California Vaquero History St. Francis Retreat Old San Juan Bautista Mission
Vaquero Heritage DaysDates

St. Francis Retreat on Historic Rancho San Justo

Vaquero Heritage Days welcomes you to this historic serene setting which takes visitors back to early "rancho" times. Event proceeds will go toward maintaining the structures and historic acreage. Thank you for your support.

Nestled within a corner of San Juan Bautista is St. Francis Retreat on historic Rancho San Justo. As you make the short drive from town on the narrow ranchland road leading to the Retreat, you will be transported back to earlier times when vaqueros, horses and livestock roamed the rolling oak-covered hills during the Mission and Rancho era 1797 - mid 1800's.

Mission San Juan's 1797 vast ranchland acreage was divided into "ranchos" beginning in 1833 after secularization. Rancho San Justo covered 36,615 acres and was first awarded as a Mexican land grant in 1836 to Rafael Gonzales. From 1836 - 1896 the Rancho endured three separate acquisitions and heir divisions; however for the most part, remained a working ranch with primarily sheep, cattle and livestock....and the "vaqueros". The "homestead" portion an easy two miles on horseback, cart or foot east from the Mission housed families and working vaqueros all whose lives evolved around Mission activities. Shortly into the 20th century in 1922, a remaining portion of Rancho San Justo again saw an acquisition. And in 1947 a serene 73 acre portion of Rancho San Justo with its historic homesite and structures was acquired by Franciscan Friars for use as a retreat center.

Today this acreage is home to Franciscan Friars, covenants and staff with facilities available for educational classes, organization meetings, along with non-denominational religious or group retreats and individual spiritual solitude. Unfortunately, in 2006 a devastating fire destroyed the main historic Rancho San Justo ranch house. Thankfully no injuries, but all documents and furnishings were lost. Through supportive efforts and loans a new main building was constructed in 2009 on the original footprint of the ranch house. However, additional support is required to maintain this historic land and retreat center. The Retreat evokes a calmness and meaning to those who visit -- the swaying oaks, the walking trails, native plants, deer and wild turkey -- all graciously welcome you into their historic home.

See Quick Dateline History

Read The "Retreat" Story

Learn more about the Retreat Center at