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San Juan Capistrano, California

Coordinates: 33°29′58″N 117°39′42″W / 33.49944°N 117.66167°W / 33.49944; -117.66167
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San Juan Capistrano, California
Top: San Juan Mission Basilica (left), San Juan Capistrano station (right); middle: Mission San Juan Capistrano; bottom: Downtown San Juan Capistrano
Flag of San Juan Capistrano, California
Official seal of San Juan Capistrano, California
"Preserving The Past To Enhance The Future"
Location of San Juan Capistrano within Orange County, California.
Location of San Juan Capistrano within Orange County, California.
San Juan Capistrano, California is located in the United States
San Juan Capistrano, California
San Juan Capistrano, California
Location in the United States
Coordinates: 33°29′58″N 117°39′42″W / 33.49944°N 117.66167°W / 33.49944; -117.66167
CountryUnited States
FoundedNovember 1, 1776
IncorporatedApril 19, 1961
Named forJohn of Capistrano
 • TypeCouncil-Manager
 • Mayor[1]Sergio Farias
 • Mayor Pro TemHoward Hart
 • City CouncilTroy A. Bourne
John Campbell
John Taylor
 • City manager[2]Benjamin Siegel
 • Total14.43 sq mi (37.37 km2)
 • Land14.43 sq mi (37.37 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
Elevation121 ft (37 m)
 • Total35,196
 • Density2,439.09/sq mi (941.82/km2)
Time zoneUTC-8 (Pacific)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-7 (PDT)
ZIP Code
Area code949
FIPS code06-68028
GNIS feature IDs1661383, 2411793

San Juan Capistrano (also known colloquially as San Juan or SJC) is a city in southern Orange County, California, United States. The population was 35,253 at the 2020 Census.

Named for Saint John of Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano was founded by the Spanish in 1776, when Father Junípero Serra established Mission San Juan Capistrano. Extensive damage caused by an earthquake in 1812 caused the community to decline. Following the Mexican secularization act of 1833, the mission village officially became a town and was briefly renamed as San Juan de Argüello. After the American conquest of California, San Juan remained a small, rural town until the 20th century; the restoration of the mission in the 1910s–20s transformed the town into a tourist destination and a backdrop for Hollywood films.


The Spanish founded San Juan Capistrano in 1776, when Saint Junípero Serra established Mission San Juan Capistrano.



The region was populated by the Acjachemen, referred to by the Spanish as Juaneños, an Indigenous Californian nation. They lived in the area for approximately 10,000 years, with some of their oldest villages being confirmed as over 9,600 years old.[5][6] The mother village of Putuidem was located in what is now San Juan Capistrano, as well as the village of Acjacheme.[7]

Spanish era


The settlement that today is San Juan Capistrano began in 1776 when the Spanish Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, the seventh of the Spanish missions in California. The mission was built less than 60 yards from the native village of Acjacheme, which was exploited as a source of labor for the mission.[8] The mission was named after Saint John of Capistrano, a 14th-15th century Franciscan saint. The 1812 San Juan Capistrano earthquake resulted in the deaths of thirty-nine Acjachemen people, thirty-one of whom were women, when the stone church at the Mission collapsed.[9]

Mexican era

Ruins of the Great Stone Church at Mission San Juan Capistrano, 1876

The Mexican Congress of the Union enacted the secularization of the Californian missions in 1833. In the mission period, 4,317 natives had been baptized at the mission (1,689 adults and 2,628 children). In that same period, 3,158 of those baptized had died. Some of the native people who survived the mission period continued to live at the mission for a short period after the secularization act, while others settled in the surrounding areas.[10]

Each mission was appointed an administrator to oversee the transfer of the missions and their lands from the Franciscan Order to the Mexican authorities. Santiago Argüello, a member of a prominent family of Californios, was appointed administrator of Mission San Juan Capistrano. During his tenure, the community was briefly renamed "San Juan de Argüello", similar to what happened to San Juan Bautista in Northern California, which was briefly renamed "San Juan de Castro" after its administrator José Castro.

In 1844, Don Juan Forster and James McKinley purchased the former Mission San Juan Capistrano at public auction. Forster made his home there until 1864, when the mission was returned to the Catholic Church by President Abraham Lincoln.

American era

San Juan Capistrano station, 1895
San Juan Capistrano in the 1940s

Following the American Conquest of California, San Juan remained a relatively small and rural community until the end of the 19th century.

Padre O'Sullivan arrived in San Juan Capistrano in 1910 to recuperate from a recent stroke. He became fascinated by Mission San Juan Capistrano and soon set to work on rebuilding it a section at a time. O'Sullivan repaired the roof of the Serra Chapel using California sycamore logs to match those that were used in the original work. He brought in architect Arthur B. Benton of Los Angeles to strengthen the chapel walls through the addition of heavy masonry buttresses. The centerpiece of the chapel restoration was its retablo, imported from Barcelona in 1806 and donated by the Bishop of Los Angeles.

The restoration of the mission resulted in the town's emergence as a tourist destination, owing to its historic architectural style and proximity to the sea. The mission was used often in Hollywood productions, such as D. W. Griffith's 1910 western film The Two Brothers, the first film ever shot in Orange County. San Juan was incorporated as a city on April 19, 1961.[11]

From 2009 to 2017, the cliff swallows did not make their famous annual springtime return to Mission San Juan Capistrano, instead migrating to the Chino Hills, north of San Juan.[12] The swallows changed their route because the Mission is no longer the tallest building in the area due to urban sprawl, and thus stopped attracting the swallows for nesting.[13] Mission San Juan Capistrano embarked on a program to facilitate the return of the swallows, first by using swallow calls to attract the birds and then by building artificial swallow nests for the birds to use.[14] As of 2017, the swallows have returned home to Mission San Juan Capistrano and are still celebrated each year at the town's annual Swallows Day Parade and Mercado Street Fair. In 2018, the town celebrated its 80th annual Swallows Day Parade and Fiesta de las Golondrinas (Spanish: Festival of the Swallows).[15] The event holds the title of being the longest-running and largest non-motorized parade west of the Mississippi.[citation needed]


The Santa Ana Mountains separate San Juan Capistrano from Lake Elsinore in Riverside County.

San Juan Capistrano is located in south Orange County and is bisected by Interstate 5.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 14.3 square miles (37 km2). 14.1 square miles (37 km2) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) of it (1.26%) is water.


Climate data for San Juan Capistrano, California
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 93
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 65
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 50
Record low °F (°C) 25
Average precipitation inches (mm) 3.05
Source: [16][17]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[18]



The 2020 U.S. Census reported a population of 35,253. The racial makeup was 70.6% White (52.8% Non-Hispanic white), 0.7% African American, 3.6% Asian, and 37.3% Hispanic or Latino of any race.[19]

San Juan Capistrano city, California – Racial and Ethnic Composition
(NH = Non-Hispanic)
Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos may be of any race.
Race / Ethnicity Pop 2000[20] Pop 2010[21] Pop 2020[22] % 2000 % 2010 % 2020
White alone (NH) 21,084 19,312 18,591 62.33% 55.83% 52.82%
Black or African American alone (NH) 151 146 139 0.45% 0.42% 0.39%
Native American or Alaska Native alone (NH) 169 156 106 0.50% 0.45% 0.30%
Asian alone (NH) 634 952 1,194 1.87% 2.75% 3.39%
Pacific Islander alone (NH) 35 30 22 0.10% 0.09% 0.06%
Some Other Race alone (NH) 27 43 147 0.08% 0.12% 0.42%
Mixed Race/Multi-Racial (NH) 520 566 1,293 1.54% 1.64% 3.67%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 11,206 13,388 13,704 33.13% 38.70% 38.94%
Total 33,826 34,953 35,196 100.00% 100.00% 100.00%


The historic Casa Manuel García.
The historic Juan Ávila Adobe.

At the 2010 Census San Juan Capistrano had a population of 34,593. The population density was 2,419.9 inhabitants per square mile (934.3/km2). The racial makeup of San Juan Capistrano was 26,664 (77.1%) White (55.8% Non-Hispanic White),[23] 193 (0.6%) African American, 286 (0.8%) Native American, 975 (2.8%) Asian, 33 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 5,234 (15.1%) from other races, and 1,208 (3.5%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 13,388 persons (38.7%).[24]

The census reported that 34,506 people (99.7% of the population) lived in households, and 87 (0.3%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters.

There were 11,394 households, 4,030 (35.4%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 6,706 (58.9%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 1,089 (9.6%) had a female householder with no husband present, 526 (4.6%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 456 (4.0%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 87 (0.8%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 2,381 households (20.9%) were one person and 1,407 (12.3%) had someone living alone who was 65 or older. The average household size was 3.03. There were 8,321 families (73.0% of households); the average family size was 3.44.

The age distribution was 8,518 people (24.6%) under the age of 18, 3,066 people (8.9%) aged 18 to 24, 7,804 people (22.6%) aged 25 to 44, 9,792 people (28.3%) aged 45 to 64, and 5,413 people (15.6%) who were 65 or older. The median age was 40.2 years. For every 100 females, there were 98.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.7 males.

There were 11,940 housing units at an average density of 835.2 per square mile, of the occupied units 8,462 (74.3%) were owner-occupied and 2,932 (25.7%) were rented. The homeowner vacancy rate was 1.3%; the rental vacancy rate was 4.7%. 24,052 people (69.5% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 10,454 people (30.2%) lived in rental housing units.

According to the 2010 Census, San Juan Capistrano had a median household income of $75,356, with 12.7% of the population living below the federal poverty line.[23]


The 85-foot (26 m) tall Mission Basilica is the tallest building in San Juan. Pope John Paul II conferred it the rank of Basilica in 2000.
The historic Frank A. Forster House, a Mission Revival estate built by the grandson of Don Juan Forster.

As of the 2000 Census, there were 33,826 people in 10,930 households, including 8,196 families, in the city. The population density was 2,381.2 inhabitants per square mile (919.4/km2). There were 11,320 housing units at an average density of 307.6 persons per square kilometre (797 persons/sq mi). The racial makeup of the city was 78.47% White, 0.78% African American, 1.07% Native American, 1.92% Asian, 0.11% Pacific Islander, 14.21% from other races, and 3.43% from two or more races. 33.13% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

Of the 10,930 households, 39.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 62.7% were married couples living together, 8.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.0% were non-families. 19.7% of households were one person and 10.3% were one person aged 65 or older. The average household size was 3.06 and the average family size was 3.45.

The age distribution was 28.1% under the age of 18, 7.8% from 18 to 24, 27.3% from 25 to 44, 23.7% from 45 to 64, and 13.1% 65 or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 96.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.0 males.

The median household income was $62,392, and the median family income was $69,481. Males had a median income of $47,574 versus $34,821 for females. The per capita income for the city was $29,926. About 10.7% of the population and 6.6% of families were below the poverty line, including 14.8% of those under age 18 and 4.2% of those age 65 or over.[25][26]


Shops in downtown San Juan.
Los Rios Historic District is a National Register Historic District.

San Juan Capistrano is home to over 1,700 businesses. The city's unemployment rate was at 3.7% as of December 2017.[27]

Top employers


According to the city's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report from June 30, 2022,[28] the largest employers in the city are:

# Employer # of employees
1 Capistrano Unified School District 3,992
2 St. Margaret's Episcopal School 429
3 Costco 340
4 Ensign Services 185
5 JSerra Catholic High School 145
6 Fluidmaster Inc. HQ 130
7 ASRV, LLC 124
8 Inn at the Mission San Juan Capistrano 118
9 Marbella Country Club 106
10 Capistrano Connections Academy 100

Arts and culture

Cliff swallows make their home at Mission San Juan Capistrano during their yearly migration from Argentina.

San Juan Capistrano is also known for its cliff swallows. The protected birds return during migration, which originates in the town of Goya, Argentina, around St. Joseph's Day (March 19) each year. The day is celebrated by the city's annual Swallows' Day Parade and other festive events.[29] The swallows leave around October 23, the former feast day of St. John of Capistrano. The 1940 hit song "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano", written by Leon René, is a love song inspired by this annual event. Another birdwatching place is the Arroyo Bird House Park, containing many colorful birdhouses.

The Serra Chapel at the mission is the oldest in-use building in California. San Juan was also the site of one of the first places to produce Californian wine.

Putuidem Village, a 1.5-acre park (0.61 ha), is part of the original lands of the Acjachemen. Completed in 2021, it commemorates the history of the people called the Juaneño by the Spanish colonizers.[30]


Ruins of the Great Stone Church

As of April 2022, the City Council members are: Derek Reeve (Mayor),[31] Howard Hart (Mayor Pro Tem), John Taylor, Sergio Farias, and Troy Bourne.[32]

The current city manager is Benjamin Siegel.[2]

In the California State Legislature, San Juan Capistrano is in the 36th Senate District, represented by Republican Janet Nguyen, and in the 74th Assembly District, represented by Republican Laurie Davies.[33]

In the United States House of Representatives, San Juan Capistrano is in California's 49th congressional district, represented by Democrat Mike Levin.[34]


San Juan Hills High School

San Juan Capistrano is served by the Capistrano Unified School District. In the 2007–08 academic year, San Juan Hills High School opened with about 600 freshman students. It is the city's only public high school, although a sizable portion of San Juan Capistrano's residents attend high schools in neighboring cities since many of those schools are also part of the Capistrano Unified School District.

San Juan has four public elementary schools (grades K–5): Del Obispo Elementary School, Harold Ambuehl Elementary School, Kinoshita Elementary School, and San Juan Elementary School. The local public middle school (grades 6–8) is Marco Forster Middle School. Capistrano Valley High School (grades 9–12) lies just outside of the city's borders, but serves many of the city's students. A public continuation high school, Junipero Serra High School, also serves the area.

View of the north wing of the mission from the central patio.

San Juan also has six private, non-secular schools. Capistrano Valley Christian Schools (grades pre-K – 12), Saddleback Valley Christian School (grades pre-K – 12), St. Margaret's Episcopal School (grades pre-K – 12), and JSerra Catholic High School (grades 9–12). Mission Basilica School (grades K–8) is located on the historic Mission grounds, utilizes some of the historic buildings as classrooms, and is part of Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano. The other is Rancho Capistrano Christian School (grades K–8), located off Interstate 5 on Saddleback Church's south campus.

San Juan also has a private, secular school, Fairmont School[35] (grade K - 12), located close to San Juan Capistrano Mission.



San Juan Capistrano is served by two newspapers, the Capistrano Valley News (owned by the Orange County Register) and The Capistrano Dispatch. The Capistrano Valley News runs once weekly on Thursdays and The Dispatch runs on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.

The San Juan Capistrano Patch, an online-only news website, also serves the city.


San Juan Capistrano station is served by Amtrak and Metrolink.

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) operates bus routes within the city, connecting it to other parts of Orange County.



The San Juan Capistrano station is served by Amtrak and Metrolink. The station is located one block away from the historic San Juan Capistrano Mission next to Los Rios Street in downtown San Juan Capistrano. Its proximity to the city's tourist attractions makes it a popular stop during the summer months.


Shops in downtown San Juan.
The Casa de Esperanza is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Interstate 5 (San Diego Freeway) has three interchanges completely located in the city (at Camino Capistrano, SR 74/Ortega Highway, and Junipero Serra Road), two interchanges partially located within the city (at SR 1/Camino las Ramblas (which is partially within Dana Point) as well as SR 73 (which is partially within Mission Viejo), and an additional northbound entrance ramp from Stonehill Drive and Camino Capistrano.

Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most notable state routes in California. It is often incorrectly referenced that SR 1 terminates in nearby Dana Point because the city borders the Pacific Ocean (unlike San Juan Capistrano). In reality, SR 1 terminates shortly after it junctions with Interstate 5, crossing within San Juan Capistrano city limits (although this is a few hundred feet away from the city limits of Dana Point). There is an official SR 1 terminus sign on a traffic light pole along the southbound lanes on SR 1 shortly after crossing under Interstate 5 which is within San Juan Capistrano city limits.

California State Route 73 (San Joaquin Hills Toll Road) has its southern terminus at I-5 in San Juan Capistrano. There are no exits along SR 73 in San Juan Capistrano other than its junction with Interstate 5.

California State Route 74 has its official western terminus at Interstate 5 in San Juan Capistrano. The city-maintained road that continues west as Ortega Highway originally terminated at Camino Capistrano in front of Mission San Juan Capistrano; however, interchange reconstruction that was completed in 2015 brought Ortega Highway to continue onto Del Obispo Street towards Dana Point, with a right turn required to stay on the older portion of Ortega Highway.[36]

The original route of U.S. 101 ran through downtown San Juan Capistrano on what is now Camino Capistrano. It was decommissioned when Interstate 5 was completed in the 1950s.

Sister cities


Notable people



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  2. ^ a b "City Manager". City of San Juan Capistrano. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
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  10. ^ Handbook of American Indians north of Mexico. Volume III, N to S. Frederick Webb Hodge. Scituate, MA: Digital Scanning. 2003. pp. 445–446. ISBN 978-1-58218-755-6. OCLC 647873186.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
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  13. ^ "Famed swallows of Capistrano nest in country club". The Associated Press (via Southern Carolina Public Radio). New York City. June 7, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2014.
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  27. ^ City of San Juan Capistrano CAFR
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