By Rhonda deHaan

Downtown San Juan Capistrano has been evolving over the last 240 years, with structures constructed, some demolished, and more planned and built.

On the list of places that have disappeared from the town’s core is the Walnut Grove Restaurant. And from what I’ve read, it seems I missed something quite special.

The original restaurant opened in 1946 along Highway 101 (now Camino Capistrano) about a quarter-mile south of the Mission. It was an 18-seat diner with a gas station that provided a convenient and popular stop for travelers passing through on their trip between San Diego and Los Angeles.

The menu included traditional American comfort foods, featuring favorites such as meatloaf, grilled cheese, roast turkey, and fresh bakery items. The restaurant flourished and, in 1960, moved to a larger location next to the Mission (shown in the accompanying photo).

As the years went by, the Walnut Grove became less of a roadside rest stop and more frequented by locals. The restaurant grew into a beloved family eatery where regulars enjoyed good food, a welcoming atmosphere, and familiar faces.

Today only a fond memory, the restaurant closed in 2005 and the building has since been demolished. A new development has been proposed, and the site has been graded for the Plaza Banderas Hotel. Until this new project is complete, we will wait for a “now” photo to publish!

Rhonda deHaan is a resident of San Juan Capistrano who enjoys sharing fun photographic finds as she continues to learn more about this unique town. She is a proud mother of two, a freelance writer, and a member of the SJC Friends of the Library and San Juan Capistrano Historical Society Board of Directors. She is serving her fourth term as a member of the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission.

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