San Juan Bautista – the City of History

Mission San Juan Bautista - Established 1797
Settler's Cabin - The earliest settlers sometimes lived in simply log cabins, like this one built in 1830.
Castro Adobe - built in 1838 by General Jose Castro as his home and headquarters
Zanetta House - Built by prosperous businessman Angelo Zanetta in 1868
Plaza Hotel - Built by Angelo Zanetta in 1856, the hotel had 18 guestrooms.
Plaza Stables - Built circa 1870, the stable was a stop for seven stage coach lines and could also accommodate private carriages.
Tuccolleta Hall - Built in 1840, the two-story adobe building originally housed a tavern.
Town Jail - In 1870, the town added a two-room jail.
Third Street - The main business street features traditional "false front" buildings, many built in the 1800s.
Walking Tour - Free maps guide visitors to 49 historic buildings.
Casa Rosa - Third Street buildings from the mid 1800s.
Jim Jack's Cabin - Jim Jack, aka China Jim, made his living collecting mustard seed and making mustard. His cabin was built in the 1880s.
Masonic Lodge - Constructed in 1854.
Community Church - A Protestant Church was constructed in 1863.
Carl M. Luck Gas Station - Built in 1919 to serve auto traffic traveling on El Camino Real.
Casa Maria - Built in the late 1920s as a Parish Hall for the mission church, it later became a restaurant and is now a conference center.
Mission San Juan Bautista
Settler's Cabin
Castro Adobe
Zanetta House
Plaza Hotel
Plaza Stables
Tuccolleta Hall
Town Jail
Third Street
Walking Tour
Casa Rosa
Jim Jack's Cabin
Masonic Lodge
Community Church
Carl M. Luck Gas Station
Casa Maria
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Mission San Juan Bautista
Settler's Cabin
Castro Adobe
Zanetta House
Plaza Hotel
Plaza Stables
Tuccolleta Hall
Town Jail
Third Street
Walking Tour
Casa Rosa
Jim Jack's Cabin
Masonic Lodge
Community Church
Carl M. Luck Gas Station
Casa Maria
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The City of History

San Juan Bautista, California, is called The City of History, and the residents take the name seriously!

The town grew up around the Spanish mission of the same name, and soon became a prosperous and bustling community. It was a two-day trip by stagecoach from Los Angeles to San Juan Bautista!

It was home to Mexican General José Castro, who built a large, two-story adobe building as his home and office. The adobe was later purchased by the Breen family, survivors of the Donner party.

The town continued to grow and prosper. In 1856, an 18-room hotel was built. The hotel owner, Angelo Zanetta, also built a large, two-story house. The lower floor was his private residence; the upper floor was used as a ballroom which hosted large events.

San Juan Bautista became an important trade hub, connecting Los Angeles, San Francisco, the port of Monterey, and the many small agricultural towns. At its peak, the town was served by seven stage coach companies.

However, in 1876, the Southern Pacific Railroad chose to build a railway station in nearby San Jose, rather than San Juan Bautista. There is a story that the railroad originally planned on locating the depot in San Juan Bautista, and requested $600 from the town council to defray the cost of building. When the town council refused, San Jose quickly stepped in.

San Juan Bautista soon became a backwater, and growth slowed dramatically. Because of this, the many historic buildings from the 1800s were preserved, rather than torn down and replaced as they were in faster-growing cities.

Today the city features a self-guided walking tour of 49 designated historic buildings. Free maps are available, and each of the historic buildings features a QR code that provides access to historic details on the website historicwalkingtrail.com

Some of the most impressive buildings, including the original mission, the Zanetta House (aka Plaza Hall), the livery stable, the Castro/Breen adobe, and the Plaza Hotel, are located around a square in front of the mission. It is one of the few Spanish plazas, or squares, remaining in California.

Many other historic buildings can be found along Third Street, the town’s main commercial thoroughfare, just a block from the mission square. Most of these buildings are now shops, antique stores, and restaurants.

Filmography

The well-preserved historical buildings make San Juan Bautista an ideal film location. A few notable films include:

  • The climactic scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film masterpiece, Vertigo, was filmed at Mission San Juan Bautista. There is now a popular coffee shop in town called Vertigo, in honor of the film.
  • In the 1981 TV mini-series East of Eden, the Zanetta House was used for the King City Hotel.
  • An as-yet-untitled film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Regina Hall, and Sean Penn filmed in San Juan Bautista in early 2024; it will be released in Fall, 2025.
  • Other films that were shot partly in San Juan Bautista include: Petulia (1968), Long Road Home (1991), Big Sur (2013), and The Royal Road (2015).