Forget Hollywood and head south for some old-world California culture with a visit to the beautiful and moving Mission San Juan Capistrano…
To visit California is to step into a diverse state with a history deeply rooted in the interactions between Native Americans, the Spanish, Mexicans, and settlers from the east. Just about an hour south of Los Angeles you’ll find the Mission San Juan Capistrano, quite possibly the best example of all the cultures and influences that made California what it is today.
History of the Mission
As the Spanish traveled the coast of present-day California, they established missions like San Juan Capistrano in an attempt to establish their territory in the New World and to spread Christianity to the native peoples they encountered.
Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1775, but the soldiers and priests were soon called south to San Diego to address a revolt there. The mission was then re-founded by Saint Serra himself on All Saint’s Day (November 1) in 1776, the 7th of 21 missions that would eventually be founded in California.
The mission would swell to a population of over 1,000 people but would find itself in decline through the early 1800s until Mexico won its independence from Spain. Now a Mexican holding, Mission San Juan Capistrano, along with the other remaining California missions, was secularized and sold to friends of the Mexican government.
When the United States took control of California, most of the remaining missions of California were in varying states of decay or were being used as everything from bars to stables. Folks started petitioning the government to return the missions to the Catholic Church, and Abraham Lincoln did just that. For the next nearly 150 years, friends of the Mission have been restoring and preserving the Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Visiting the Mission
Today, the Mission San Juan Capistrano is a little bit of everything… It’s a place of spiritual significance and worship, a museum of cultural artifacts and history, and a beautiful peaceful garden.
General admission prices for the Mission are remarkably reasonable at just $9 for adult general admission and a little less for children and seniors. While purchasing your ticket, we also highly suggest spending a few extra dollars for the audio tour. The audio tour will help you fully grasp the rich culture and history of the Mission.
Once inside the Mission, you’ll be greeted by beautiful gardens, statues, and historic artifacts, but the highlight for us has to be the Serra Chapel, the only remaining church where Father Serra actually performed Mass. (For those of you unfamiliar with Father Serra, he’s basically “the guy” when it comes to the early Spanish mission system in California.)
Of course, a place as beautiful as the Mission is also an ideal space for all sorts of special events from cultural lectures to concerts, so follow them on social media to see if there’s a can’t-miss event coinciding with your visit. For many, the can’t-miss event is the return of the “Swallows of Capistrano”. For years, swallows migrated each spring to the Mission, but over time, their habitat changed, and they no longer migrated to the Mission. Thanks to tremendous efforts from friends of the Mission and even experts on Swallows, the birds are again migrating back to the Mission.
Just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, Mission San Juan Capistrano has a little something for every interest and should be on everyone’s southern California itinerary.
26801 Ortega Highway
San Juan Capistrano, CA