San Juan Capistrano

Before Disneyland, there was the mission


Tree of Life Nursery. Eight miles inland along Ortega Highway, Mike Evans holds to a simple botanical belief: "California should look like California." For 16 years, Evans and his staff at Tree of Life have grown and sold only California-native plants, in the process becoming the largest such nursery in the state. But the roadside plantation is more than a business. With its hay-bale and adobe Round House, its flights of art and its indigenous ambiance, Tree of Life is simultaneously a California getaway and a homecoming. 33201 Ortega Hwy., (949) 728-0685.South Coast Farms. You usually catch a whiff of South Coast Farms before you see it. That's understandable: Orange County's biggest example of community-supported organic agriculture isn't much to see. It's squeezed onto 28 acres, surrounded by a trailer park, a sports complex and housing tracts. But its fragrance of ripe vegetables, pungent herbs, sweet fruit and clean, sun-warmed dirt is intoxicating. It makes you hungry. It makes you want to be healthy. Fortunately, everything growing in the fields is for sale at the roadside stand. Stop in and sample its five different varieties of tomatoes. Even better, South Coast Farms sells prepaid subscriptions for three months' worth of its naturally grown fruits and vegetables. For prices ranging from $140 to $351 (depending on the size and frequency of the orders), South Coast Farms will prepare and deliver personalized baskets of produce—and even flowers—every week or every other week for three months. It's a healthy alternative to spending the summer at the burger stand. It's a happy place to visit, too. 32701 Alipaz St., (949) 661-9381; Plant Depot. This is the best nursery that isn't Roger's Gardens, which has the obligatory koi pond and the largest selection of lavenders we've ever seen. 33413 San Juan Creek Rd., (949) 240-2107.


San Juan Capistrano Regional Library. Designed by award-winning architect Michael Graves—the guy who creates alarm clocks for Target—the library is nationally recognized for its postmodern style. With a community room, exhibit area, central courtyard and outdoor reading areas, the library is a perfect spot to spend the afternoon. There are also a host of activities—lectures, exhibits (including a wonderful multicultural art series), and musical programs hosted by a variety of local organizations. 31495 El Camino Real, (949) 493-1752.


Mission San Juan Capistrano. Founded in 1776, the Mission is just about the oldest building in California and remains one of Orange County's most popular tourist destinations. And contrary to what you might think, the Mission is a lot more than an old building with a creepy statue of Father Serra fondling a Native American minor. With 10 acres of lush gardens and pools—lined by beautiful adobe walls—it isn't just a museum; it's a great place to relax or simply wander around. There's music on most summer weekend nights, but things get even more interesting in the autumn. On Oct. 27, for example, there's a Pirate Festival on the Mission grounds, which is a re-enactment of the daring raid on the Mission in 1818 by those pesky buccaneers—a day of fun for the whole family that even includes a costume contest. Speaking of costumes: on the second Saturday of each month, there's Living History Day, which features authentic demonstrations and costumes from California's glorious era of Spanish-Indian "cooperation." 31522 Camino Capistrano, (949) 234-1300;
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