One of the great things about San Juan Bautista is that everything is within walking distance. From where I live on the edge of town, I can head out in just about any direction and find open roads, challenging hills, terrific views, captivating history, and lots of friendly faces. This article describes a five-mile loop around one of my very favorite places.
You can begin a loop hike anywhere and have essentially the same experience, but I will start at the Windmill Market shopping center at Highway 156 and The Alameda for the convenience of out-of-towners. That’s where our one and only stoplight is so it’s easy to find.
I should mention at the outset that this is not a historical walking tour. A paper map is available at the Welcome Center inside the San Juan Bakery on 3rd Street that will guide you to and inform you about San Juan Bautista’s many historical buildings. You should check that out, too. But right here, right now, we want to get our blood flowing and get some exercise!
From the Windmill, walk north on 4th Street by Vertigo Coffee Roasters. An early morning daily sighting may be Mary Gray and her walking group. Just try to keep up with those gals! When you get to the stop sign at Washington Street, turn left toward 156, through the sleepy, quiet neighborhood, and under the overpass to Lausen Drive, where you hang a right.
Get ready to huff and puff as you climb the steep, winding road up to the municipal water tank. Want to test your stamina? Go ahead and jog this hill. But be sure to stop and drink in the outstanding vista from the gate near the top. Then coast on down back the way you came all the way to 4th Street.
Turning left (north) on 4th, keep going until you get to Abbe Park (restrooms and e-vehicle charging station). If you see Armando from the city crew keeping the grass in check, stop and say hi. Armando is a very creative photographer. Ask him if you can check out his stunning photos of the Mission on Instagram. Then turn left on Muckelemi Street toward Neil’s Market and the Valero Station.
Now it’s time for more hill work at the San Juan Bautista Cemetery on Monterey Street, near the VFW Hall. No, I’m not trying to kill you. Honestly, you will thank me after you see this beautiful place. To state the obvious, be quiet and respectful at all times. If there is a service underway, do not go up there. It is open only during daylight hours and you should walk on the streets, not on the grounds. That said, the hills are invigorating, the views of the city and the surrounding countryside are stupendous, and the local history is overwhelming. As you read the names on grave markers, you are struck by the diversity and lasting presence of the families and heroes who came before us.
Returning to Monterey Street, turn left. In a few minutes, you will pass the Marentis House (1873) and soon you will see the Luck Museum and Public Library. These are our vibrant community learning centers, where anyone can come to read and converse and relax. The library has the best bike rack in San Benito County by far, plus some smart staff to assist you.
When you leave the library, keep walking south on Second toward the Mission. On the right is Verutti Park, a small but mighty green space recently renovated by a fireball group of local citizens. There are swings and a clean playscape for the kids, ample lawn space for games, and a shaded eating area with a barbeque pit for outdoor dining. Certain senior citizens have been known to stop here and try to do a couple of pull-ups for old times’ sake.
Continuing on 2nd Street, the Mission rectory comes into view. Walk around through the grassy parking area and loop behind the compound to the dirt walking path (El Camino Real) along the east side of the Mission. Berries aren’t in season yet, but you can see the vines flanking the trail as you pass along this scarp of California’s famous San Andreas Fault to the Mission San Juan Bautista.
You aren’t allowed to be tired yet, because you have come to San Juan’s version of stadium steps. There are 22 steps up to the Mission Plaza. Go up and down ten times as quickly as you can without using the handrails. I am told this builds character.
Stop and check out the Rose Garden in front of the church. Inhale. Smile. Raise your hands in glory with the statue of John the Baptist. Then cross the Plaza to 2nd Street, turn left to Franklin Street, turn right, and angle over to 3rd Street by Dona Esther’s and JJ’s Homemade Burgers.
You are almost done. To complete the circuit, walk left on Third past the soccer field (restrooms and parking) back to the Windmill. Refreshments await you there at the market or at the Pizza Factory. You also have many more options on 3rd Street. Which one is best? I say come back often, try them all, and decide yourself. While you’re at it, stop into the many shops and galleries to see what local dealers and artisans have to offer.
The San Juan Bautista Loop will keep you in shape, teach you about your history, and let you play all in the same day. And please my friends, don’t litter.
For a San Juan Bautista location map, click here.
For a Walking Tour of San Juan Bautista's Historic District map, click here.
To read Ostdick's Palomino Dream blog, click here.
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