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* Looking for a new neighborhood to explore? Here are a few suggestions, culled from recent stories. Complete stories can be accessed at http://www

October 08, 2000|DENNIS McLELLAN

San Juan Capistrano: Turn Back the Clock in Historic District Feeling stressed out? Tired of the old bumper-to-bumper on the 405, the 5, the 55, the 57, the 22 and the 91? Had enough of strip malls, mini-malls, mega-malls, fast-food franchises and cookie-cutter homes? Then consider stepping back in time to a place where the pace is as slow as the clip-clop of a horse heading down a tree-lined street; to a time when Southern California was a more visionary dream than hard-edged reality and the only thing that was overgrown was the weed-choked empty lot next door.

The Los Rios Historic District in San Juan Capistrano, considered California's oldest residential neighborhood, was originally established in the late 1700s for workers at the nearby mission. Stroll down Los Rios Street, slip into one of the century-old board-and-batten houses selling handcrafted items, have a leisurely lunch or a cup of tea, ride a pony, feed a goat--feel that old romantic California vibe, circa 1900.

Park in the public lot next to the Capistrano Depot and walk over the railroad track crossing where Verdugo Street dead-ends. Just across the track is a small, weathered old wooden house (26711 Verdugo St.). The brass historic plaque says that it was built in 1878 in Forster City (near San Onofre), that it was moved to San Juan Capistrano in 1882 and that it has served as a general store, post office and residence. It used to house a candle shop, and a novelty store plans to open.

Hungry? Turn up Los Rios Street and head to the Ramos House Cafe next door where diners eat on a patio beneath a huge mulberry tree. (31752 Los Rios St., [949] 443-1342). Chef-owner John Humphreys, who bought the 1881 residence five years ago, serves an a la carte menu Tuesday through Saturday and prix-fixe ($20) brunch Sunday. Down the road is the Teahouse on Los Rios (31731 Los Rios St., [949] 443-3914), which offers specialty salads, hot dishes, tea sandwiches with scones and a Sunday brunch.

Los Rios Street includes a number of truly historic abodes. Visit the Montanez Adobe. Built in 1794, it is one of three remaining adobes out of 40 that were built for mission workers (31745 Los Rios St., [949] 240-3119). Or stop by the O'Neill Museum, a Victorian house built in the late 1800s and one of the town's first wooden buildings (31831 Los Rios St., [949] 493-8444). Children visiting Los Rios Street enjoy the Jones Family Mini Farm, which offers pony rides and a petting zoo with rabbits, guinea pigs, a pig, goats and emus (31791 Los Rios St., [949] 831-6550).

Getting there: Take Interstate 5 to the Ortega Highway (74) exit in San Juan Capistrano. Go west on Ortega Highway toward the mission and turn left on Camino Capistrano. Turn right on Verdugo Street and into the public parking lots at the train depot.


* A new Discover Orange County will run next Sunday in the Orange County Calendar.

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