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Angels, Antiques, Albondigas

There's Much More to Do in Old, Easy-Going San Juan Capistrano Than Visit a Mission


With its landmark mission and the county's oldest neighborhood, San Juan Capistrano is rooted in history. The city's motto, adopted by civic leaders in 1997, states it best: "Preserving the Past to Enhance the Future."

Residents love their city and they work hard to ensure that it keeps its small-town charm. They're even willing to pay the price for it. A decade ago, they approved a ballot measure to buy 140 undeveloped acres to preserve as open space. Voters passed it, and property taxes increased.

The main road, Camino Capistrano, is quiet for a thoroughfare. You can usually cross it without having to worry about a speeding car. So take your time and enjoy what the city has to offer. There's no rush.

If you stroll along Camino Capistrano, you'll see more than Mission San Juan Capistrano. There are antique stores, restaurants and a spot made for angels.

If the Spirit Moves You

Intrigued by angels? Then go no farther than Tara's Angels (31770 Camino Capistrano, [949] 248-2322). The store is full of winged ones as well as angel-related clothing, gifts and books, such as "To Hear the Angels Sing" or "Creating With the Angels."

Angel mugs, figurines, bumper stickers and clothes are on the shelves. Clothing comes in adult, children and baby sizes.

A colorful mural depicting angels greets patrons as they enter the store, and the ceiling has been painted a bright sky blue with three-dimensional fluffy clouds hung overhead. In this setting, you almost expect to see a chubby cherub fly by.

Old Westerns

If antiques are on your shopping list, you won't have to walk very far before you reach Old Barn Antiques (31792 Camino Capistrano, [949] 493-9144).

The 20,000-square-foot barn houses more than 70 antique dealers. "It's the best [antique] mall in Orange County," says owner Arthur Lichtenstein.

Lichtenstein and his wife, Sandy, bought the mall last year after Sandy had rented space there for two years, selling antiques.

The barn was built in 1926 and was used as a livery stable and blacksmith. Over the years, buildings were added.

"So many things have happened [in San Juan Capistrano]," said Lichtenstein, who recalled that the city once had a reputation as a hide-out for robbers and thieves. "I love being here."

Whether you're searching for knickknacks or classic antiques, you'll enjoy perusing the merchandise at the Old Barn. There's even a Western section.

On a recent visit, there were Victorian trunks, an English blanket chest and a brass ship's telegraph.

Dishing Nixon

Hungry for more history? El Adobe de Capistrano (31891 Camino Capistrano, [949] 493-1163) is one of the city's oldest restaurants. It opened July 8, 1948 and served continental cuisine until former President Richard Nixon made too many requests for Mexican dishes and the owners changed the menu for good.

The "President's Choice" was Nixon's favorite meal--guacamole, chicken enchilada, chile relleno, beef taco, refried beans and Spanish rice ($9.50).

For a bit of spice, try albondigas, a meatball soup ($3.25), or the zucchini El Adobe ($8.95), which is fresh zucchini topped with chicken, melted cheddar cheese and ranchera sauce.

Dinners range from $8.50 to $16.50. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.; dinner from 4-9 p.m.


GETTING THERE: Take Interstate 5 to the Ortega Highway exit. Head west to Camino Capistrano. Turn left.

1. Tara's Angels

31770 Camino Capistrano

(949) 248-2322

2. Old Barn Antiques

31792 Camino Capistrano

(949) 493-9144

3. El Adobe de Capistrano

31891 Camino Capistrano

(949) 493-1163

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