Mission San Juan Capistrano, California

Being chief tour guide for the in-laws while hubby was at work and the twin tornados were in preschool, we decided to get our culture on and do some local exploring.

Mission San Juan CapistranoJust like a shrug of the shoulders, the sign says “worth a visit”, but it should be changed to “definitely worth a visit”. Nestled in the quaint historic downtown area of San Juan Capistrano, stands the Mission. The 6th of twenty-one missions to be built in Alta California, it was founded in 1776 by the Spanish, with the hope of spreading Christianity to the native people of California.

Mission San Juan Capistrano, Jandals and Jet Planes
Lounging by the water lily pond, with the North Corridor of the Mission behind me.

Not only is the Mission San Juan Capistrano a stunning location, but between the cobbled arches, impressive art and gorgeous gardens, there is also a great deal of history on display.

Mission San Juan Capistrano
Can’t get much more Californian – desert, cactus, El Camino bell, and Spanish architecture
Holly Hock, Mission an Juan Capistrano
Holly Hock

To one side sits native American artifacts, and historic reproductions of the soldiers barracks. Hide tanning areas are on display, along side traditional vegetable gardens, and a Catalan furnace.Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano Soldiers Barracks
Soldiers Barracks

Using our free audio guide, included in the entry price, we discovered the Spanish Colonial Room and wine vat, learning that the first wine of California was grown and produced right there on the Mission grounds.

Also located at the Mission is the Serra Chapel. With dark moody wood and highly ornate features, it is the oldest ‘in use’ building in the whole of California.

Serra Chapel Mission San Juan Capistrano
Serra Chapel

In 1812, a large earthquake collapsed the Great Stone Church, but the ruins remain on display, along with the original tower bells.

Great Stone Church, Mission San Juan Capistrano
Ruins of the Great Stone Church

Nestled between the remains of the Great Stone Church and the Serra Chapel, was my favourite part of the Mission – the ‘Sacred Garden and Bell Wall’. A simple cobbled area with bells hanging through the arches high on the wall. So very tranquil and picturesque.

sacred garden mission san juan capistrano
My favourite spot – Sacred Garden and Bell Wall

The gardens within the Mission walls are nothing short of spectacular. The contrast of the bricks, shadows of the arch ways, and beautiful blue sky against the vibrant blooms is pure magic. Photographers, even amateur ones like us, have a field day, snapping away.Mission San Juan Capistrano, Jandals and Jet Planes

gardens mission san juan capistrano

The centre of the lawn also hosts a waterlily pond, complete with the hugest fish. fish at Mission San Juan Capistrano

This area is also famous for swallows. The miracle of the ‘Swallows’ is celebrated each year on 19th March (St. Joseph’s Day). The story goes, that the faithful little birds returned each year to the Mission to rebuild their mud nests in the ruins of the Great Stone Church.

Swallow nests, Mission San Juan Capistrano
Swallow nests

However, after the big earthquake this building was no longer the tallest structure in the area, so although the swallows are still celebrated, many have chosen to nest in other surrounding areas and buildings. We were lucky enough to spot one swallow flitting about the grounds on our visit, but it was too fast to be captured on camera.

What a wonderful day out…


Entry pricing: Adults $9, Over 60’s $8, Children (4-11 years) $6.

An official video from the official Mission San Juan Capistrano Website.


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