San Juan Sunday
The term "Sunday Funday" can be a frightening thing.
It can stir haunting images of slamming enough mimosas to put down a baby rhino, then slurring your way down a sun-soaked sidewalk reminiscing about the eggs benedict you just inhaled. Wincing your way into the office the next morning, smelling like coffee, dry shampoo, and shame. Done correctly, however, a #SundayFunday is a thing of beauty, and if you are going to have one, might I recommend spending it in San Juan Capistrano? Yes, the beaches are lovely, but how many flustered front-of-house staff are you willing to put your name on a list with, just to look at some water with your bacon? I invite you to try something different. So, now you ask, why SJC? All will be revealed in time, but trust me, if you choose to do it, this is the way.
Look, there are a few rules for Sundays but the biggest of all is that you don't eat breakfast, you go get brunch. I will reveal my bias upfront; I seriously love brunch. Historically one of the worst services to work from the industry perspective, it's one of the best to enjoy from the consumer side of it. Day-drinking, sunshine, eggs, and with a good outdoor patio space, dogs. There is literally nothing wrong with the entire picture. Our Sunday is an all-day affair, so just spend the money and take a Lyft into town. Assuming you're not a sociopath who goes to brunch alone, you will be splitting the ride costs several ways anyways. Ideally you won't end up leaving brunch looking like Charlie Kelly from the Wade Boggs episode of It's Always Sunny, but we are going to enjoy ourselves, so, just be smart is what I'm saying, and don't drive yourself.
San Juan has a litany of great options, but we have a long day ahead of us, so laying down a delicious base layer for activities is key. That's why we are heading to Rancho Capistrano Winery to kick things off right. A landmark of great food and wine is where we want to begin, so order up from their seasonal brunch menu, dig into those mimosas and get ready for the fun. Do remember to ask though before you start petting someone's #winerydog as some may take offense to you cuddling up to their very good boy/girl for dog blops (Google it) so early in the day. It's a marathon, not a sprint, so pace yourself on the drinks, and establish your comfort level early with a great meal.
If you need another option to kick things off, and perhaps you are a bit tight on time, starting your day still reeling from the night before, then that's fair. In this case, you need the mesmerizingly delicious Pascal. Touted as one of the finest options around and helmed by the legendary Chef Pascal Olhats, this cafe takes all the best parts the Normandy born chef is known for and delivers them right to you. If you are feeling very frisky, go for one of their picnic options, and soak up some sunshine in a local park.
Time to stretch those legs and regret not bringing a lint roller (keep reading so that joke makes sense). With a stomach full of hollandaise, champagne and orange juice bubbling inside of you, we need some fun to distract us from that churning concoction. A quick stroll across the tracks from Rancho Capistrano Winery, (Pascal's will require a bit of a walk or a short Lyft.) takes you to the wonderful ZOOMARS Petting Zoo. Why a petting zoo you ask? That's because nothing screams "I'm an adult" more than being just as excited as the 4-year-old to pet the baby goat. It's scientific fact that animals become at least five times cuter when you are a fistful of brunch drinks in. The historic local zoo is tiny, cheap and endearingly charming. It's a local institution and the type of small business you want to support, as you may want to take your own kids there someday, assuming you behaved well enough and are allowed back in. The point is, pay the money, feed some animals, and smile, because it's a great place to be.
Watch out for the ostrich though. Personally, I don't trust that shifty, flightless bird.
If petting awesome animals isn't your thing (you savage) there is always the hauntingly beautiful Mission you can tour. A truly iconic landmark, the Mission San Juan has been around for over 230 years and is expertly maintained. The bells permeate the cacophony of wine glasses and laughter throughout the day, and really define the landscape of San Juan Capistrano as a whole. Me though...I'll be at Zoomars hanging with the chickens. #yolo
I'm sure about this time you're feeling a bit peckish, but, with the rest of the afternoon and evening ahead of us, maybe a lighter meal is in order. Time to stretch your legs and ease that BAC back into #SundayFunday fighting shape. Before you start to have PTSD about getting yelled at by someone at an Orange Theory after reading "stretch your legs," understand I mean relaxing in a nice, calm space, not walking. It's time to soak in the afternoon breeze adjacent a beautiful, although slightly crooked fountain, and eat a wonderful lunch at L'hirondelle.
While it can work as another brunch option as well, there is something about spending a few afternoon hours out back, next to a random water feature, embracing your inner flâneur while the breeze flicks aromas off your wine up into the air. It really is a nice place to be. The menu offers petit plates for lunch as well, offering a wonderful portion option to enjoy a smaller version of great dishes. Paired with some rosé, because eventually mimosas do have a cut off time, and we all know it, there is no finer way to exhale and enjoy great food in a relaxing setting. Some boeuf bourguignon to enjoy, or possibly the sweetbreads chasseur? It's all classic, heartfelt and delicious. Dig in, take down a few glasses of good wine and settle into your desired afternoon cruising speed.
Rousing from your seat at L'hirondelle, it's at this point in the afternoon where the smile is ever-present, the sunglasses permanently affixed in position, and that Lyft you took down here gets earmarked as one of the greatest decisions of your life. The belly is full, and the sun is dipping from it's anointed position above this Sunday, which can mean it's only time for one thing. Wine. Wine tasting no less, which is basically like saying your going to drink wine but with the intention of learning something. It is the ultimate activity that says "I'm being the best damn adult I can be, or at least attempting too." Luckily, where we are going, that type of thinking isn't just welcomed but encouraged.
There is something truly magnificent about Five Vines Wine Bar. Adjacent to Rancho Capistrano Winery, and a short stroll (albeit at this point in our adventure possibly not a straight stroll) from L'hirondelle, Five Vines is one of the best-kept secrets around. At least, you will feel like you just discovered a secret when you descend into its depths. Small, intimate, and family owned and operated since 2013, it is, in my opinion, one of the finest places in Orange County. Tons of boutique wines line the small bar, and various flights and tastings are available to order to meet your every liquid need. There are small bites available from its minuscule kitchen if you so wish, but the star here is in the bottle, and in the feeling in the air, although, who doesn't want a little more cheese? Maybe grab one of the small chalkboards adorning the back bar, and leave a note for a fellow worshiper of the vine, or talk about interesting new grapes or bottles loitering, waiting to be cracked open and enjoyed. It may be Sunday, but it's still the weekend, so don't be shy folks. Five Vines is here for you to get lost in.
It is a great way to set the tone for finishing your Sunday. It's relaxing, quirky, cozy, and will hold you warmly as the sun sets. While the Sunday musicians put away their guitars, and people start to call it a night, attempting in vain to avoid those Sunday scaries the next morning at work, the Depot District of San Juan Capistrano starts to relax. This is the time to order one more glass at Five Vines then politely enunciate that you would like your check.
Should you require another meal to help fight off tomorrow mornings frivolities, then grab an entirely awesome bite (plus, maybe a margarita, because, why not?) over at Bueno Bueno. This upscale, fast-casual Mexican kitchen features a ridiculously good menu. Me? I'm grabbing some tacos and the costillitas to help soak up all that fun from the day. Time to see how far away that ride home is, while you half-drunkenly giggle at the selfie you took with that goat.
If you are feeling brave, and want to take on Monday with an attitude akin to that of Keith Richards or Iggy Pop in his prime, then we have one last stop to make.
Just up the road from Five Vines, head across the street, and you will come upon one of the greatest bars in Orange County; Swallows Inn. An irony-free landmark of cold beer, loud music and established, varsity level drinkers. An iconic, no frills place to drown out the real world with cheap drinks and fun. Open until 10pm on Sundays, unless Monday is a holiday, it is exactly the type of place you need when you "just want one more." The world doesnt need more heros, but we do need bars like this, so if you are feeling brave and want to go out with a bang, Swallows Inn is the place to do it.