By Shawn Raymundo
San Juan Capistrano was the place to be this past Saturday as the city welcomed tens of thousands of residents and people from all over Southern California to its 61st Annual Swallows Day Parade and Mercado Street Faire.
The non-motorized parade—the biggest of its kind in the nation—celebrated the region’s Western flair while also featuring about 100 entries from various local organizations, cultural groups, and school marching bands.
Jim Taylor, president of the Fiesta Association, the volunteer group in charge of putting on the annual event, said about 3,500 people and more than 300 horses marched in this year’s parade.
“The entries were amazing,” Taylor said following the parade.
A couple of crowd favorites Taylor said he enjoyed were the Buccaneers of Tortuga, a pirate-reenactment group, and the California State Firefighters Association, which rode through the parade on horse-drawn steamers.
“Those horses were just having fun, the firefighters were having fun, and the crowd was screaming,” Taylor said.
Swallows Day 2019 dignitaries Ms. Fiesta Annabelle Isky, Senor San Juan Tony Leone and Jr. Miss Fiesta Daniela Martinez wave to the crowd during the annual parade on March 23. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
Rep. Mike Levin, D-CA, waves to the crowd at the Swallows Day Parade on March 23. Photo Shawn Raymundo
Kids of the San Juan Elementary School perform the do-si-do for the crowd at the Swallows Day Parade. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
Riding a horse through the Swallows Day Parade, San Juan Capistrano Mayor Brian Maryott takes off his cowboy hat to greet the crowd. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
The Ballet Folklorico de San Juan Capistrano perform during the Swallows Day Parade. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
Anytime Fitness members playfully lift some weights while marching through the parade. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
As the 2019 winners of the Fiesta Association's annual Kids' Pet Parade, Emma Hall and her "prisoner" Rosie march in the Swallows Day Parade. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
Members of the Clifton Cubs Marching Band twirl flags while marching in the parade. Photo Shawn Raymundo
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett waves to the crowd during the Swallows Day Parade. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
The California State Firefighters Association charge down Camino Capistrano during the parade. Photo Shawn Raymundo
The Mormon Battalion marches through San Juan Capistrano during the Swallows Day Parade. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
The Kranz Intermediate School Cougar Marching Band participates in the Swallows Day Parade. Photo Shawn Raymundo
Dressed in Western garb, the Girls Scouts Troop 4373 marches through the parade. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
The J.F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center puts on a performance for the crowd. Photo Shawn Raymundo
The Fiesta Association's 2019 Hanging Judge Carmen Phillips shows off her noose. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
Kids from the Mission Basilica School trot through the parade dressed as swallows. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
The Swallows Day Parade Grand Marshal Sylvia Mazzeo Pule gives the crowd a wave. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
The women of the Mormon Battalion march alongside the group's "soldiers." Photo: Shawn Raymundo
San Juan Hills High School students show off their school spirit during the parade. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
The annual event, Taylor said, is important for the city because “it brings the community together” across Southern California.
“We’re guessing it’s over 40,000 people who showed up from everywhere, not just South Orange County,” Taylor said.
San Juan Capistrano resident Andy Morales, who has attended the annual event for about the last 13 years, noted the parade’s historical significance to the city and said it gives San Juan a chance to show visitors what the town is like.
“It’s actually really nice ’cause it brings a lot of people down to see what the city is actually like,” said Morales, 35, adding, that he and his family “love it down here, everything they’re building, the stuff that they’re doing to make the community kind of come together and hang out, it’s great.”
This year, Morales said, he and his wife got to enjoy the parade with their firstborn son, Mateo, who’s six months old. The new family was also accompanied by some friends from Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.
“Everyone has kids now,” Morales exclaimed, referring to himself and his friends. “It’s our first year with babies down here, so we wanted them to have a good time and kind of keep (the tradition of attending) going.”
For Denise Vest and Jimm Vest, it was also their first time attending the parade and Mercado. Because the event celebrates the yearly return of the swallows to San Juan, the couple came down from their home in North Tustin to catch a glimpse of the birds.
“I haven’t been out here for a long time. When I was little girl, we used to come see the swallows, so we wanted to see the birds today, but I don’t see any birds,” Denise said.
As long-time residents of Orange County, Denise and Jim had known about the Swallows Day Parade for several years, but had just never made the time to attend.
Though they don’t have plans to moving out of California anytime soon, Jimm said attending the parade was an item that they wanted to cross off their bucket list of things to do before possibly leaving the state.
“It’s one of those things where it’s like ‘we’re doing it this year,’” Denise said. “I’m the family activity director and so I try to plan these things out and so it was on the calendar and we did it.”