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San Juan Bautista California Mission and Historic State Park


San Juan Bautista in San Benito County is one of those "off the beaten path" places you can easily miss. Located a mere 15 minutes by car south of Gilroy (the Garlic Capital,) turn off Hwy 156 from Interstate 101 between Salinas and Gilroy, and drive a mere 3 miles distance to arrive in town.


Once there, it looks like you are entering a stage set of a movie. Is this for real, you ask yourself...or is it re-creation of some past? Well, it turns out that San Juan Bautista is authentic and happens to contain the only Spanish Plaza left in California. The city isn't very big (under 2,000 people), but the amazing monuments left from another era attest to a time when there was a lot going on.


The largest mission in California (Mission San Juan Bautista) is located next to an historic park grounds with many buildings around a plaza. Over 4,500 Native American Mutsune Indians are buried in the mission graveyard alone--and the historic buildings show that at one time the city had a hotel, stables, and prominent town square on a plateau overlooking a beautiful valley that is now comprised of farms.


Located along the El Camino Real (Kings Highway) where all 21 missions in California were built, the Old Mission San Juan Bautista was constructed in 1797, and commemorates St. John the Baptist with its name. Sculptor Thomas Marsh commemorates that saint with a life-size sculpture on mission grounds overlooking a valley.


Noteworthy inside the mission is the gift shop room. This is where The present Gift Shop was a storeroom. In 1847, Donner Party survivors, the Breen family, found temporary shelter. Their family Bible is in the Museum.


In 1906 a violent earthquake shook the greater part of central California, collapsing the side walls of the church, that were eventually restored in 1976. Vestiges of the original El Camino Real can still be seen north of the cemetery and a marker signifies the San Andreas Fault, which runs along the base of the hill below the cemetery. The church celebrates Fiesta annually with BBQ Chicken, music, and festivities on the grounds.


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