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Charming Location Next to the Tracks in San Juan Capistrano | Orange County Family Photographer

LisaHuChen orange county family photographer sisters in the trees san juan capistrano train station

The last time I went to the San Juan Capistrano train station was when my 14 year-old was 14 months. It was a quick half day visit, perfect for passing time with a restless toddler back when locomotives were his favorite thing…besides me…but I digress. 

Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer family walking across train track san juan capistrano
Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer family of five dancing at the train station in san juan capistrano

When my client suggested the station as the location for their family photos, I was excited. Not only because she was the one who picked the place, but also because I hadn’t been there in so long. I was excited to rediscover it this time around through a different set of eyes, for a more creative purpose.

Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer young girl dancing in the park family hugging in the cactus garden
Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer family smiling in front of a white adobe house in san juan capistrano

As is always the case before I meet a family for their session, I planned to arrive early to get settled and do some last minute equipment prep. Since I didn’t have much memory of the place other than train tracks and some cute shops, I decided to go even earlier than usual to scout some spots and get my bearings. 

Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer little girl in front of a blue picket fence in san juan capistrano
Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer young girl in leather jacket old mr. tree in san juan capistrano
Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer family walking down the road in san juan capistrano

The special thing about this depot is how open and accessible it is to the public as it seamlessly blends into the community and makes its iconic mark in town. When you walk down the quiet streets alongside the fenced off tracks, you’re greeted with cottages, coffee shops, a petting zoo, and charming homes occupied by those who don’t seem too bothered by the fact that they share their driveways with meandering strangers, or that their front yards are permanently on display.

Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer jacks forest in san juan capistrano next to train tracks #jacksforest

As I roamed the neighborhood in the early morning hours and searched for pockets of shadow and light, I was completely smitten when I came across a patch of dirt that ran parallel along the train tracks, dotted with what seemed like miniature Christmas trees in random formation. It was an odd sight because it was so out of place, but it was one that I knew I had to photograph.

Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer jacks forest next to train tracks in san juan capistrano #jacksforest
Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer pretty young girl with dark hair in front of passing train in san juan capistrano #jacksforest
Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer smiling family in the middle of christmas trees jacks forest in san juan capistrano #jacksforest

A little while later as my clients and I walked through town, stopping frequently to pose and snap shots at every picturesque corner, I quickly learned that I was not the only one who found those trees spectacular. As we approached the makeshift grove, my clients mentioned that they had been photographed there once before and that they had heard a story about those trees. As if on cue, a gentleman appeared out of nowhere and introduced himself to us by saying that he wanted to share his story about those very trees.

Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer girl with brown hair wind blown in front of tree in san juan capistrano #jacksforest
Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer sisters winking in jacks forest among mini trees in san juan capistrano #jacksforest

That makeshift forest of mini firs and pine needles was not, in fact, random. It was the work of this man, a father of two young kids, who saved almost 30 trees from being thrown into the trash, and planted them himself in that empty dirt lot to keep them alive. That was back in 2016. He named the grouping of trees “Jack’s Forest” after his son, and made a sign with the name, the year, and a hashtag in hopes of spreading the word that this forest existed.

Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer family walking through jacks forest and trees in san juan capistrano #jacksforest

The sign has since been stolen, but the spirit in which the forest was created has been keep alive and well. You can just tell by those thriving trees. If it weren’t for this man and his decision to approach us that morning, I would’ve never known the significance of this place and the unusual yet special circumstances that transformed it into this setting. 

Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer dark haired young sisters hugging with sun flare young girl smiling in front of tree in san juan capistrano #jacksforest
Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer three young girls sisters hugging and smiling in field of trees called jacks forest in san juan capsitrano #jacksforest

To Jack’s dad, if you ever read this, I hope you know how much your story resonated with me. That I was able to photograph this wonderful family on the other side of the tracks amid such beauty and hope is something I’ll always cherish. 

Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer family smiling on the side of the road in san juan capistrano
Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer daughter and father holding hands walking down the street in san juan capistrano

Here’s to #JacksForest in San Juan Capistrano and to many, many more years of bringing smiles, laughter, and fond memories to those who are in search of it, or those who are simply passing by.

Lisa Hu Chen orange county family photographer family of five standing holding hands in a sun flare in san juan capistrano