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It's 1860 again in San Juan Bautista.

In the 1860s, San Juan Bautista was bustling. Ten stagecoach lines called at this vital commercial hub 43 miles south of San Jose. Situated at the crossing of roads to Monterey, Salinas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, it was a blend of mission, Mexican, and American influences. This month, a lively festival re-creates its past, and you can stroll newly renovated areas of San Juan Bautista State Historic Park.

The heart of the old town--its mission and adobes--was preserved in part because development, the railroad, and finally U.S. Highway 101 bypassed the town. Recent renovations have spruced up key structures, and the 1797 mission--largest in the chain--has undergone major maintenance. You'll see newly restored murals, and in the garden a new exhibit illustrates other missions.

At the two-story Plaza Hotel (open 10 to 5 daily), a $1.5-million restoration has brought back the look of its 1860s heyday. You can take a self-guided tour of the former hotel and restaurant. Along the southeast side of the plaza, the stables, Castro-Breen adobe, and Plaza Hall all look nearly as they did over a century ago. On June 15 and 16 from 11 to 4, the state park presents "Early Days at San Juan." Costumed docents help re-create the past: a blacksmith pounds horseshoes in the stables, women pat tortillas near the Castro-Breen adobe, horse-drawn carriages circle the plaza. At noon Sunday, a band will play in the square. Other living history events take place here the first Saturday of each month. Admission to the park is 50 cents, 25 cents for students.

Take a stroll down San Juan's main thoroughfare, Third Street, just a block southeast of the Plaza. Many shops here offer a free brochure outlining a self-guided walking tour. Two restaurants are worth note: La Casa Rosa, in an 1860 house at 107, offers a set menu with Early California fare (chili pie); it's open 11:30 to 3:30 daily except Tuesdays. The Jardines de San Juan at 115 serves Mexican food indoors or in a garden courtyard; open 11:30 to 10 P.M. daily.

To reach San Juan Bautista from U.S. Highway 101, turn southeast onto State 156 and go 3 miles to the town.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jun 1, 1985
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