Not being a native Californian, I missed out on a rite of passage. Apparently, all fourth graders are required to study and build one of the 21 missions that stretch from San Diego to San Francisco.

I’m kinda bummed I wasn’t a kid here.

But I do have a fourth grader this year, so I still got to live vicariously through him. We chose San Juan Capistrano, as we’d been there a few times, and it’s only an hour by train. It’s a really fun trip, so we invited a few friends to accompany us. By far, the train was the highlight of the day for the wee ones.

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Chug-Chug-Chugging Away

We parked at the Santa Fe train depot in downtown San Diego (though next time I’ll probably use the Old Town depot, since they don’t gouge you on parking). The train ambles along the edge of the country. At one point, you can’t even see ground out the window; just the Pacific, glistening in the bright sun. Once we stocked up on snacks from the snack car (a highlight for a few others of us. ahem) we enjoyed letting someone else be in control of getting us there.

The train dropped us right in the heart of San Juan Capistrano (the town has the same name as the mission).

It’s a teeny town, and a throwback to the Wild West days. Once, we stumbled into the Swallows’ Day Parade, and were surprised to see so many — not floats, as you’d expect — horses. People riding horses like “this is my horse that I ride to get around.” Lightyears from San Diego. Really.

I digress, as usual. We know the temperament of young children who have to walk for hours without sustenance, so we made our first destination El Adobe de Capistrano Restaurant (turn right at the light from the train stop). I’m a sucker for old-school ambience with my meal, and the 200-year-old restaurant delivered. And the lobster burrito? Sublime.

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Our Piece of History

Bellies fed? Check. On to the mission. Max was the only one of the four kids who was working on this mission, so I paid extra and got him the special Kids’ Package that included a cool workbook with all kinds of info to help him with his project.

You get a free audio wand that you can use to get more information at different points throughout the mission. I get bored easily so I preferred to just look around and read plaques. And take photos.

 

 

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The kids loved scampering from one room filled with historic artifacts to another. I loved looking at the gorgeous gardens.

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On the way back, we stopped at Hidden House Coffee right by the train station for some damn good coffee and treats.

Oh, and the fruits of our visit?

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