Blink and you will miss San Juan Bautista, a town of about 1,800 people on Highway 156 in California’s San Benito County. Most people who know of San Juan Bautista think of it as a place to drive through on their way from the San Joaquin Valley or Southern California to the Monterey Bay area and Santa Cruz.

But it is definitely worth your time to drop by this town and poke around for an hour or two. Of course the highlight is Mission San Juan Bautista, one of the prettier California missions built by the Spanish during the late 18th and 19th centuries. This history behind the California missions is hardly a pretty one, noted by a marker nothing 4,500 unmarked graves of Native Americans on the mission’s grounds. (This overview by Cabrillo College is one of many descriptions of the impact these missions had on indigenous peoples.)

Fast forward to today. The church on the mission’s site is still in use and the mission offers a lovely view of the farms that sustain the town’s economy. And for film buffs, the mission was part of the setting for Alfred Hitchcock's classic Vertigo.

There is more to San Juan Bautista than the mission, however. The town’s main drag is full of thrift shops and antique stores if either are your thing. Several buildings dating back from the early 19th century and even the late 18th century remain. Mexican and Basque restaurants are on the menu, as is a local burger joint and the massive sandwiches at the Windmill Market. Roads off of nearby Highway 129 offer views of the San Juan Valley from the Gabilan Range. No wonder why many tourist buses stop here. You should, too, if by chance you happen to travel through this section of California. Plus, even during the summer the weather is perfect, rarely soaring past 82F/28C.

Image credits: Leon Kaye

San Juan Bautista, California, Monterey Bay, travel, farming

Old American West meets Old Spain

San Juan Bautista, California, Monterey Bay, travel, farming

Enjoy the view of the historic El Camino Real

San Juan Bautista, California, Monterey Bay, travel, farming

Mission San Juan Bautista has been the center of this valley for over 200 years

San Juan Bautista, California, Monterey Bay, travel, farming

The dusty plaza gives an idea of what life was like in the 19th century

San Juan Bautista, California, Monterey Bay, travel, farming

The main drag in town offers that retro feel

San Juan Bautista, California, Monterey Bay, travel, farming

This old inn is one of several original buildings surviving in San Juan Bautista

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.