Even for people who know Southern California well, San JuanCapistrano's 40-acre Los Rios district comes as a surprise. In theshadow of Mission San Juan Capistrano, this Orange Countyneighborhood began life in 1794 and contains California's oldestresidential street, Los Rios Street. "The first homes were built byJuanenos Indians when the missionaries allowed them to live outsidethe mission compound," says Tony Forster, president of the San JuanCapistrano Historical Society.
What's wonderful about Los Rios ― and what makes it wortha stop for travelers on Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and SanDiego ― is that here, those mission days don't seem very faraway. A good place to start your tour is at the historicalsociety's headquarters, the O'Neill Museum (closed Mon and Sat; $2donation suggested; 31831 Los Rios St.; 949/493-8444). Take adocent-led walking tour of the olive tree-dotted streets (1 p.m.Sun; call museum for details), or begin your own self-guidedexploration.
The neighborhood centerpiece is the Rios Adobe (31781 Los Rios),best viewed from the street. Built in 1794 by Feliciano Rios, aSpanish soldier, it's still inhabited ― 10 generations later― by his descendants. On May 8, during National PreservationWeek, another Los Rios adobe, the 1794 Montañez Adobe (31745Los Rios), will be included on a historic tour of San JuanCapistrano (visit www.sanjuancapistrano.org for moreinformation).
Dining and shopping opportunities are relaxed. At the RamosHouse Cafe ($$; breakfast and lunch Tue-Sun; 31752 Los Rios;949/443-1342), diners enjoy beignets on a tree-shaded patio. TheTea House on Los Rios ($$; closed Mon-Tue; 31731 Los Rios;949/443-3914) serves high tea and brunch on weekends. On the otherside of the tracks, in an old train depot, Sarducci's CapistranoDepot ($$$; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily; 26701 Verdugo St.;949/493-9593) offers blackened snapper tacos on an outdoor diningpatio. Before you leave, stop by Hummingbird Cottage (26711Verdugo; 949/487-1249) or the Art Garden (closed Mon-Tue; 31712 LosRios; 949/488-0060), where you can pick up a gift to remind you ofLos Rios' slow-paced charms.
Los Rios is in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, 60 milessouth of Los Angeles and 65 miles north of San Diego. From I-5,take the Ortega Hwy. (State 74) exit west to downtown and followthe signs. There's free three-hour parking next to the train depot.For maps and information, you can stop at the kiosk outside themission, or contact the San JuanCapistrano Chamber of Commerce (949/493-4700).