Located in the gorgeous coastal city of San Juan Capistrano directly adjacent to Interstate 5 is a sacred piece of California history. Known as the “Jewel of the Missions,” the San Juan Capistrano Mission was founded on November 1st, 1776 by Father Junipero Serra. The San Juan Capistrano Mission is the seventh out of the 21 Missions within California. This is where it all began.
26801 Ortega Highway
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Hours: 8:30am to 5:00pm daily (Closed Christmas and Thanksgiving)
Admission: Adults: $9 Seniors 60+: $8 Children 4-11: $5 Under 3 years old: Free
Parking: Is free surrounding the Mission. There is a parking lot adjacent to the Mission on the corner of the Ortega Highway and El Camino Real.
Rules: No chewing gum or smoking is allowed on the Mission grounds. No climbing on the Mission walls. All trash must be thrown away in the proper trashcans. Do not write on or touch the Museum walls. No touching or feeding the fish.
Two types of audio tours are available to enhance your San Juan Capistrano Mission visit, an Adult and Child version. The award winning audio tour adult version is free with paid admission. Titled “Voices of the Mission” the audio tour gives personal accounts about California history and the San Juan Capistrano Mission. It is available in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Vietnamese. The Child version titled “Saved by the Mission Bells: A Child’s Journey through California History” is available in English and Spanish for an additional $2 per child. Other guided tours are also available, some without a need of a reservation.
The Mission courtyards are welcoming and flourishing with lush gardens. Thanks to the volunteer group the “Gardening Angels” the San Juan Capistrano Mission gardens are well tended every Wednesday morning. Many butterfly-attracting flowers have been planted and there is a bounty of butterflies to be seen. Grab a bench and relax in the serene beauty. A garden tour is available on Wednesdays at 10:15 AM and again at 10:45 AM.
Museum Rooms and Exhibits
Inside the South Wing is the living and house quarters of the Mission’s Rancho Period of 1845-1865. You can see where the Padre ate, slept and studied. Located in the West Wing is the Mission Treasures: Historical Collection Revealed Exhibit. No photography is allowed inside. This exhibit is a must see, were you can view the Lincoln document signed by President Lincoln himself along with historic artifacts such an 18th century tabernacle.
The Serra Chapel
The key building of the San Juan Capistrano Mission is the Serra Chapel and is one of the oldest buildings in California that is still in use. The chapel was constructed by Juaneño Native Americans in 1782. Father Serra celebrated Mass in the Chapel in 1783. Thousands of visitors flock to the Mission every year to view the Spanish “golden altar” inside the chapel. Candles are available for purchase within the gift shop.
In the month of March the Cliff Swallows which reside in Goya, Argentina during wintertime return to the San Juan Capistrano Mission where they stay until October. The Swallows once resided in the ruins of the great stone church, but now their cone-shaped mud nests can be found throughout the Mission buildings. On St. Joseph’s day (3-12-2012) the Return of the Swallows Celebration will be held from 10:00am to 2:00pm and will include live music, ringing of the historic mission bells, school performances and presentations, and guest lectures.
Located in the West Wing is the California Missions Resource Studio featuring information about all 21 California Missions. Designed specifically for students, teachers and parents studying the California Missions, inside are timelines, research materials and mission brand rubbing plates. Report Workbooks are available for purchase inside the Mission gift shop.
The four bells originally hung in the bell tower of the Great Stone Church until the earthquake of 1812. During the earthquake, the two largest bells cracked but now lie within the original footprint of the bell tower. Two recast bells and the two smaller original bells hang in campanario that was constructed the year after the earth quake. The four bells from largest to smallest are named for San Vicente, San Juan, San Antonio and San Rafael.
The Great Stone Church
Built out of sandstone with limestone mortar in 1806, the original Great Stone Church bell tower was rumored to have been seen from 10 miles away and the bells could be heard from even farther. The great earthquake of 1812 ruined the Great Stone Church and ongoing efforts for restoration have been made to restore its original beauty. Standing beneath the towering ancient walls gives you the sense of real Californian history.