San Juan Capistrano

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So believe it or not, the only time I had ever been to San Juan Capistrano in the past was for soccer tournaments growing up and I had NO IDEA how cute of a little city it is! Have any of you ever been? Maybe for a fourth grade field trip? I grew up in Ventura County so we visited the San Buenaventura Mission for that field trip and I’d been to La Purism Mission before as well. But I have to say, I think the San Juan Capistrano Mission has got to be my favorite to date. AND it’s only 15 min away from where we live!


The Historic District is just as beautiful, cute, and quaint. It’s filled with unique shops and eateries and of course, A TON of wineries. If you’ve read any of my posts before, you know I love history and will read just about every placard and sign I see to learn as much as possible. Visiting the mission was no different, so I’ve got a lot of information to share!

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Admission to the mission is $9 per person (adult ticket) and they also have tours, both guided and audio tours available as well. Upon entering the mission, you’ll get a map which lays out in numerical order where they suggest you start and what the importance is of each thing they’re showing you.

The mission was founded in 1775 and is the 7th of 21 missions founded throughout California. The point of the mission was to expand the territorial boundaries of Spain and to teach Christianity to the Native peoples of California. The mission was led by Spanish soldiers and Franciscan padres. Over the next 30 years, the mission grew in population (over 1,000 people), livestock, buildings, and prominence.

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1812 began the decline of the mission. An earthquake in December of 1812 caused one of their most famous buildings (the Great Stone Church) to collapse; killing 40 people worshipping inside. The birth rate significantly decreased and mortality rates increased due to disease. By 1834 the Mexican government decided to cease all its’ mission programs. The mission was then sold to the Governor of San Juan Capistrano at the time and has remained in their family ever since.

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AND thanks to that thing called the Gold Rush bringing thousands of people to California, the missions were once again needed to house explorers. However, the missions throughout the west were not maintained by their individual owners and many had turned into saloons, stores, and even stables for livestock. Because of this, Abraham Lincoln signed a petition in 1865 to give ownership of the missions back to the Catholic Church. And luckily, because of this shift in ownership, throughout the 1870s major restoration projects began.

I’ll take you through some of my favorite rooms and things we saw!

Once you walk in, the first stop is a huge rock with the Mission’s Founding Document. I read the entire thing, and it’s amazing how they built the Mission and had such organization with breaking up responsibilities among all those living at the mission.

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The second stop you’ll make is to what they called the “Olive Millstone” (see above). At this millstone is where they would grind up olives and harvest the fluids to make olive oil for cooking, medicine, and lighter fluid for their candles/lamps.

Next you find yourself in the soldier barracks. This is where the Spanish soldiers slept at the Mission. Look at how small those beds are!


As you walk around outside, you’ll see plenty of grinding stones where Native Americans would grind up acorns to food and sharpen stones for weapons. You’ll also see plenty of outdoor cooking stoves (they look a lot like our current pizza ovens except made completely out of stone).

There are plenty of rooms full of history and unbelievable artifacts. You’ll walk through the Padres dining room, quarters where they slept, where the indigenous people learned Spanish, learned to farm, where they made wine for religious ceremonies, the kitchen where the food was made, and then of course the ruins of the Great Stone Church and the church where they originally held mass prior to building the Great church.



Probably my favorite part was the Church(es). The ruins of the Great Church were unbelievable to see and I don’t understand how it was even built to be as tall as the ruins are! Which means when it was actually used it was even taller. The original Church (The Serra Chapel) was built in 1920 and it’s altar is actually from Barcelona, Spain. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. The reason the Great Stone Church was originally built was because the Serra Chapel was unable to house everyone attending mass as the mission grew in population. After the earthquake the ruins remained as a reminder of what the mission had lost and they chose not to rebuild it. In 1986 Mission Basilica was built behind the Mission. This church was built in the likeness of that of the Great Church that had been destroyed during the earthquake.

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The original church on the Mission, The Serra Chapel.
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Ruins of The Great Stone Church

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Inside of Mission Basilica

The inside of the Mission was absolutely beautiful and the churches were amazing to see. I’m so glad we had the chance to visit the Mission and cannot wait to take my mom here someday soon! It just seems like the type of thing she’d love to see and really appreciate.

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Thanks for visiting and have a great week this week!




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