Mission is heart of San Juan Bautista

State Park lies in center of 150-year-old city

EXPERT TOUR GUIDE Park ranger Marcos Vizcaino leads visitors on fact-filled tours of the San Juan Bautista State Park. Photo: Robert Eliason

Over the past 10 years, Marcos Vizcaino has seen San Juan Bautista change. He’s watched as new families have moved in to escape the daily hustle of Silicon Valley and he’s watched businesses pop up throughout the downtown.

Vizcaino’s job stays the same—to focus on the part of San Juan that never changes, the San Juan State Historic Park.

Vizcaino is the lead interpreter for the park—he organizes tours with fourth-grade classes around the area and acts as the primary guide for explaining the park’s historic structures.

Within an hour, Vizcaino can take someone through the entire history of the park. Off of the top of his head he can recite the history of each building on the site; the Castro/Breene Adobe, the Plaza Hotel, Plaza Hall/ Zanetta House and the Plaza Stable.

Vizcaino helps to create the park theme and any events—this includes this year’s 150th anniversary of San Juan Bautista and “living history Saturdays,” which take place the first Saturday of every month. 

Actors are spread throughout historic San Juan Bautista, where they tell stories of the structures’ historical past while in character. Vizcaino said all of the theatrics “give visitors a cohesive story.”

There have been times that San Juan Bautista has been overlooked, Vizcaino admits. In 1870, Vizcaino said San Juan Bautista became a ghost town following the creation of surrounding freeways. People no longer moved to the small rural community. Its deep history was overlooked for bustling cities. 

Despite an economic downturn in the city, it was this random act of fate that Vizcaino said ended up preserving the precious history of San Juan Bautista. In the 1930s, several remaining family members of the historic families of San Juan Bautista banded together to get the structures recognized by the state and protected. 

In 1968, the buildings and surrounding area were designated as a historic state park.

Vizcaino sees San Juan Bautista’s story as part of a larger tapestry that explains the past and the future of the state. 

“The history of San Juan Bautista State Park is the history of California,” Vizcaino said. 

That’s why Vizcaino sees his role as important; he informs people of San Juan Bautista’s unique place in the story of California: “San Juan Bautista was the crossroads of California.”

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