano other than when it junctions with Interstate 5.
California State Route 74 (Ortega Highway) originally terminated at Camino Capistrano in front of Mission San Juan Capistrano however construction that was completed in 2015 may have extended CA-74’s designation to continue along Del Obispo Street towards Dana Point. The current status as to the official western terminus of CA-74 is currently unknown.
California State Route 241, which originally terminated at Oso Parkway between Las Flores and Coto de Caza was extended roughly 4 miles to Cow Camp in the new community of Rancho Mission Viejo, which shares the same zip code as San Juan Capistrano.
The original route of U.S. 101 ran through downtown San Juan Capistrano on what is now Camino Capistrano. It was disbanded when Interstate 5 was completed in the 1950s.