Downtown San Juan Bautista
Downtown San Juan Bautista (Photo by David Royal)
In many ways, San Juan Bautista has never left the 19th century. Merchants still ply their trade in the town's original rough-faced adobe buildings. Mission buildings dominate the little burg, just as they have for more than two centuries. Turn a corner, and you might startle a flock of chickens crossing the road.

This little village of 1,700 just north of the Monterey County line has managed to survive the numerous twists and turns of history. The mission, founded in 1797, put it on the map. It became a bustling commercial center and stagecoach hub in the mid-1800s. Today, San Juan Bautista is still a destination, but now for seekers of antiques, good food, and snippets of state history.

(Photo from the city's Web site, www.san-juan-bautista.ca.us)

The mission faces San Juan Bautista Historic State Park, a lovely plaza surrounded by buildings from a bygone era. That these structures have survived at all is remarkable, since they're situated right next to the San Andreas Fault. The old adobes once housed Mexican generals and Donner Party survivors. A nearby heart-shaped cemetery, photographed by Ansel Adams, is the final resting place for many of the early settlers.

For an old place, San Juan Bautista still has plenty of life. It's recently added two hot spots for locals — Vertigo Coffeehouse (named for Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller, filmed in part at the mission) and Bear's Hideaway, a wine, beer and cigar bar.

Living history days are held the first Saturday of each month at the buildings around the Mission Plaza, and numerous events are held during the summer and fall weekends, with the annual antiques street fair in August the highlight of the year for many.

Take Highway 101 north to 156 East, and follow the signs to San Juan Bautista. Plan to spend some time.

Antiques: Start at one end of town and work your way down; you'll be busy for a while. A good starting point is the San Juan People's Plaza (507 Third St.

(Photo from the city's Web site, www.san-juan-bautista.ca.us)
, 623-8882), where nine dealers show their wares under one roof. Everything from Asian art to vintage quilts can be found here, as well as 20th-century kitsch, period gowns and bags, and antique furniture and statuary.

Continue east on Third Street, and in rapid succession you'll come to Golden Wheel Antiques, SJB Antiques & Collectibles, Blue Bird Antiques, Sweet Pea Antiques, and several others — all within a few blocks. Go one block over for two more, Lozzio's Antiques (Fourth and Polk) and Fool's Gold (34-A Polk St.). Clothing from many eras is available at Mrs. B's ZPlace (306 Third St., 623-8880).

Collectibles/Gifts: No visit to San Juan would be complete without a stop at Visions of Christmas (108 Third St.

(Photo from the city's Web site, www.san-juan-bautista.ca.us)
, 623- 2115), at the holidays or any other time of year. The year-round holiday shop carries finely crafted figurines for Christmas, and other seasonal events. Down the street is Paloma Paloma (203 Third St., 623-4990), possibly San Juan's most colorful shop, with irreverent Mexican imports.

Art/home furnishings: No two art galleries are exactly alike in San Juan Bautista, and that's a good thing. Galeria Tonantzin (115 Third St., 623-2783) displays contemporary works by women artists. Mission Gallery (106 Third St., Suite M, 623-2960) offers fine art prints and photographs, mostly landscapes and natural subjects. For the Western art lover, don't miss Southwest Roundup (106 Third St., 623-1128), which has everything you need to outfit your stylish ranch house, cabin or hacienda.

(Photo from the city's Web site, www.san-juan-bautista.ca.us)

Restaurants: Joan & Peter's German Restaurant (322 Third St., 623-4521) serves up bratwurst and sauerbraten; further down the road, JJ's Homemade Burgers (100 The Alameda, 623-1748) does burgers and more, including wraps, garlic fries and real milkshakes. The Basque restaurant, Matxain Etxea, has a following for its family- style meals (206 Fourth St., 623-4472).

It's hard to choose between two wonderful Mexican restaurants, Jardines de San Juan (115 Third St., 623-4466) and Dona Esther Restaurant (25 Franklin St., 623- 2518). Locals love Dona Esther's Mexican- American Sunday buffet, but if the weather's nice, you can't beat Jardines' flower-filled garden patio for sipping margaritas.

Two unique lunch spots offer the flavor of yesteryear. La Casa Rosa (107 Third St., 623-4563) is renowned for its California casseroles and chicken soufflĂ©; at Mariposa House (37 Mariposa St., 623-4666), genteel luncheons and afternoon teas are the order of the day.

Don't have time to sit and eat? Too much shopping to do, you say? Vertigo, a coffee roaster as well as coffeehouse, provides espresso drinks, pastries and free wifi (81 Fourth St., 623-9533). At San Juan Bakery (319 Third St., 623-4570), decadent breads occupy an entire wall, while sandwiches, pastries and coffee provide a quick pick-me-up.

Or if shopping's done, check out Bear's Hideaway (402 Third St., 623-9363) and raise a glass or two to history.

For more on San Juan Bautista, see san-juan-bautista.ca.us or call 637-5315.