Last month, C.J. and I heard a radio story about a couple who planned on spending the night in every California county as a way to get to know their new home state. (Like almost everyone in California, they’re not really from here.) We thought this sounded like fun. Turns out we’d already sent the night in 18 counties as a couple, so we only had 40 to go.
So we each looked over the map and picked San Benito County for mid-winter break, because neither of us had ever heard of it. San Benito is a small county just south of the San Jose metropolitan area. It has only two incorporated towns, Hollister and San Juan Bautista, plus a small handful of very small unincorporated towns.
The are two major sites to see in San Benito, the more famous being Mission San Juan Bautista. This is a long day trip from San Francisco, but well worth it. Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart made the trip in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie Vertigo. In the movie Kim Novak falls to her death from the bell tower but there is no tower at Mission San Juan Bautista. However, you can visit several of the historic buildings used as sets in Vertigo. You may have to work around groups of field-tripping fourth graders during your visit, but this can be done. Too many small children in the old buildings? Just walk a block into town for lots of cool antique shops.
We ate lunch at a small local diner, still one of the best ways to get to know an American town, where I had an excellent egg and bacon breakfast with pancakes and hash browns, then toured the historic buildings around the square in front of the mission. There are five good-sized historic buildings in San Juan Bautista, all of the with furnished interiors.
The mission it self is one of the better ones in the California Mission chain. It’s one of the oldest and was one of the largest. Of the remaining historical portion the church is excellent but be sure to visit the smaller chapel behind it. It’s quite beautiful and is still used for regular worship services. While there be sure to check out the door connecting it to the main church. It has a small cat door in the bottom left corner, a relic from the mission period when cats roamed the building to keep down the mice.
We spent the night in Hollister, which turns out to be a very nice little town. Our standard for judging towns is how many downtown shops are boarded up. There’s always going to be a few since that’s how capitalism works, but Hollister only had a couple, so our guess is that the town is doing fairly well. We ate at the Running Rooster which is a standard beer and pizza/burger place, probably where we would eat every Friday if we lived in Hollister.
The next day we headed for Pinnacles National Park. A friend of mine had told me this park was a hidden gem and she was right. You have to hike in from the San Benito side of the park to see the best views, but it’s well worth it, even though you have to go through a cave. The cave portion is almost a half mile long, dark enough to require flashlights and low enough to require some crawling. We did not know about the crawling when we entered the cave. It was a little scary.
Not many people visit Pinnacles mid-week so we had the trail to ourselves most of the time. Since we got some rain this month the wild flowers were in bloom including the wild orchids where are always a treat to see. Did you know California has wild orchids?
Our hike was just about seven miles long which beats the record we set at the Louvre in Paris many years ago. There’s a good chance we’ll revisit Pinnacles since it’s just a two-hour drive from our home if you manage to avoid the commute times and there are still a couple of moderate trails we’d like to try. But probably not the cave portions of the trail next time.
San Benito also has a good historical park which features a collection of historical local buildings which we got to see and a group off local wineries which we didn’t. All in all, an overnight trip we both really enjoyed.
I see many more overnight trips in our future. 39, in fact.