Obviously, life is pretty good for inhabitants of SJC, but it comes at a price--a steep price. The cost of living here is about 75 percent higher than in your average American city (at least the tacos are a good deal). Housing is pretty spendy too. Its cheaper than in the adjacent cities like Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, or San Clemente, but close enough to all their goodies to make the cost difference seem ridiculous. Part of the reason for that is theres such a broad selection of homes and property rentals. In fact, there are homes dating back to 1900 in historic neighborhoods (read: the cheap ones) that are a bargain for South County, and brand spanking new properties with asthma-inducingly huge lots that cost around, oh, $10 million. Priorities, right?
Fortunately, there are scads of rental apartments, houses, and condos available for budgets that range from middling to massive. You just have to know where to look.
Where to Look
There arent neighborhoods so much as generalized areas of housing in San Juan Capistrano. There is the Los Rios district, a legit neighborhood, and there is a Spanish flotilla load of gated communities, but thats it for neighborhoods. So, here are the "areas" of varying prices and amenities for you to consider.
Los Rios District: This is mostly a commercial area, but there are homes around the fringes. Old homes. This is the historic district where you can find the Mission, Swallows Inn, and a bunch of awesome Mexican food (OK, and other nationalities' cuisine, but the Mexican is truly stellar) restaurants. Cheaper, more colorful, and almost walkable, its a great option for lower incomes.$$
South Camino Capistrano: More super-cheap rentals, but theyre mostly single-family homes and mobile homes. Yep, SJC has a trailer park. But if youre not picky about square footage or labels, youre still living in South County, and for a fraction of the cost. Plus, youre right next to Costco (more savings!) and very close to the beach.$
North Ortega Highway: A bit of a mixed bag, but mostly mid-range homes and rental properties, including two-bedroom apartments and townhouses. This is where most renting families will head for a beautiful, large home with a yard, horse trails, and parks.$$$$
Behind Del Obispo Street: Another mid-range option in a family-friendly 'hood. Its close to the beach, schools, and retail spots, and it even has road signs in English, if youre into that.$$$
South Ortega Highway: Again, a bit of a mix. There are some apartment homes for rent that are sizable and reasonably priced, as well as a bunch of retirement communities, but its really known for its gated communities and equestrian stables. Houses are generally in the very, very high six figures to the low eight figuresyes, you read that correctlyso dig deep in your pockets if you want to live in this area.$$$$$
The Equestrian Capital of the West Coast
Do you ride, own or love horses? Do you wish you could post all the way from your gated community entrance to the well-equipped stables down the road? Are you oddly comfortable with the smell of manure? Welcome to San Juan Capistrano, where stables outnumber schools, and equestrian riding is a way of life. There are facilities for jumping, training, and boarding horses all over the city, but especially off Ortega Highway, where many planned communities offer easy access to these spots, as well as the dozens of horse trails snaking through the San Juan Hills. Horse-crossing signs are a common sight on neighborhood roads. But, dont think you can get around on those four-legged beasts; driving is still the number one form of transportation, and its a necessity.
Though cars are essential, theres an Amtrak train station located in downtown San Juan Cap, making it a cinch (and a traffic-free experience) to get to S.D. or L.A. Plus, its right next to a luxury theater, which serves alcohol during movies (huzzah!), and a spate of delicious, independent restaurants. Also nearby is The Swallows Inn, a local rough and rugged country and rock bar thats a Capistrano mainstay, a place all the locals know but only a certain type frequent. Check out the live music on weekends.
The Spanish owned this land long before the Americans did, and it shows in every house and street sign. That means red-tile roofs, stucco and central courtyards in the front are commonplace, as are Spanish street names; good luck pronouncing La Couague or Via Quixote if you took French in high school. The Spanish ancestry cant claim praise for the excellent Mexican cuisine, though, thats there becausewell, because of Mexico. Taco Tuesday is a popular weekly experience, so hopefully youre a fan of carnitas.
The Mission is the real hot spot here. It has 10 acres of blooming grounds filled with colorful plants, Spanish-style architecture and a museum devoted to SJCs history. If youre Catholic, it holds extra-special meaning, but its a must-see destination for all residents.
San Juan Capistranos housing options arent easily summarized, which makes it an awesome option for just about any income level. The delicious food, unique recreational opportunities, and historical charm also set this city apart from its neighbors. Maybe those swallows have it right.
-By Kera Zacuto
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