Monday, October 6, 2014

Hidden Monterey: San Juan Bautista

The great thing about Monterey is that there are all sorts of places you can explore within one hour of downtown. So by using Monterey or Salinas as your base you can see quite a bit of the area without spending a lot of time in the car! A quick note: so much of California is spread out so even if you fly in for your visit you will want to rent a car. 

California is also known for it's Missions. There are 21 of these missions built all along the length of the state. Each has a similar "flavor" but each has it's own treasures as well. As a kid, growing up in California, you are required in 5th grade to create one of these missions and chances are good you will also take a field trip to go see one near where live with the school.  And, as a kid, you don't nearly appreciate them enough so it's great to be able to go back as an adult. Especially if you are one who loves architecture and art. (Don't forget to click on the little photos to see the big version!)

 As you turn off of the 101 and onto the 156 towards San Juan Bautista you will see some of our "California Country". This time of year the hills are a golden brown (thus the "Golden State") but in the Spring they will be a green so green it will almost hurt your eyes. The vistas are just breathtaking.
 When you see the windmill on the left you will know you are there. This is the biggest market we found in SJB so stop here for something to drink or if you want to put together a picnic. (But I'm going to introduce you to a great place to eat if you don't want to DIY it.)
 The center is nicely faux vintage including the outside of the post office. The inside is super modern though so don't get your hopes up of seeing the Post Master in vintage gear.
 The Mission is in the center of town where they have kept all the flare and feel intact. The square includes the Plaza Hotel. Built in 1814 this hotel served as barracks for the Spanish soldiers before it became a hotel in 1856. It is now a museum that you can tour.
 There is a large grassy area in the square which has the mission on the left side, the stables and Zanetta House on the right side, the hotel at the bottom of the square and an overlook with picnic tables at the top. On a day with beautiful weather it's a great place to just hang out and let the kids play.
 The outer buildings cost a few bucks per person to tour but include a lot of vintage pieces like old carriages and cars.
 The kids had fun romping through the stables and we had fun explaining how the horses were fed and hooked up to the coaches.
 The Zanetta House was something that I really enjoyed. It is beautiful from the outside with a little garden of it's own that is worth touring.
Each room on the inside is fully appointed with vintage furniture and light fixtures. Just beautiful!
The missions share one feature, the arches. There is always one hallway with these lovely features. A very Spanish and very California design. You will see the arches in every form of architecture all throughout California from restaurants to banks to homes.
 It does cost a few dollars to tour the inside of the mission but history buffs will love the museum display and those who are a fan, like I am, of hand painted architecture will love the inside of the chapel. The hand carved wooden pews and the glistening Spanish tile are simply a gorgeous background for the hand painted walls. There is a story about these tiles. The chapel includes a tiny door that allows the property cats to come into the chapel at night and hunt the mice. While setting the tiles they forgot to close the door so the wet tiles still bear the kitty prints from those nocturnal hunts!
 But the Mission Chapels are always a lovely place to tour. Quiet and cool they are a beautiful place to sit for awhile, pray if you are religious since these are still active chapels, light a candle for a loved one or just enjoy the peace of the room.
 You can actually be married in a California Mission if you would like for only about a thousand dollars. As wedding site fees are concerned that is fairly reasonable. The Guadalupe Chapel is a beautiful little room off from the main church. When you tour the grounds make sure to peek into each room because hidden treasures like this one are there.
 When you finish touring the buildings you have a full garden to tour and enjoy. Even during a drought, in the middle of Summer, these gardens are just beautiful.

There are several benches where you can sit and relax. Many of them are in the shade so you can enjoy it even on a Summer afternoon.
If you take the time to explore the gardens you will find several landmarks that will remind you just how old the grounds and buildings are and how amazing that they have been maintained so that you can have them to tour. Suddenly the few dollars you paid doesn't seem like too high of a cost for the opportunity to tour it hundreds of years later.
 If you go around to the front of the Church you will see another feature that all California Missions have in common. The Bells. This tiered version sometimes holds only 3 bells but many have several bells. As with any historic building, some are actually still used to call parishioners to service and some are just still for preservation.
Another thing that the missions all have in common is a statue of Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra. He founded the first 9 of the California Missions and a statue can be found of him at all of them.
 After our Mission self-tour we were ready for lunch. We discovered Dona Esther's Mexican Restaurant located on the corner of  Franklin and 3rd Street. This is a very small town so it is easily walkable from the Mission. One block down and two blocks over and you have amazing food waiting for you.
 The "basic" Mexican fare is anything but basic here. All of us were completely stuffed after eating and still wanted to lick our plates!
 Even something as basic as a carnitas taco, beans rice and a chicken enchilada were so good we told everyone about it for weeks. And it's all very affordable too! I think the most expensive plate on the menu was $14.95 and you get soup, salad and dessert included with a pile of food on your plate for that. 
 The entire town has vintage touches to these hundreds year old buildings. Take the time to wander around the shops and enjoy the little gardens you will find on the corners.
Even the newer buildings were constructed to mimic the historic ones so you get to enjoy the flavor of the 1800's all over town.
Many of the buildings are the "real deal" with vintage touches everywhere you look. This building at 2nd and Washington Street is full of beautiful details.

We spent a lovely afternoon with a 3 year old and 5 year old and everyone had a wonderful time touring the Mission and the small town of San Juan Bautista.

Next week we'll go the opposite direction out from Monterey to Big Sur.


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