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Walking the Walk

July 30, 1999

Sure, you can wait until March for the swallows to return to Mission San Juan Capistrano. But if you think that kind of patience is for the birds, there are other attractions in this famous beach town.

The San Juan Capistrano Historical Society has regular two-mile walking tours aimed at showing off the city's history and architecture. Mollie Burke, one of the docents who leads groups, says there's plenty to keep folks interested as they stroll the streets and avenues.

"People seem to really enjoy themselves. I haven't seen any bored faces out there yet."

The tour starts at the end of Verdugo Street, near the train station, built in the Mission Revival style in 1894. The tour moves to Los Rios Street, which, as Burke points out, is one of the oldest thoroughfares still in use in California, dating to the 1790s. She adds that 40 adobe houses were built on Los Rios in 1794 for soldiers and mission workers. Remnants of three structures remain.

Then it's on to other destinations, including the Domingo Yorba adobe (raised in the 1830s), the Camino Capistrano provincial building (built in the 1840s and redone in 1912) and the Judge Richard Egan House, a.k.a. Harmony Hall. A more modern landmark is the regional library, designed by architect Michael Graves and opened in 1983.

And, of course, there's the mission. Founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra, the "Great Stone Church" is one of the most famous Orange County tourist spots, best known as a stopover for swallows following warm weather from as far north as Alaska to southern Argentina.

The walking tour begins Saturdays at 10 a.m. $5 donation. (949) 489-0736.

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